Clinton Names Podesta As Top Aide
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton named deputy chief of staff _ and top scandal troubleshooter _ John Podesta to the highest ranking staff job at the White House today. ``He and his family have a taste for riding roller coasters. That will certainly serve him well here,″ Clinton said.
The president saluted Podesta, long the heir apparent to Erskine Bowles as White House chief of staff, as brilliant _ and a better card player than his predecessor.
Podesta ``has a tough hide ... and a lot of patience for dealing with the president,″ Clinton said in a sunny Rose Garden ceremony attended by Podesta’s family and dozens of White House staff members.
Bowles has talked of stepping down for months. ``I have waited a long time for this day,″ he joked to the president today, adding ``I could not be leaving you in better hands, my friend.″
Podesta, 49, took the lectern with his wife, one of their three children, his mother and brother looking on from the audience. ``How blessed I am to be able to give something back to our great country,″ Podesta said.
He framed his outlook on the new job in terms of his father, an immigrant to America who quit high school after one year to take a factory job and support his family.
``I know what it really means to work for the minimum wage and to count your raises in cents and not dollars. I know the difference a good public school can make in a person’s life,″ Podesta said.
His career in Democratic politics stretches back through most of his adult life, as does his association with Clinton. The two worked together in 1970 on Democrat Joe Duffy’s losing campaign for a Senate seat from Connecticut.
It was as a White House staff secretary during Clinton’s first term that Podesta built the portfolio he carries still today. As one of two deputies to Bowles, Podesta has been the point man for Whitewater and other investigations swarming around the president. It was Podesta, at Clinton’s request, who prevailed upon then-U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson to interview Monica Lewinsky for a New York job with the United Nations.
Before landing at the White House, Podesta ran a Washington political consulting company with his brother, Tony, and did a turn on Capitol Hill, where he was counsel to the House Judiciary Committee. His current-day duties bring him back to that committee as he and the White House counsel’s office angle to limit the panel’s impeachment proceedings against Clinton in the Lewinsky affair.
In 1988 Podesta did the opposition research or ``dirty work″ for Michael Dukakis’ Democratic presidential campaign, compiling an arsenal of information that could be used against George Bush.
For the past two summers, Podesta taught a congressional investigations course at Georgetown Law School, where he earned his own law degree in 1976.
Addressing the White House staff, Podesta signaled that he is not about to alter the West Wing’s workaholic rhythm. ``As we say around here every Friday _ only two more working days ’til Monday. We’re going to help the president make every one of those days count,″ he said.
Bowles is returning to North Carolina to prepare for a possible gubernatorial run in 2000 as soon as the budget bill he helped negotiate is passed by Congress and signed by Clinton _ and as soon as he can pack up the chief of staff’s office suite.
``I know he still has a lot to give his state and his country, and I hope he has the opportunity to do so in the future,″ Clinton said.
He credited Bowles with leading last week’s wrangling with Republicans that led to big education victories for Clinton in the fiscal 1999 budget bill. Bowles also deserves the lion’s share of credit for the 1996 balanced-budget agreement with congressional Republicans, the president said.
``He was responsible for the agreement last year that, just a few weeks ago, wiped the red ink from the books here in Washington,″ Clinton said.