Clinton Turns to Domestic Issues
WASHINGTON (AP) _ For his first week back at the White House since admitting he had lied about a relationship with Monica Lewinsky, President Clinton’s public schedule would appear as ordinary as any in his five-plus years in office.
What makes it extraordinary are the questions the president is attracting, from Democrats as well as Republicans, about whether he still can rally the public to his policy agenda.
Education, health care and Social Security are still top policy priorities for Clinton, but will he weather the Lewinsky crisis and quiet the talk of resignation or impeachment?
Starting with a visit today to an elementary school in Silver Spring, Md., just outside Washington, Clinton was plunging into a busy week that will include a day trip to Florida on Wednesday, a speech on auto safety Thursday and a prayer breakfast with religious leaders Friday.
At Pine Crest Elementary in Silver Spring, Clinton was announcing that Department of Education figures say enrollment at public and private elementary and secondary schools has risen to 52.7 million, the highest in American history. He also will urge Congress to pass his proposals for spending more to repair and modernize older school buildings and hire 100,000 more teachers so that class sizes in early grades can be reduced to an average of 18 students, press secretary Mike McCurry said today.
Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, a Democrat, declined to attend the school event today, citing the Lewinsky matter. Asked Clinton’s reaction, McCurry said, ``The governor is entitled to his opinion.″ He said Clinton ``probably understands the way the governor feels.″
The political landscape in Washington has shifted since Aug. 17 when Clinton admitted his affair with Ms. Lewinsky, a former White House intern, and then headed to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts for two weeks of vacation. He could tell as much even while spending last week in Russia and Ireland.
On Saturday, as Clinton was completing his visit to Ireland, Glendening confirmed he had canceled an October fund-raiser with the president and sharply criticized him for deceiving the nation about Ms. Lewinsky, 25. Will other Democrats distance themselves from Clinton as the Nov. 3 state and congressional elections near?
Even as the White House braces for Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s report to Congress on his Lewinsky investigation, aides say Clinton is intent on highlighting his policy goals and drawing distinctions with the Republican-led Congress.
On Wednesday, he goes to Florida for a public event in Orlando promoting school safety and to speak at fund-raisers for the state Democratic Party in Orlando and Miami. Later in the week he is to make an announcement at the White House on auto safety, hold a regularly scheduled prayer breakfast with religious leaders and attend a memorial service for U.S. victims of the embassy bombings in Africa.
``If you look at the schedule, it’s business as usual,″ White House spokeswoman Amy Weiss said Monday. ``He is doing the people’s business, which is what he was elected to do.″
Clinton spent a quiet Labor Day at the White House. He had no public schedule and ventured out only for an afternoon round of golf.
Before his Aug. 17 speech acknowledging an inappropriate relationship with Ms. Lewinsky and having misled people about it, Clinton’s legislative priorities already were in trouble. Congress has shown little regard for Clinton’s health care and education spending proposals, and Republicans may now have more room to outmaneuver Clinton on tax cuts he opposes.
As Clinton attempts to regain momentum for his policy agenda, he also must worry about an erosion of political support among Democrats in Congress. The outlook darkened last week when Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., took to the Senate floor to blast Clinton for ``immoral behavior″ harmful to both the party and the nation.
Other Democrats are questioning whether Clinton’s admissions have undermined his ability to lead the nation. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., said Sunday ``we’re bound to go through with impeachment proceedings.″
Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., hinted darkly that Clinton’s hopes for putting the Lewinsky matter behind him could crumble if Starr’s report contains more unsavory surprises about Clinton’s personal life.