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Anybody Here Want To Talk to the President? With PM-Tax Bill Bjt

August 5, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ You’re a news broadcaster at KNUU in Las Vegas and one evening the White House calls: Anyone there want to interview the president tomorrow?

You write the Sentinel editorials that Milwaukee residents will read with their corn flakes in the morning. Ring-ring. How about a presidential interview?

Bill Clinton has been making himself available with unrelenting tenacity in the last few weeks, particularly to journalists, editorial writers and ″opinion makers″ from states that are home to the lawmakers still uncommitted to his economic plan.

The theory is that some of the charm rubs off when the president is made available. Has it worked?

Ask Paul Schatt, editorial page editor for the Arizona Republic in Phoenix, who took part in a conference call - and was kept waiting 35 minutes for the president to come on the line.

″I guess it reinforced what I had heard from our congressional delegation, which is that Bill Clinton is a pretty good politician. He was very smooth,″ Schatt said. ″It was extremely slick.″

″I’ve talked to seven presidents,″ said Robert Witas, 63, who writes editorials for the Milwaukee Sentinel. ″I’ve been in the White House over 20 times. I’ve eaten in the White House mess.

″Maybe I’m a cynic. The ambiance means nothing. I’m a newspaper man. I sit there, I listen, I analyze, and that’s it. I’m glad to have the opportunity to talk to the highest person with the most information at any level.″

The telephone session Clinton had with Witas and other editorial writers didn’t changd what the Sentinel thought on its editorial page. Its opposition did not diminish.

″It’s hard to quantify, but empirically I’m very sure that the president making direct appeals educates and informs those folks,″ said Paul Begala, a political adviser to Clinton who’s working on the White House ″war room″ effort to sell the president’s plan.

″There’s a ripple effect,″ he said. ″Even the most jaded person, if he has a conversation with the president of the United States, tends to repeat it.″

The effort continued even Wednesday, on the eve of the House vote on his tax package. Louisiana journalists and political, business and labor leaders from New Jersey were on the White House callers’ list.

Brenda Pritchard of KNUU radio in Las Vegas said she put herself on guard when she found out, the night before, that she would be interviewing the president via satellite on Tuesday.

She remembered during the election campaign when other radio people were brought to the Rose Garden to ask George Bush questions.

″They were so enamored about where they were that it was real fluffy,″ she said. ″Difficult questions weren’t asked.″

She asked Clinton how the new taxes in his plan would help create jobs.

″It was really a thrill,″ she said. ″It was a very exciting day here yesterday.″

Schatt said he used to sell shoes when he was a youth and he thinks Clinton has a defect fatal to a salesman.

″He’s a great talker. But he just can’t wrap it up. You’ve got to close the sale. He’s not a closer.″

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