White House Deals Put Gore on Spot
Nov. 16, 1999
WASHINGTON (AP) _ White House compromises this week on abortions overseas and trade with China place Vice President Al Gore under intense political pressure from natural Democratic allies to distance himself from President Clinton.
As Clinton soothed Turkish earthquake victims half a world away, Gore has been dealing with the fallout from the president's decisions, which have infuriated core Democratic supporters stateside _ from labor unions to environmentalists and women.
Also caught in the uproar was first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is expected to run for Senate from New York.
``I would like to see her as a full-time Senate candidate, speaking as a voice for New York, not for the administration,'' said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., after a news conference in which she criticized the new restrictions on family planning overseas.
``I would like to see them both distance themselves,'' added Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif.
After infuriating abortion rights advocates, the White House angered organized labor by agreeing to a trade pact with China that administration officials said would lower barriers that have prevented U.S. access to the world's most populous nation.
Labor leaders said the decision jeopardized job security for American workers in the name of economic opportunities with a nation known for its spotty record on the environment and human rights.
``A slap in the face,'' declared Teamsters President James Hoffa, whose union refused to endorse Gore last month despite his aggressive overtures. Teamsters spokesman Brett Caldwell added that the union ``would hope that if he were elected president that Vice President Gore would support policies that benefit the wages of working men and women.''
``Disgustingly hypocritical,'' concurred AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.
``It would be a mistake for Vice President Gore to say, 'Let's swallow this thing whole,'' said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., of the trade pact. ``I'd like to see him make a strong statement, that 'This is wrong.'''
Pelosi also was part of a group of women behind an uproar over the administration's decision to bow to conservative demands for restrictions on abortions abroad in exchange for nearly $1 billion in overdue payments to the United Nations.
About 100 House members signed a letter Tuesday to Clinton saying the deal was ``a major obstacle to our supporting'' any budget package that includes it, despite a provision that would allow a president to waive the restrictions for some groups.
``The waiver is only as strong as the president who would sign it,'' Woolsey said.
Meanwhile, abortion rights advocates fired a warning shot at Gore.
``This will be a campaign issue no matter what,'' Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said of the administration's bargain with Congress. ``If (Gore) doesn't speak up, his silence will be eloquent and be noted.''
Gore by now is well-practiced at distancing himself from Clinton, having repeatedly said he experienced ``disappointment and anger'' over Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky.
And he has tried to smooth things over with women and environmentalists.
For example, on Tuesday, he announced that Clinton will sign an executive order in an effort to help protect the environment when trade agreements are signed.
A day earlier while campaigning near Seattle, Gore said he was unhappy about the abortion restrictions, although he refused to criticize Clinton or say what advice he gave.
In Clinton's shoes, however, Gore said he would take advantage of a provision allowing the president to grant waivers to certain organizations.
``It is understandable to me he made the decision that he did,'' Gore said.
The Democratic presidential nominee _ whether Gore or former Sen. Bill Bradley _ will need a substantial advantage among women to overcome GOP front-runner George W. Bush's double-digit lead among men.
Bradley stood firm against the compromise hours after it was struck, telling CNN Sunday morning that Clinton could have done more, earlier in the negotiations, to bar the GOP provision. Bradley enjoys greater confidence among abortion activists for his unwavering record in the Senate.
As a Tennessee congressman, Gore opposed abortion rights but has achieved significant support among advocates as Clinton's vice president. His relations with women political leaders have been wobbly, however.
Since September, Gore has eroded Bush's lead among women to a tie, but is nowhere near the 16-point ``gender gap'' advantage with women that Clinton won in 1996.
In October, he irked the National Organization for Women by announcing a Republican-styled pro-fatherhood initiative that NOW says could hurt single mothers.
Gore and wife Tipper tried to smooth things over last week in a meeting with top women activists.