President Clinton Press Conference
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PRESIDENT CLINTON: Let me begin by once again thanking the American people for the honor they have bestowed upon me and the responsibility they have once again placed in my hands. I will work hard over the next four years to uphold their trust, to protect our shared values, and to meet our common challenges. To do that, I want our administration to be able to serve the American people as well in the next four years as we have in the past four. I must, therefore, begin by announcing that Leon Panetta, who has been my chief of staff since 1994, will be resigning to return to California. To succeed Leon Panetta, I wanted someone of stature, intellect, dedication, drive, and the capacity to do this virtually impossible job–both a manager and the leader. I’m proud to announce that I am naming Erskine Bowles as the next White House chief of staff. Now, I want to take your questions, but first I’d like to give Mr. Panetta and Mr. Bowles a chance to just say a few words.
LEON PANETTA, White House Chief of Staff: Thank you, Mr. President, for your kind words and for your leadership and most of all for your friendship. Chief of staff to the President of the United States is a great honor and a great privilege. What I found out was that it’s one of the toughest and most challenging jobs in the country. This has been a great and wonderful journey that has satisfied both my mind and my soul, but now it’s time to satisfy my heart. And my heart has always been with my wife and my family, with my home town of Monterey, and with my home state of California. To Erskine, you are a great choice for this job.
ERSKINE BOWLES, White House Chief of Staff-Designate: Now, Leon Panetta has been an extraordinarily effective chief of staff and he does, without question, leave some very, very big shoes to be filled. The assets that I hope to give to President Clinton and his administration are the same ones that have served me so well throughout my career in both the public and private sectors of the economy. They are centered around organization, structure, and focus. I believe in working in a bipartisan manner. I believe in cooperating for the common good, and I believe in having an administration that has clearly defined goals, objectives, and time lines such that it and its people can be held accountable.
REPORTER: The election is over. You do have the support of the American people for a second term, but some questions remain. One of them is: How do you explain the obsession with fund-raising, especially from dubious Asian sources, and how do you overcome the image created by your opponent that you are a President who cannot be trusted?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Let me answer the second question first. I think the American people, since they’ve been hearing this for five years, took a long, hard look at it, and they measured that against what they aw in terms of the work of this administration, in terms of the people who were laboring hard to make their lives better, and in terms of the President. And I think they made their judgment that I have worked hard for them, I will keep working hard for them, and that that is my motivation for being here, and I think that they gave me their trust, and I’m going to do my best to be worthy of it. Now, with regard to the contribution issue, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party raised a lot of money under the rules which now exist. The Democratic Party received over a million different contributions in two years. They determined two things: One is that a relatively small number of them–I think–I don’t know exactly what the number is but quite a small number out of a million, they should not have taken, and they have returned them. They also–the Democratic Party said that they thought they should have a tighter screen on contributions when they come in, and they’ve implemented an improvement so that they won’t receive contributions they shouldn’t give they can determine it at all. I think that’s a good thing. Terry.
REPORTER: Mr. President. Attorney General Reno is considering whether to appoint an independent counsel to investigate these allegations of improper fund-raising by your campaign. She says that she’s got–
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Wait, wait, wait. There have been no allegations about improper–
REPORTER: Well, by–
PRESIDENT CLINTON: That’s correct–by the Democratic Party–let’s–
REPORTER: She says that she’s–
PRESIDENT CLINTON: That was the other campaign that had problems with that–not mine.
REPORTER: General Reno says she’s caught between a rock and a hard place and that she’ll be criticized no matter what she does. I know that it’s her decision, but what do you think? Do you think that these–these allegations should be investigated by an independent counsel, and secondly, do you think that General–would you like to see General Reno stay on for a second term?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I think on the first question I should have no comment on that. On the second question, I should have no comment on any personnel decision until I have had a chance to meet with the cabinet members in question and, uh, work through all the decisions. And I think I should have a uniform policy on that, which I have followed to date, and which I will continue to follow. Go ahead.
REPORTER: You’re in the process of choosing your team now for the next administration. You were criticized four years ago for your failure to go ahead with your stated intentions to choose at least one Republican for a top post. You were criticized for putting too much emphasis on diversity and also for relying too much on friendship. In some case, friends got into ethical problems. Do you feel you must be more tough-minded this time around?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: First of all, I think the cabinet that I’ve had has done very well, and, on average, I believe their tenure of service far exceeds the average tenure of service in the modern era. And I believe that we have to prove that you could have diversity, as well as excellence, not only in the cabinet but in the federal bench where I have made the most diverse appointments in terms of women and minorities in history and yet, they have the highest ratings from the American Bar Association–my appointees do–of any President since the ratings system began. So I don’t see a conflict between excellence and diversity, but I would extend that diversity to, uh, Republicans as well. I think we ought to try to have a government that can unify the country. And, uh, I did want to put–badly want to put a Republican in the cabinet last time. I had one in particular in mind who declined for personal reasons who I think wanted to serve, and I regret that. And, uh, so I have not ruled out that. In fact, I have cast a very wide net in looking for people to serve in this administration, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we had Republican representation. I certainly hope we will. And then–Rita was next and then Peter. I’m sorry.
REPORTER: Speaking of what people will be doing in the next administration, when you ran for your first term, you talked a lot about the First Lady’s role, but we didn’t hear so much about it during this run for the re-election. Can you give us a sense of what she’ll be doing in the next term? And also, I wondered whether you have thought about whether you intend to offer Bob Dole any chance to serve.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, let me answer the question about Hillary. I think what the First Lady will do is something that I think it will be consistent with what she’s been doing, but we have not–frankly, we’ve been too tired to talk about it. Yesterday–I’m embarrassed to tell the American people–I actually slept past noon. I was tired. And so we hadn’t had much chance to talk about it, but I think that my assumption would be that whatever she did, she would be working on the issues that relate to children and families, as she spent most of her life doing, and so that’s what I would think, but we have not had a chance to talk about it. In terms of anything for Sen. Dole, I think to be fair to him–even though I am standing up here on both feet, giving this press conference today, after a campaign like this, you need time to decompress, whether you win or whether you lose, and I’ve been on both sides of this in my life. And, um, he said something I really appreciated when we had our personal conversation on election evening. He said, you know, after a while, after I get rested up and you do and we get–we’ll come by–I’ll come by and we’ll have a cup of coffee, and we’ll talk about–just have a visit–and I said I’d really like that.
REPORTER: Mr. President, we know that you’re an avid student of presidential history. And in modern times, second terms for Presidents have been either disappointing or disastrous. I wonder if you’ve drawn any lessons on why that’s so and if there are any pitfalls in particular that you are determined to avoid for yourself.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: What we have done to try to avoid that is, no. 1, make it clear that we understand the American people want us to work together with the Republicans and that we have to build a vital center and no. 2, to have a driving agenda for the second term that grows out of what we’ve done for the last four years. That’s why I went out of my way at the Democratic National Convention when I was speaking to the convention and the American people to list a very long list of specific things that I wanted to do, because I wanted to–I wanted an agenda to organize the attention, the spirits, and the energies of people. I think when people stay busy, they do good things, and I–I think that–that that will very much help. So we have a big agenda. We have a driving agenda. We know what we have to do, and if we keep good, energetic people involved, I think we’ll be able to avoid those pitfalls, but I’m very mindful of history’s difficulties, and I’m going to try to beat them.
JIM LEHRER: The President said he has invited congressional leaders to the White House next week to talk about budget balancing, tax cuts, and campaign finance reform.