REACTION ON THE HILL
January 28, 1998
Congressional reaction to President Clinton's State of the Union address and the allegations that surround him.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH, Speaker of the House: Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and the distinct honor of presenting to you the President of the United States. (Applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: Members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, welcomed President Clinton to the House chamber last night with politeness, respect, and at times enthusiasm. And the President, himself, had reason to be upbeat.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We have more than 14 million news, the lowest unemployment in 24 years, the lowest co-inflation in 30 years. Incomes are rising, and we have the highest home ownership in history. Crime has dropped for a record five years in a row, and the welfare rolls are at their lowest levels in 27 years. Our leadership in the world is unrivaled. Ladies and gentlemen, the state of our union is strong. (Applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: Early in his speech the President touched upon probably his most significant achievement during his six years in office and shared the credit with members of both parties.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: For three decades six presidents have come before you to warn of the damage deficits pose to our nation. Tonight, I come before you to announce that the federal deficit once so incomprehensibly large that it had eleven zeros will be simply zero. (Applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: President Clinton spoke for 72 minutes. He was interrupted by applause 104 times and struck several bipartisan chords.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Now, if we balance the budget for next year, it is projected that we'll then have a sizeable surplus in the years that immediately follow. What should we do with this projected surplus? I have a simple, forward answer: Save Social Security first. (Applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: And he spoke to what his arguably the nation's most pressing foreign policy issue.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I know I speak for every one in this chamber, Republicans and Democrats, when I say to Saddam Hussein: You cannot defy the will of the world. (Applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: But there were many more partisan moments during the President's speech as he outlined an ambitious domestic agenda for the coming year. He called for expansion of the Medicare program and more spending on child care, education, and job training. There was one initiative that seemed to cause the sharpest divide between Democrats and Republicans.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Because these times are good we can afford to take one simple, sensible step to help millions of workers struggling to provide for their families. We should raise the minimum wage. (Applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: Not once during his speech did President Clinton allude to the swirling controversy over allegations he had a sexual relationship with a young White House intern. And those members of Congress we spoke to immediately afterward in Statuary Hall said they weren't ready to pass judgment on the President's guilt or innocence.
SEN. MARY LANDRIEU, (D) Louisiana: I'm going to wait and let the facts speak for themselves. And I think every American would be wise--I mean, people are innocent until proven guilty. If the case is strong, those facts will come out, and we can make our judgments when that happens.
REP. SUE MYRICK, (R) North Carolina: This is a decision for the special prosecutor. Janet Reno ordered that we do this, and we just have to let the process work. And in the meantime we'll try and do the people's business.
KWAME HOLMAN: Are you satisfied with the President's response, his denials of any sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky?
REP. BILL McCOLLUM, (R) Florida: I am absolutely uncommitted in terms of my own mind as to what to make of this ultimately. I don't know the credibility of the young woman involved in this. We have no way of knowing until we get to see these tapes, or hear them ourselves with the Judiciary Committee having the question of impeachment, if we ever see that. And until we've learned what Mr. Clinton said in his deposition, there's just so much to this that we don't know about.
SEN. JOHN BREAUX, (D) Louisiana: There are only two people in Washington probably that know the truth. And both of those have said it did not occur. And the two people who know what happened, I'm not one of them. So I really don't know. Time will tell. I think we ought to slow down and take it easy for a while and get rid of the feeding frenzy that I think is occurring in the capital and throughout this country, and let the facts come out in the normal fashion.
KWAME HOLMAN: California Republican Chris Cox was part of the House leadership delegation who escorted the President. Cox said the President was relaxed, even funny, before the speech.
REP. CHRISTOPHER COX, (R) California: He told me that he'd gotten some advice--keep it short--perhaps to avoid prolonged embarrassment, I'm sure, but he said he was worried if he were to do that, that it looked as if he were trying to get in and out in a hurry. Rather, he said, using his words, "I'm going to milk that cow for all it's worth."
KWAME HOLMAN: And it was the initiatives the President proposed during his speech members most wanted to talk about.
REP. MAXINE WATERS, (D) California: He talked about education and investment in education that would reduce our classroom size to about 18 pupils per classroom. He talked about after-school programs that would take our children off the streets, mentors, creating the ability for all students, all people to go to college if they want to. I mean, not only did he speak to concerns of America, embodied in it all was a real urban agenda, something for our cities, expansion of enterprise zones, economic development. This is what I've been waiting for.
REP. MARGE ROUKEMA, (R) New Jersey: Speaking as a Republican, I've got to say that I think my side of the aisle responded very well and very objectively on these issues that are very important to the future of the country and to the American people. They're issues that count with the American people, and we didn't agree with everything, but I think the President rightly targeted or focused on the most important issues before us. Now, in terms of how we pay for some of these new initiatives, that's something to be taken up in the budget and in the ongoing debate.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH, Chairman, Judiciary Committee: I give him credit for working with the Republican Congress because doing that, together we have reached a point where we really are looking towards a balanced budget, hopefully some changes in the tax laws. I was disappointed tonight that he did not talk about fundamental IRS reform. He was just talking about playing around at the edges again. I don't think we can do that. I think we've got to reform that institution because the American people deserve a better break than they're getting currently under our tax code.
KWAME HOLMAN: Did you have concerns about the reception on the other side of the aisle and his ability to put forth a demeanor that would be appropriate to this occasion?
REP. VIC FAZIO, (D) California: Well, I think everyone had to be impressed with the toughness and the effectiveness of this man under obvious pressure during the week prior. He performed, I think, very well. I was a little disappointed at the degree to which Republicans seemed to be sitting on their hands, so to speak, but I think that's really more a reflection of the fact they know these are popular positions that he's laying out, and they can't agree with him. They don't have the political will or ideology that will accommodate them. So it wasn't so much an effort to imply a lack of respect for the man or the office as it was, I think, a clear desire on their part to disassociate themselves from the things he was advocating.
KWAME HOLMAN: Mr. Chairman, as you know, much is being said and written about how the President would be received, perhaps particularly on your side of the aisle, what--how the President would comport himself, whether he would be able to get through the speech. Were you surprised about anything that occurred on those two scores here tonight?
REP. JOHN KASICH, Chairman, Budget Committee: No. I mean, I frankly think those observations are being made by people who must have never attended a State of the Union because that's not the case. In fact, it's interesting, there was a lot of talk about the President's troubles before the speech began in the hallways, the dining room, the gym, all over. But once the President walks in, we come together really as a country, Republicans and Democrats. We're not thinking about something that happened a couple of days ago, or what the talk was. The focus really is on he's the President of the United States; we're going to rise; we're going to treat him with respect; we're going to hear what he has to say; and we're going to have our partisan cheers. That's a healthy sign. And so I think the State of the Union really is a very special opportunity for any President to touch all the buttons, to be treated not just as President but in a way as head of state, and I think that's what you saw tonight. And I think that probably the President got his adrenaline going by the Democrats who whoop and holler and maybe for a short time he forgot his troubles. And if any of us have any sense, we'll all hope that these reports are false, and that the President will be vindicated and cleared. That would be the best for the presidency and the best for the republic.