During this time, the congressional elections are starting to heat up and
there's clearly a problem with the president's profile. He campaigned as a
centrist, but because of a number of things, from gays in the military to the
health care reform, his political profile is different. You see these ads
where you have candidates who are morphing into Clinton and clearly the
president, himself, is the subject of this election. What's the president
saying to you at the White House at this moment?|
There is a sense that clearly there is political trouble out there, for a lot
of reasons. One is the whole health care debate and what happened with that,
and $380 million that went into a campaign to basically tear it down. That had
an impact, no question. Losing that was a hit. Combine that with some very
tough votes by members on the budget, raising taxes, combined with some very
tough votes on a crime bill that involved gun control, combined with the
Republicans and Newt Gingrich putting together some very effective campaign
attacks on each of those pieces, depending on whether they could target a
. . . They had a number of different targets. Some issues made these
Democratic members very vulnerable, and the president could sense that. And at
the same time, he also sensed that what he failed to do was to encapsulate a
message as to what he was trying to do for the country, and what he wanted
done, what his goals were. So he always felt a little frustrated that he was
not being effective at getting that done. So he was nervous about it. We
thought clearly that we would lose some seats. But I don't think anybody
anticipated that we would lose control of both the House and the Senate. That
degree of loss was really a shock.
The crime bill eventually passed, but first there was a huge problem.
It was obvious that you could get a kind of broad range of support for a lot
that was in the crime bill, except for gun control. Gun control is like
abortion, in the sense that it's a red flag issue for a lot of members, and
you're either for it or against it. It's not that you can refine it. You're
either for it or against it. That's the way the constituencies play it out in
members' districts. So there were members who said, "We've got the crime bill
going. This is the perfect vehicle to pass gun control legislation, like the
waiting period and the other pieces."
Some of the old-time members said, "Do not do this. Do not do this." Jack Brooks from Texas and John Dingell from Michigan, who were both supportive
of the president, said, "Don't do this. It's going to cost you votes in the
House. And you may lose the crime bill." At the same time there were forces
on the other side saying, "This is the one chance to get some of this stuff
passed." And so the president's instincts were, "I'd like to get some gun
control legislation as part of this. Why not?"
When that happened, you really split the forces because what was originally a
bill in which you might be able to hold Democrats and some Republicans
together, suddenly became a bill that really split those forces pretty much.
As a matter of fact, Speaker Gingrich basically said, "I'd like to help you on
the crime bill, but you've got this other problem. What I'm willing to do is
to have some of my members work with you who are supportive of gun control and
the crime bill." So I was sent up to the Hill to sit down with some of the
Republican members and we worked out a compromise that they were willing to
accept. They had some pieces that they wanted included in the crime bill. We
worked it out.
We're now approaching the moment when the bill has to be wrapped up and it has
to go to the floor. I'm sitting in Dick Gephardt's office and I can't find
Jack Brooks, who is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. . . . We found out was that Jack Brooks and John Dingell were meeting together
to try to see if they could just stall this thing and not bring it forward.
The president called up and said, "What's going on? We've got to get this
done. We've got to get it happen." It was the first time I really heard him
as angry as he was. I said, "Mr. President, we happen to have two chairmen
here of committees who are a problem and they don't want to move it." We
finally locate these chairmen in Jack Brooks' office. I said "Mr. Chairmen, I
know the political problems that are here. I dealt with them when I was on
Capitol Hill. I know this is politically tough, but we think we have the votes
to pass this, and the president really respectfully asks they you release this
bill so that we can get it voted on." And finally Jack Brooks, to his credit,
was willing to do that. We got it out and it passed, but it created an awful
lot of political problems that then took their toll in the November election.
A number of people have talked to us about the president's anger. Is there
a particular moment where you can remember a manifestation of how Bill Clinton
gets angry, his temper?
I think it's almost a form of therapy that he engages in, which is that
he becomes very angry about something. Sometimes I'd be briefing him on
something had happened that, obviously, just really got him angry. And he
would pound the desk, and say, "This is outrageous. This can't happen." And
what I found was the best thing to do was to let him go ahead and blow. And
then once he got it out of his system, it was like nothing had happened, and he
would go on and do what he had to do...
During those first couple of years, why do you think that relations with the
press were so poor?
It's really odd, because I always felt that here's a young president getting
elected. There was an awful lot of support out there for him when he first
won. There was a sense that he was going to bring a kind of new feeling and
new strength, new ideas to the White House. And all of those things, I think,
are the ingredients of having a very good relationship with the press. If you
look at the Kennedy presidency, it was a model for what I thought ultimately
There were several problems that they ran into. It might have been partly what
they went through during the campaign, like the Gennifer thing and the draft
thing. There was always the sense that the press was going to go after you on
one of these issues. And a lot of that carried into the White House with the
same suspicions that the press, to a large extent, could not be trusted and
that they would go after their own stories. . . . And so, as a result, it
developed into a feeling of distrust in the way they handled the press.
Secondly, that the president was always confident of his ability . . . to turn
a bad story into a good story -- that he would always be able to get the press
to really understand him for who he was and what he was trying to do. He
seemed to feel that he was able to do that in Arkansas, and surely he could do
it in Washington. What he didn't understand was that the press is a lot more
cynical in Washington, just by the very nature of having to go through this
process. And you've got to work a lot harder at it. It kind of offended him
that they didn't kind of take him at first appearance, that they were always
going after and coming back with other questions, and going after him in
different ways. And I think he resented that, and it showed after a while. It
became a concern that you just couldn't get a break, couldn't get a good
Thirdly, he is an individual who . . . is full of ideas and thoughts. He
doesn't, oftentimes, listen to the person that he's engaged with. Even though
there are moments when he's a good listener, when he's engaged in conversation
about a particular issue, it's very one-sided. And I think the press, to some
extent, are like members of Congress. They like to be heard as well on
So when I became chief of staff, we set up meetings where he would sit down
with the press and have some one-on-one exchanges, just to try to see if we
could improve those relations. But he tends to be a person who wants to almost
consume the conversation. And I think you pay a price for that, if you're not
willing to listen sometimes to what others are saying.
After November, 1994, the Republicans take over Congress. How does the
president react to this when you see him?
By that point, I think the president had seen the writing on the wall. He was
out campaigning. He knew that a few seats would be lost, but he did not ever
believe that the Democrats would lose control. When the results started coming
in, it was pretty early in the evening when the handwriting was on the wall.
And I guess it was George Stephanopolous came in and said, "This is a
landslide." And I kept saying, "No. No. It can't be that bad." He says, "I
think we're going to lose the Senate and we may lose the House." My own
thought was that we've lost the Senate before. I never thought we would lose
the House. And then when that happened, and we knew we now had Republican
House Speaker Gingrich and a Republican Senate, we knew we were going to face
some real problems.
Who did the president blame for that?
The president, by that point, accepted the fact that it had happened.
And it was almost as if he said that it was a wake-up call for what went wrong.
What did we do wrong? I think he looked back to his own experience in
Arkansas, when he lost the governorship, and when he faced some other losses.
This again represented an opportunity to get his act together, to look at what
the problems were, where did he go wrong, and what did he have to do to
confront them. So while it clearly was depressing, and you know he hated the
fact that he had lost the Congress, I think he also understood why it happened,
and what he had to do now to try to confront what he viewed as a real big
One of the things he did was reach back to the same man who had helped him
in Arkansas, and that's Dick Morris. But this is a secret. Morris is secretly
communicating with the president. What did you feel like when you found out
I thought it was weird. It was a strange kind of a relationship, almost a
love/hate relationship that had gone on back in Arkansas. . . . Suddenly,
we're getting poll results from Morris, operating by the code word "Charlie,"
because they didn't want the world to know that Morris was involved. But it
was clear that the president had turned to him in the past when he was in
political trouble and felt that he needed to have that kind of help again. He
felt like the world had crumbled on him. . . . He was intent on making sure
that whatever had to be done would be done to ensure that not only would he get
re-elected, but that every effort would be made to try to get the Congress
Here you are the chief of staff, and there is some guy using a code name
"Charlie" to do an end run around the structure that you've imposed.
I viewed it as the president basically talking with a political consultant to
try to help him try to figure out what the best course was, and so he talked
with a lot of people in the effort to try to determine what the strategy ought
to be. It was later, when Morris took on a more formal role in the operation,
that he then began to not only suggest ideas, but he would walk into staff
offices and say, "What I'd like you to do is to do this and to do that." And
they would come to me and say, "Wait a minute. Morris is telling me he would
like this kind of information." And I said, "That has to stop. That just
I went directly to the president and said, "Mr. President, this cannot happen.
We've spent too long trying to put this organization together. We've got a
good team effort. Everybody is working. They know what the lines are and
you'll undermine that if we allow that to happen." And to his credit, he said,
"You're right. Bring Morris in and I'll tell him." And so we did, and then
Morris clearly got the signal from the president himself that that was not to
In the 1995 State of the Union speech, people on the White House staff were
surprised by some of the lines that were used. They had no idea where they
were coming from. Were you among those? Stephanopolous calls this "the
daytime president and the nighttime president," because during the daytime he's
listening to George and you and others, and at night the president is listening
to Dick Morris, and things change overnight.
I always had the feeling that the president wanted to listen to the dark side,
even though he clearly knew in his guts where the issues were and what he
wanted to do. He always wanted to listen to the Morris voice saying the
thoughts of the most manipulative operation that could go on in politics. . .
. Because we knew that Morris wasn't just giving advice to the President of
the United States, but he was also still worked for Republicans as well. He's
working for Trent Lott on Capitol Hill. As far as a lot of us were concerned,
he was a double spy. And we were always concerned that, on the one hand, he's
talking to the President of the United States, and on the other hand, he's
talking to the minority leader on Capitol Hill. We thought that was a strange
damn operation that was going on. And so we were always a little bit cautious
about it. But then it was clear that Morris was doing a lot of polling on a
lot of different ideas. And he would basically decide, what are those few
issues that can really touch a lot of nerves out there?
We had political meetings every week in which we would talk about a lot of
this. So, ultimately, when it came to that State of the Union, it was not a
surprise that a lot of those same issues, a lot of those same words, were
beginning to pop up in the State of the Union address, because a lot of
groundwork had been laid for a lot of that through polling that had been done
Elizabeth Drew and Morris himself, in each of their books, state that you
were pretty furious about this.
I guess I was angry about the fact that so much of it was being judged
on the polling and on the political interpretation behind every issue. My view
was, you're the President of the United States. You've got to make some very
important decisions on some very difficult issues. What frustrated me most of
all was I thought the president really does have a pretty good gut sense about
what's right and wrong, what needs to be done, what do people really need, in
terms of issues. I remember at one point basically saying, "Look, Abraham
Lincoln did not have to have a pollster in this office to decide what's right
and wrong. And you don't need a pollster either. You're doing things on
education, on health care, on the budget, and these are the right things to
My view is a more traditional view, which is that as leader, as president,
sure, it's okay to get a feel for where the public is in terms of what are they
thinking, how are they reacting. But as leader of the country, there are often
times decisions you have to make that require you to take the lead and not
simply be reactive to whatever a poll tells you, but for you to take the lead
and do what's right and what you believe is right. And, yes, it may hurt you
politically and yes, it may not be popular, but in the end people will respect
it for the leadership that you've shown. That was my belief, admittedly,
that's a more traditional belief. But in a world of fast-moving politics, that
traditional view can sometimes be in conflict with what consultants think need
to be done.
In April, 1995, the president has a prime time press conference. And the
most memorable quote from that press conference is, "The president is still
relevant here." What did you think about that?
It reflected the president's concern from the November election, which was that
so much attention was being focused on the Republican Congress, so much
attention was being focused on Speaker Gingrich, the "Contract With America,"
the efforts that were going on up there. It concerned him because for two
years it was his agenda that he was pushing, that he felt was important to the
country. And now suddenly he's confronting a situation where there's another
agenda that's being pushed by the Republicans that is consuming most of the
attention. And so the real question was where is the relevance of the
president in this process.
There were those of us that kept saying to him, "Look, Mr. President, to some
extent this is a great opportunity to contrast what you're trying to do with
what the Republicans are trying to do. This is really an opportunity, through
the use of vetoes, through the use of your own pulpit, to really distinguish
yourself from what the Republicans are doing."
His tendency, inherently, is to say, "I can cut a deal with anybody. I should
be able to work, even with Newt Gingrich, in the end and try to resolve these
issues." And I think his feeling was that he still represented a relevant
factor in trying to at least bridge those differences. I think what he learned
later was that there was no way to bridge those differences. It was probably
the best thing that happened to him, in terms of the re-election...
In April of 1995, the Oklahoma City bombing occurs. And for a lot of the
country, it's a way to see Bill Clinton in a light most people hadn't seen him
before. Did you think that was a critical moment for him and, if so, in what
Yes. I thought it was a real turning point. And I felt it even at that point,
because up to then it was a political give and take. There was a lot of
mudslinging going on. You just had no sense that the president was able to
establish any traction with the American people about who he was.
When the Oklahoma bombing came, he showed his capacity to get out there and
first of all, to speak to the American people in a calm way and reassure them,
and ask them not to kind of prejudge what had happened here. And then what he
did following up on that, in terms of dealing with the victims and what took
place there -- I think that, more than anything, brought out the human side of
Bill Clinton. People really, for the first time in a long time, connected with
the president and what he was trying to be and who he was.
If there has been any strength to this presidency, it is the fact that the
American people know who this president is and what he's about. They
understand him. And I think one of the first times his human and compassionate
side as president came across was following the Oklahoma bombing.
In May of 1995, the debate is over the balanced budget. Morris is
advocating certain things that are in the polls. You're advocating other
things. And here you have a Democratic president, really, putting in a very
The debate by those of us who had worked on the economic plan, gotten that
passed, worked on the budget and got that put in place, was that the president
had clearly indicated that in his economic plan we would be able to follow a
certain path towards deficit reduction, that ultimately would lead to a
balanced budget. And our view was to stick to what we put in place. We got
the economic plan passed. It's having an impact in terms of deficit reduction.
Our economic program is working. The economy was beginning to really become
stronger and stronger. And so, the feeling was, rather than not to jump to a
political cliche of balancing the budget -- that's what everybody says. Ronald
Reagan said it at the time we were going to $300 billion deficits. It had
become almost meaningless in terms of the American people. Why run after that
just because the Republicans were touting it again? The reality was that to do
it would involve some pretty significant cuts in the Republican plan, and it
So how do you counter that? The president felt that, politically, he could not
confront the Republicans without some kind of balanced budget plan to respond
to what they were proposing. When he made that decision, the economic team was
willing to sit down and go through it, and try to propose something that at
least made better sense than some of the things some of the political people
were talking about. And we went through that process and ultimately we were
able to have the president do it.
I was cynical about doing it because, again, it just seemed to me that all we
were doing is being pulled by the nose to somehow engage on an issue that
ultimately we had taken charge of in a responsible way. Politically, I think
the president probably made the right decision because, in the very least, it
put the Republicans on the defensive by having them do that.
At this time there is this theory that Morris has advocated called
triangulation, where the president is pitted against his own Democrats in
Congress and against the Gingrich Republicans. For you, who had to deal
with members of Congress, how did that go over?
There was always a nervousness about the president among Democrats that went
back to things like the BTU tax and other things, as to whether or not they
would be hung out there. And I think it was almost a confirmation when they
heard Morris expound on triangulation. It confirmed some of their worst
suspicions that the president was prepared to sacrifice them in the name of
going for some kind of a position with the Republicans. The other thing that
made it suspicious, again, is that Morris was at the same time, working and
advising Trent Lott. There was a sense that what the president is doing is
playing into Republican hands, as opposed to working with those on the
Democratic side who had always been there to deliver the president's water when
he asked for it. They were the ones that basically were the votes he could
rely on, not the votes of Newt Gingrich.
And so was not an easy time. There were a number of times I had to go up to
the Hill and meet with the leadership, meet with the members, to let them know
that, ultimately, whatever the political debate was all about, and the
political terms that were being used, that still fundamentally the president
was supportive of the issues the Democrats cared about and that's what we would
In the fall of 1995, there is the showdown with Republicans on the
I think it was very significant, as far as its impact on the president and on
the country. When I heard the Republicans continue to say, "We've got to fight
for this budget, even to the point where we'll just shut down the government
and be prepared to keep it shut," and when I heard them say that, I thought . .
. that it's rhetoric and it's not real. I remember Bob Dole saying once, "You
could shut the government down maybe for a day or over a weekend, but you shut
it down for more than that, people come looking for you." He said that in the
Oval Office to Gingrich and the other Republican leaders that were there,
because he knew. We had been through a shutdown, a very short shutdown, and a
lot of hell went on as a result of that.
So I thought, "Well, they're saying this but it's kind of a threat, and they
know can't stand by it." The president, on the other hand, always said, "Wait
a minute. I know we can cut a deal with Gingrich." And we were saying, "Mr.
President, I don't think you can cut a deal because he doesn't have the room to
cut a deal. His members want to make certain cuts. They want it their way.
They've been kind of brainwashed into thinking that the Contract for America is
fundamentally what they want in place."
It sounds like you were worried the president was going to cave in.
Yes. There were those of us on the staff who thought that the president would
be willing to do whatever was necessary to cut a deal. And we kept saying,
"No. This is fundamental to everything that you have fought for. You have set
priorities for this country. You've said what you want for education. You've
said what you want for health care. You've said what you want to do for the
environment. And everything they're putting into their plan is against
everything you're for."
But, nevertheless, inside of him, he always has this sense that rational people
ultimately can come together and cut this deal. So we had made several offers,
as the discussions went on, and the Republicans had rejected them. They came
back with some offers. We had rejected them. And there was a moment in which
we made another offer. And Gingrich said, "I'm sorry. No. We can't accept
it." The president looked at him and it was one of those moments when you
know that the president really got it. The president said to Gingrich, "I
simply can't do what you want me to do. I don't believe in it and I don't
believe it's right for the country. And even if it costs me the election, I am
not going to do this."
And I sighed at that point and I thought, "He gets it. He gets it." Because
there's always a point in politics when you do have to draw a line, and it
tells you a lot about who you are. And at that moment, I knew he would win the
election because, suddenly, what he was about was clear to him, but it also
became clear to the country as to what Bill Clinton represented.
So I think it was not only a terrible mistake on the part of the Republicans,
in terms of their own politics, but it sure as hell helped us to find what the
president was all about for the election.
And Gingrich helped you with his comments about shutting down the government
because he . . . felt he had been snubbed on Air Force One.
Sure. When he did the thing about where he was seated on Air Force One, that
just came out of the blue. It again confirmed for the American people that
these people are not only willing to shut the government down and hurt people
in that process, but they care more about where the hell they're sitting on Air
Force One than whether or not somebody is going to get their Social Security
check or their veterans' benefit. That was the impression and it played,
frankly, into our hands.
. . . When the president confronts Gingrich, makes his decision, and you say
he got it . . . you almost imply that you don't think there were enough of
He was always trying to find the solution, to try to find the area of
agreement. And, look, to some extent all of us in politics, you want to get
things done. But there are also moments when you have to recognize that
sometimes the best way to get things done is to engage in the battle and have
the conflict, because otherwise you don't have any leverage because you're not
viewed as somebody who is going to hold their ground. You're viewed as
somebody who will continue to give in. I honestly think that, at that moment,
the president understood that there was no way he was going to be able to cut a
deal with these people because they wanted too much.
In 1996, a lot of different scandals are still plaguing the administration.
Whitewater has gotten a new life. We've had "Troopergate." And as chief of
staff, there is sort of this "drip, drip" effect. How do you run a government
when so much of the White House is consumed with dealing with scandal?
I've often said that being chief of staff is not so much an administrative
position as a battlefield position, because you essentially have a mission.
You're trying to accomplish it. You're trying to make sure everybody on the
staff understands what the mission that day is. And suddenly, before you know
it, you're taking incoming fire. There are mortar shells landing and there's
all kinds of artillery pointed at you, and there's all kinds of other things
going on. Suddenly the staff can go running in different directions. They're
panicked. They don't know. So you've got to always maintain your focus, and
that was not always easy to do. One of the ways to do it that we developed
early on was you wanted to isolate these issues. You wanted to
compartmentalize what was going on there, so that it didn't consume the other
things that the president was doing.
. . . We wanted to make sure that what was happening over here in some of these
investigations, et cetera, was not suddenly consuming what the president was
trying to do as president.
Did the president find it consuming anyway?
The president is a human being. As good as he is in trying to put these things
aside -- and the public sometimes gets the impression that it doesn't bother
him -- it does bother him. He's a human being. He doesn't like that stuff. .
. . I'm sure that, in his mind, he thought that this was a continuing erosion
that was taking place while he was trying to do all these good things for the
country, all of these issues areas that he was involved with, everything that
was going on with the economy, everything that was going on with foreign
affairs. This was the business that he wanted to focus on and, suddenly, this
other stuff kept eating away and eating away, and I think it did bother him.
In July of 1996, welfare reform comes up. Although the president had
promised in his campaign to end welfare, this is still, for the Democrats, a
fundamental core issue. Within the White House there is a big debate about
whether the president should really sign this bill. What do you
It was an issue that the president had long called for in terms of welfare
reform. And the administration had developed, working an awful lot with good
people at the various departments and agencies, a welfare reform proposal that
all of us felt would change welfare, but at the same time provide the safety
net that was important for those that needed that help. It was in line with
what Democrats had always believed in, as far as dealing with people who are
most vulnerable in our society.
Obviously, when we sent the bill up there and the Republicans came back with
their own proposal, then the real question was, could this be negotiated, could
it be worked out. And the Republicans passed their own version. The president
vetoed it. We were in a second set of negotiations and the Republicans had
given on a few key issues. And the president thought, we're making progress
here. He began to think, maybe I can get a bill. And there were some very
heavy discussions about that last moment when we had Republicans had made their
last offer and the Democrats had indicated their concerns. The principal
concerns were about the treatment of immigrants, particularly legal immigrants,
. . . I remember a final discussion that took place in the Oval Office, in
which I think present were the vice president, George Stephanopolous, myself,
maybe one other, and the president. And the president said, "What do you
think?" And I said, "Mr. President, I can't be objective about this. I'm the
son of immigrants to this country. And this really hurts immigrants and it
takes away their health care. It takes away their food stamps, their
nutrition. If you push, I think you can get a little more. But you don't want
to take the position where you're hurting people with this bill." George felt
the same way. The vice president said, "I think in the end, you're probably
better off supporting this and getting it done because we can always try to
correct this later on, but at least you'll get the main bill done." And
ultimately the president said, "I think that's what I'm going to do." And we
said, "Okay. Fine. If that's what you want to do, we'll move ahead." We came
together as a team. I called Dick Gephardt and had to tell him that the
president was going to support the bill. And while I think he was
disappointed, he also understood why the president had done that.
In the campaign -- and again this goes back to Morris' influence --there are
a lot of little mini-issues. There are school uniforms and curfews, deadbeat
dads. This had never really been done before. And a lot of people in the
White House were wondering whether they were working in a Republican
One of the battles was to make sure that all of these myriad of ideas that
would pop into Morris' head and that he would test with his polls, that none of
them were translated into policy for the President of the United States without
being thought out. I can remember one example where Morris suddenly came out
with the idea that everybody ought to get a free education at least through
community college, and he was talking about everybody ought to get a free
education for 14 years, or something like that.
It polled very well, as you can imagine. And then we said, "But wait a minute.
What does that mean? How do we put that in place?" So we took it. We worked
it. In the end what happened was that we developed tax incentives, as opposed
to just saying we're going to provide free education, and we had to set some
limits because, at the same time, we have just put a budget in place. We've
got to be able to get the deficit down. We've got to pay for everything that
comes out of these ideas. You can't just throw them up here. The president
has got to basically say to the American people, "Yes. This is my idea. This
is how much it's going to cost. By the way, this is how we are going to pay
for it." So we had to go through that process and make sure that any of these
ideas had that kind of focus. . . .
You leave right after the elections, basically. So you missed the scandal
part, although you have now said, on a number of occasions, that you would have
given the president some advice when it broke. What was that advice that you
would have given?
What is so obvious today, looking back on all of it, is a lesson that's very
hard to learn in Washington. I don't know why, but it doesn't matter how many
times you've been through it, the fundamental lesson is that when you make a
mistake, it's much, much better to acknowledge the mistake that's been made.
While it involves some temporary embarrassment, in the long run people do
forgive you and that you can move on.
And in this instance, it just seems to me that the president would clearly have
been better off, and I think that he, himself, acknowledges that he would have
been better off had he said to the American people, "Yes, I made a mistake
here. It's a terrible mistake. This is what's happened."
And I honestly believe that if he had done that, that he would not have faced
the impeachment, because there would have been nothing to impeach him on. He
would have been telling the truth not only to the American people, but to the
investigations that then followed.
You say the lesson is the president should have told the truth from the
get-go. But again here he calls in Dick Morris, and Morris conducts a poll,
and tells the president, "You can't say that you've lied about this."
Again, I think, in the business of leading this country, there are moments when
you have to do things that to you may not be very popular or be very kind to
yourself, but they're the right thing for the country. And I think that was
the moment when the most important thing for the president and for the country,
instead of pointing his finger at the American people and saying what simply
was not true, to tell the truth.
. . . In the end, you are elected to exercise your conscience as to what you
think is right, and I think that was a moment when that didn't happen.
During the Clinton presidency, there have been a series of crises, going
back even to the campaign. . . . Is there something in Bill Clinton's
character that led to an administration which did often seem to lurch from
crisis to crisis?
When you're President of the United States and you're dealing with the
vast cross-section of issues that you have to confront for the country, you are
going to be fighting a lot of battles and you're going to be fighting a lot of
different issues, and you're going to be dealing with crises in a lot of
different areas. That's just the nature of the office and the nature of the
modern presidency. Having said that, I think that this president, who is
extremely bright and extremely capable, sometimes doesn't draw his focus until
the last moment. It was true, for example, when, he'd do State of the Union
addresses. I mean, in any other world, you would think the president ought to
wrap up that State of the Union address -- get it ready to go -- at least 24
hours before he's going to go up there. I can remember those moments when he
was still writing the State of the Union address driving up to Capitol Hill,
and staying in the car to finish off that address before giving it.
So it's almost as if he needed that final moment of pressure and crisis in
order for him then to really shine. And so I think there's a little bit of
that -- in crises, he finds the energy to shine and to do better, and he's been
somebody who always comes out on top. That's not to say that it isn't one way
to do business, but I can tell you from the staff's point of view, it can raise
a lot of hell.
In April, 1993, there's a lot of pressure to get health out, and they're
talking about NAFTA, and taking about GATT. According to Woodward, there's
this meeting in the Oval Office, and Clinton bellows, "Where are all the
Democrats? I hope you're all aware we're all Eisenhower Republicans," with
voice dripping with sarcasm. "We're Eisenhower Republicans here. Here we are,
and we're standing for lower deficits and free trade and the bond market.
Isn't that great?" Do you remember that?
When he was making the decisions about the economic plan, his concern was: "How
much of a price are Democrats going to pay in this process?" And, "Here I am, a
Democratic president with the opportunity to really make a difference in
people's lives, and that's what Democrats are all about." . . . He would share
that frustration, and I think that's one of the reasons he fought so hard for
health care, he fought so hard for the education issues. He fought so hard for
issues related to the environment, because in the end, he did balance out. . .
He doesn't have to worry about going down in history as just a Democrat turned
Republican. I think he can probably go down in history as a Democrat.
How do you think this president will be remembered in history? What do you
think Bill Clinton's legacy is?
I think history will look at this presidency as probably a tale of two
presidents: one president, extremely bright, capable, compassionate, wanting to
do the right thing for the country, wanting to do the right thing for the
world, and I think in fact, providing the strongest economy that not only this
nation but the world has ever seen. I think that will be a central legacy of
The other presidency will be a tale of someone who made a terrible personal
mistake, and the bottom line will be, that to some extent, that created a
disappointment for what this presidency could have been for the country and for