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interview: donna shalala

photo of donna shalala

Formerly a political science professor, she served as Clinton's Secretary of Health and Human Services throughout his presidency.

Interview conducted October, 2000 by Chris Bury

What are your most vivid memories of the transition?

How harried it all was for us because many of us were still in our jobs, in our home stations, so to speak, and it was just hectic.

I also remember an awful lot of people running around, trying to give us advice, who had no experience managing large complex institutions.... In the case of Democrats, their idea of taking control of a previous Republican-held government was to appoint layers and layers of political appointees. They didn't have a clue about the number of civil servants that you actually, in some ways, had to co-opt to get to move in the same direction the president wanted to move in, and no real feel for how you manage large, complex institutions.

What substantive effects did [the bumpy transition] then have on the early part of the Clinton government?

Well, it took everybody a while to build relationships of trust, whether it was the White House staff with the cabinet agencies. There's always been an assumption -- and I've been through a transition before, I was here at the beginning of the Carter administration -- that everybody in the agencies are Republican, even the civil servants, and that you can't trust them, and what you have to do is put your own people in. There is no such thing.

I didn't know whether they were Republicans or Democrats. What I did know is there were more of them than there were of us, and that we had to have an attitude that we were going to do this together and build some trust from the beginning. We also had to build trust with the White House because they also came in with an attitude about how you take over the government. It took a while to get the policy development process in place.

What you really remember at the beginning was that you have to throw a budget together. We made some terrible mistakes at the beginning in my own budget that took us at least a year to catch up on. We didn't put enough money in for NIH, because I was told when I went over to the White House that the president's science advisor, and that team, was going to take care of all the science investments. As it turned out, they didn't, and I hadn't put enough resources in. So it took us a while to catch up.

When you went over to the White House in those early days what was it like?...

...They hadn't changed the culture of the campaign into the culture of a professional governance organization. So, I wasn't surprised at what I saw in those days. It still had the feel of an all-night campaign operation as opposed to governing. And it took a while to make that transition. But that was also true in the Carter administration, and I'm sure in Republican administrations too. It takes a while to get into a governance mode, to learn the rules and to set processes in place for policy development, for example, for budget development.

George Stephanopoulos told us that looking back now, he feels that he and some of the other senior staff members, who were relatively young, didn't have the proper respect for the office. Did you feel that way? Was that your impression, that it was a little too loose?

We certainly lost a significant amount of time [because of the impeachment] in
terms of dealing with major issues...Yes. But, again, what I saw was a campaign culture in awe at being at the White House. Someone needed to say, "Wear suits. We've got to have a limit to the number of people who have access to the president. We have to have a systematic policy and budget development process."

The fact that Leon [Panetta] and Alice Rivlin were over at Budget, and they were pros, made a difference on the budget side. It took the policy development side a while to get together, and there were some real professionals over there, obviously. Bob Rubin was there. Mack McLarty had run at least a private sector organization, so he knew that they needed some discipline.

You don't want to destroy the energy that comes out of a campaign. You need to get going earlier in terms of getting your government organized, and it took a little while. But I liked the youthful enthusiasm that the Clinton campaign came in with. I think it allowed us to dream big. While we stumbled during that first year, in some ways it was worth it, because it meant that we didn't go after little things.

The big thing that was decided that year was to emphasize deficit reduction, and there were a lot of internal discussions, even arguments and debates within the White House. Did you feel that the president was letting down the people who had supported him by abandoning some of the early promises to invest in people?

No, because he really was investing in the programs in my department, so I didn't have that attitude. I did believe he was a different kind of Democrat, and he really was going to be a transitional figure. And his attitude about fiscal discipline, but also social progress was somewhat different than previous generations....

And I also knew that Leon and Alice Rivlin were, in fact, disciplined about the deficit. And [the] combination of them, and of course Robert Rubin, meant that we were really going to get a crew that wanted to bring down the deficit, that had very strong views about what we needed to do in terms of the budget.

But the president made major investments in the programs that he promised, in Head Start, in child care. We started off with those investments and have never stopped getting those kinds of investments.

Were you disappointed at the time, that there was this huge emphasis on reducing the deficit?

...While a lot of the activity of the White House was about deficit reduction, it wasn't like anyone else was cut out of that discussion. It was very much going to have an impact on how much we could spend on the social side. Alice Rivlin, in particular, kept assuring me that if we could do this deficit reduction, we were going to have all kinds of money ready for the kinds of programs we thought needed to be done. Meanwhile, we had to get control of our departments, and actually get some discipline into the spending we already had. And a lot of that was quite sloppy. My department didn't have the level of computer that they needed in terms of management information systems, so there was a lot of work to do in the department while the White House was very focused on deficit reduction.

In 1993, Mrs. Clinton is given the health care reform. What was your impression of the extent of her influence and power at that time?

Well, specifically, on health care reform, she obviously was in charge of the process and obviously my department was deeply involved. Was she influential? Absolutely.

She was also extremely helpful on a number of other issues -- priorities on Head Start, child care, and adoption. Some of the things we thought we needed to get done. She and I had worked for years at the Children's Defense Fund. So while she was focused on health care, she was also paying attention to some of the other issues....

How did you disagree with Mrs. Clinton about the health department reform?

Well, I think that the idea of going forward and taking on the whole system was not such a bad idea. On process, I might have done it somewhat differently. I also knew something else -- that we were taking a huge risk by taking on the whole system. All of the literature -- I'm a political scientist -- says that if you're gonna take a giant step, there has to be consensus nationally that there is a problem, and consensus about the solution.

We read the problem correctly. Americans were quite unhappy with the health care system. They were worried about it. We had large numbers of Americans without health insurance. We assumed that we could develop a solution that, in fact, had consensus, but the fact was there wasn't consensus on a solution. There wasn't a consensus on an approach, whether it was single payer. There was a consensus that we ought to have health care for everybody, but none on how you get there, whether you do it through a public/private system, whether you do it gradually or over time.

And, in some ways, we misread that. From the beginning all of us were nervous about that because we had never seen a process like the one that we were going through. But Mrs. Clinton and I never disagreed about the goal or about the focus on health care in particular.

What was her management style like? How would you describe that?

I think that I would describe her a factotum of someone that convened as opposed to a hands-on, top-down manager. She actually had people that were doing that part. I think her job was more herding and bringing people together, and staying on top of the effort that was being done....

In retrospect, was it the right idea to put the first lady in charge of [health care]?

I don't think it was the wrong idea. Look, we had someone in the White House, Bob Rubin, who basically managed a process in which we fundamentally changed the role of government in relationship to the economy, brought the deficit down. So it's not unusual for the White House to lead a cost-cutting process. Health care didn't involve just my department. It involved Treasury, it involved lots of other departments. Labor Department, for example. So, it's not unusual to have a policy development process led by the White House.

What's highly unusual is to have a first lady [lead the process]. But it's also highly unusual to have a first lady with Mrs. Clinton's kind of qualifications. We will have more in the future, and running a policy development process that that individual leads, I think will be more likely in the future but not necessarily in the next round of, of first ladies.

We didn't know how this president would handle crises-- we found that out from
this presidency.  And that's the real test of leadership ,that's what I've seen
in Bill Clinton....Was it a bad political judgment to have her? We wouldn't be having this discussion, if we were successful and I would argue that it was high risk, high gain, and the president took that risk. And would I have advised him to do that? He didn't ask me at the time. I wasn't surprised that he decided to do that.

Should we have done it in a more traditional way? I certainly felt, from the beginning, because I knew something about the politics of achieving big things, that this was going to be hard to pull off because we didn't have national consensus on the solution, on the role of government here, and we were taking on lots of different constituencies. I believe what we did was build a negative coalition. Instead of building a positive coalition, we had so many people who had a problem with some part of our solution, that they got together and opposed it. It's a classic negative coalition. That's what you fear when you put something large and complex together, and that's why you have to have consensus on the solutions and not just consensus on the problem....

You talked about the difference between procedural and substantive parts of that program. On the question of the task force, Secretary Reich tells us that he thinks the fundamental error was the decision to hold those meetings in private, that it alienated too many important constituencies.

...If you want to do something big, your process has to be transparent. Open. But more importantly, you have to read the politics from the beginning correctly. You have to know what the ending is. And my argument is that we read the problem but we didn't read whether there was public consensus about what the approach should be. It's very difficult to pull off what we were trying to pull off unless you have both pieces....

...When Mrs. Clinton became a political target did that damage the health care reform process?

I don't think it did at all. I really believe that if you go back and look at our earlier judgment, we judged the problem correctly. There was no consensus on the solution by the American people. They weren't so sure they wanted more government involved in their health care.

You think it was that and not Mrs. Clinton as the political figure?

...Most people will say it was the process. It should have been done in a more traditional way, that we should have taken some principles and run to the Hill. And some of us actually wanted to do that. We actually wanted to write it with Congress, because we thought we'd get more consensus and a broader-based solution. But we also would have gotten a smaller conclusion, I think, than we ultimately recommended....

As a friend of Mrs. Clinton as the Whitewater scandal started to gain steam later that year, early the next year, how did that affect her personally?

I think her father's illness and death affected her personally during the health care debate more than even that. I think that all of these things just added extra burdens to a very talented and very thoughtful and very compassionate woman....

You say the two things coincided, but Whitewater of course would go on and become a major thorn. Looking at how that affected her personally, did she feel under siege? Did she feel that all this was somehow unfair? What was she saying to you?

She was saying nothing privately to me. What she was doing was trying to focus on being supportive to get some things done for kids, in particular, and working on some issues that she was particularly concerned about. I did not talk to her about Whitewater. I didn't know anything about Whitewater.

What about the collapse of health care? What [were] Mrs. Clinton's feelings?

Well, I think she was very disappointed. I mean, there's no question about that. But in some ways we didn't look back. We just kept moving. We can look back now. But we had a lot to get done and that included starting to bite off some large pieces of what we were trying to do in health care reform. And those included covering children, making sure the disabled had good health coverage, using our own administrative flexibility through waivers to expand health insurance, working with state governments. We actually covered more than 2 million people by working with states and getting them to expand existing programs.

There was still a big political cost. I mean, one of the things that most people think led to the Republican election in 1994 was the failure of health care. That's always given a huge amount of weight. What did that election do to the president? How did that change him?

He was pretty stunned, but he can take a punch. This president can take a punch. His attitude was he was going to brush himself off and we were going to get going, with even more energy than we had had before.

Did you see him on election day?

I did see him on election day.

What do you remember?

I think a perception was that he had taken a punch, that he was pretty shaken. It was not what we expected. We expected it to be a tough election but not that tough. But within 24 hours he was ready to bounce back....

What [was] your reaction to the president bringing Dick Morris back?

I think the president can bring anyone he wants back to advise him. I had known Dick Morris years ago in New York. I happen not to be a particular fan but it's up to the president.... But I also know this about the president -- that he takes his own counsel. He takes advice from lots of people, and he himself is a first-class politician. So if he was looking for political ideas and strategies and decided to talk to Dick Morris, that was his business. My business was working with him on a set of issues that he cared deeply about, in health and welfare, children's issues, science, and international health issues.

Did you see Dick Morris having real influence on policy though?

No. No. Dick Morris says in his book that he had tremendous influence on things like the tobacco policy, for example. He takes full credit for it, something we had been working on quite secretly, actually, without the White House knowing, for more than a year before we actually made the presentation to the White House. ... I think he had less influence on policy than he did [on] how to position things, than he actually takes credit for....

When Gingrich was sort of at the apex of his power in 1995, he was kind of a prime minister of this town. The president gave a famous remark at a news conference where he said, "I am still relevant here." How did that strike you?

...Well, one thing about this president is he says lots of things, but he also does more. When this Clinton presidency is judged, it will be judged by what he did, not just what he said. When the government shut down in 1995, what was that fight really about?

It was actually a power struggle between the Republicans and the Democrats. [The Republicans] had an attitude that government wasn't necessary, and that it actually didn't make any difference if Washington shut down. After all, they had run on this for years, saying you can live without Washington. The world was not made and does not end in Washington, D.C. So they tested that theory and tested the mettle of this president. Shocked as we were that anyone would actually do that, [we] just had a field day taking off after them. And of course what the American people found out is that this federal government affects every aspect of their lives, and that shutting it down really did make a difference out there....

The president was implicit in the shutdown. He essentially called the bluff of the speaker.

He did, and it showed his backbone. And we had a field day going after the Republicans, demonstrating what a difference it made if you didn't have government, if you couldn't write checks and get checks to people. But it did something that I think will last for a very long time. People come into public service and make choices because they're going to get some security. They're never going to be fired, basically. The government shutdown had a devastating psychological effect on civil servants in this town. As much as we reassured them that we were going to get back to business at some point, I think the psychological impact will take generations to overcome, because these are people that always believed they would have the security of a job. The idea that they were only going to get half their paycheck before Christmas was devastating to thousands of public employees.

...Did [the government shutdown] change the perception of Bill Clinton on Capitol Hill?

It was important in terms of his relationship with the Democrats, first of all, because they stood together. This was an issue in which the president and all the Democrats stood together, and, for the first time, they had a clear, straightforward issue. They could take on the Republicans. I think it shocked the Republicans that he was prepared to say no as firmly as he possibly could.

In 1996 we were running for reelection and so the president had a set of issues that could be translated so the public understood. And frankly, big issues, conceptual issues, what people call the "big vision thing," weren't as effective as specific things. The very specific things that he recommended gave people a feel and a message of an activist president.

It was not the substance of each of those issues, which was fine. It was the cumulative effect, that this was going to be an activist president that would do something that would affect your life.

Some people have felt that it diminished the presidency because these were such small things. School uniforms. Why would a president be out pushing for school uniform?

Well it actually, though, was a communications strategy. It was a proxy for activism, for doing things that affected people's lives. You can't just look at the detail of the specific recommendation. It was a brilliant proxy for an activist president that cared about what happened in your house.

Was it also a function of the fact that he had lost on some of the big agendas? I mean, he had lost on health care. He had seen that that didn't work, politically. Was that one of the reasons why these little initiatives were pushed in '96?

Well, I think we pushed the little initiatives cumulatively to send a message. But remember, we came out of that election and did some big things. So to get to do the big things, we had to have some things that the president talked about.

So, you know, I thought it was a gimmick. They were, they were nice issues, they were relatively small, but as far as I was concerned, they were literally proxies, as part of a communications strategy.

You say gimmick.

Well, I mean, they were so small and little compared to, you know, getting millions of people better health care, for example. But the point was [that] cumulatively they sent a message of someone who cared about you and about the things that you care about. And I didn't think there was anything wrong, because they gave us the opportunity to do bigger things....

The great issue for most of 1996 as far as your department is concerned is welfare reform. Tell us about the meeting you had in July with the president and several cabinet members, where the third welfare reform proposal is being thoroughly debated. A lot of people have told us about this meeting. I'm interested in your impressions as you went around the table.

...The issue was not whether we were going to do welfare reform, but whether we were going to keep going back to the Republicans to get better and better bills. We still had major flaws in the bill that the president was consider[ing] signing. He was under enormous pressure, not from Republican, but from his own Democrats in Congress to sign this particular bill....

You didn't think it was a good bill.

I did not think it was a good bill. I thought it had fundamental flaws in it. But so did the president. The president and I did not disagree about the weaknesses of this particular bill. So it was as much a political argument on whether he had to sign the bill now. The substantive debate, the cabinet was together on.

What did you tell him in the meeting?

I think we told him what the flaws were in the bill. That it had flaws in immigration, it had flaws on cutting people off of food stamps, that it would make a large number of Americans poorer. None of us were debating whether this would move people from welfare to work.

We knew that we were at a transition period. Whether we needed to give in at this moment on the fundamental entitlement, whether we were going to take a big risk on that issue, the president knew what the flaws were. We were not teaching him anything.

What was interesting to me about the meeting, without revealing individuals, was that the cabinet was basically together on whether he should sign the bill or not. I would say 90 percent of the people in that room thought he should put it off. A handful of people thought he shouldn't. But their argument was not substantive; it was political.

So I would argue there wasn't a substantive argument, except perhaps about the entitlement issue, and it wasn't that the President of the United States didn't get it. He got it. He had to make a tough political call.

Were you disappointed?

Sure. I don't like losing. And I thought I made a pretty good argument in the room, that we should go back and try to get a better bill. Every time we went back -- this was the third reincarnation -- we got a better bill.

But he also made a promise to me that day that we would go back and correct this bill right after the election. And he explained very carefully to me that he thought he had to go forward with this bill, that the timing was important, both in terms of, obviously, the elections, but also in terms of what he thought we could get at that time. But he also made a solemn promise to me and to Henry Cisneros that he would go back and make corrections on poor immigrants, on single individuals that were cut out of food stamps. And we in fact did make those corrections.

You've explained your argument well, but give us a sense of detail about the passion that you felt. Several people have said you're waving a study around and you were really impassioned that the president, if he signed this bill, was making a mistake that was going to hurt people.

Well, that's the way I talk to the President of the United States. The president responds to the strongest possible argument. He likes his cabinet, and his staff, to take on the issue. And yes, I felt strongly. We were talking about poor people, very poor people, the poorest people in the United States and how they were going to be affected by government. And these were fundamental changes, and we were going to affect the kinds of people that my grandparents were when they came to this country. New immigrants that were coming in.

And I felt very strongly about the number of people that were going to be hurt by these decisions, and that we were sending these resources to the states. And that for the first time, we're going to have an uneven safety net. Where you lived was going to make a decision about the quality of your life, about how poor you were going to be, basically....

Do you think the president made the wrong moral decision for a political reason?

I think that he didn't believe that he was doing that. He understood how fundamental this decision was to go forward with this particular bill. But it's never that black and white in public life. We had already substantially improved the bill. There was no question about that. We had gotten more child care money. We had guaranteed health care for people that were coming off of welfare. So we had in fact straightened out large parts of the bill. It reflected the president's original bill more than any other bill had. Did I believe that at that point he was making a political decision? The answer was yes, and my argument was that we could go one more round. He's a hearts player. I'm more of a poker player. I would have wanted to go one more round with the Congress because I thought we could get more things fixed in the bill.

[In] 1997 the major accomplishment is the balanced budget agreement. Beyond that, what stands out in, in your mind for 1997 as something we should particularly remember?

Well, I think by 1997 we were making major investments in science, and we were beginning to see major trends in this country being affected by Clinton administration policies. Teenage pregnancy rates were starting to come down. The use of drugs and tobacco by young people was beginning to stabilize. Immunization rates were up and we had a major impact on the health of children. So while we were balancing the budget, all of the things that we had in place in '93, '94, '95, and '96, while all this other stuff was going on, were beginning to have an effect on the quality of people's lives, on the health and welfare of our children. So we were pretty, feeling pretty good by 1997, about the direction we were moving the country in, and we had made the correction on the welfare bill.

In January '98, January 23rd, the Lewinsky scandal is two days old and the president has a cabinet meeting, after which Secretary Albright and you come out and say the allegations are untrue... When you went out and affirmed that did you believe him?

Yes, absolutely, or I wouldn't have gone out and affirmed it.

Once you found out that the president had not told the truth, did you feel that he had used you?

Of course. I mean, what's surprising about that? The president felt like he had used us.... The president also said to us, when he said the allegations weren't true, that we should put our heads down and make sure that we were getting our jobs done. And if you ever saw government officials with tunnel vision, since most of us, all of us, were not involved in that particular situation, we put our heads down and got our jobs done, and stayed out of the broader politics that were going on around us....

Did you feel that the president had a moral authority beyond doing a good job as president?

Of course I do, and, you know, so does every other member of the cabinet. Leaders do have a responsibility. We are role models. Our behavior is looked at, and how we behave, publicly and privately, is important. I believed that then and I believe that now.

How was the president during those very intense, early days of the scandal? How did it affect him?

You know, he probably had more energy for the substantive issues, was more focused when we came in to talk to him about policy issues, than I've ever seen him. And I'm not talking about compartmentalization. I'm talking about the kind of intensity that he brought to the issues. We got a lot of work done. And he was very focused on getting things done and didn't expect the rest of us to chat with him about anything else. But he was focused on policy -- in my case, on kids and on what we wanted to do with the health care system....

Was there ever a point at which you thought, "The president's going to have to resign"?

No. There really wasn't.

After the impeachment the president now says that there were a couple of real significant policy costs. That as a result of impeachment, he probably was unable to reform Social Security, unable to reform Medicare. Is that your assessment?

Well, we certainly lost time, because Congress was tied up, there was no question about that. And the country was tied up, focused on that, and I think that I would rely on his political judgment on that. We certainly lost a significant amount of time in terms of dealing with major issues, and we were on a roll at that point. There was no question about it. Second term, we were really moving.

And so impeachment stopped that.

Impeachment stopped everything with the exception of what we were able to do in our own department. It doesn't mean that this president doesn't have great achievements in terms of whether Americans are better off. Certainly, as I indicated before, children are better off than they ever were. They're healthier and wealthier. Seniors are better off because of what we've been able to do with their programs. The breakthroughs in science are going to be unbelievable in years ahead because of what this president, particularly, did.

[In] the last year or so did you notice a distinct change in the president's mood?...

It's quite obvious that the president's on the downside now, and he's loosened up a bit. But he also is acting like he did the first year, in the sense that "We have got to get all these things done before we leave." So I think the attitude of most of us that work for the president is we're exhausted because he's running us around, getting so many things done before he leaves office....

Do you see this man as a president who is concerned about his legacy, about how history will remember him?

I think he is concerned, but he's also more concerned about getting things done. This is a president that measures himself by whether people are actually better off. He's so much of a people person. He may be a wonk, and an intellectual, which he certainly is, but he's also focused on whether life is better for the middle class, for kids, for the elderly. He really cares about that.

When you look back at the eight years, beyond the accomplishments, and you look at this president, what do you consider his greatest failing?

I don't know the answer to that question yet. I mean, there obviously were opportunities where we could have moved. He says himself Social Security and Medicare reform, which were two things that we wanted to do. But, you know, there's so many positives, there's so many big things we were able to do. All of this is in context.

If someone had said to us we would have 2.5 million more kids in health insurance and another 2 million people that got insurance through government programs, that would be considered a giant step. But in the context of what we tried to do, it's considered incremental. If someone would have said that every measure of the morality and how teenagers behave is going in the right direction -- pregnancies are down, drug use by young kids is down, tobacco use is down, alcohol use by young kids is down --they would have said you can't reverse those trends so quickly. It'll take a lifetime to reverse those trends. If anyone had said that we were going to cut AIDS deaths by 70 percent when we started out in 1993, they would a said, "Not a chance. You're overstating what science can possibly do." Or that the number of people dying from breast cancer, all sorts of other cancers, [or] whether we'd have done the Human Genome Project the way we ended up doing it.

So it has been a remarkable presidency. He had bigger dreams and they weren't fulfilled, but we got a lot of big things done that made the lives of Americans, in the context of this economy, much better, significantly better. That gave more people an opportunity to go to college, to have better education, because he had bigger dreams.

So what you're saying is it was a good presidency but it could have been--

It could have been better. But, boy, I hope that I always say that about any situation that I'm in. That we did a good job but we could have done better.

Are you saying that the president could have done better had he not had this great personal failing?

No. I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying even without his personal behavior we wouldn't have met all of our goals. We would have been saying, at the end of this presidency that we would have wanted to do more. So the fact that we did so much, that this country is so much better off, that our kids are better off, is a huge legacy from my point of view.

He doesn't want to use the word legacy, but I'll use the word legacy. We did some very good things. But the most important thing that we did was we anticipated the future, and that future is our kids. Our kids are much better off than they were when we started....

You've said that the president's governing style has changed, that he went from being a governor to being a president. What did you mean and when did it happen?

It took him two or three years. As governor, of course, he dealt with education, for example. [He] didn't deal a great deal with health care except for the Medicaid program, not the Medicare program, for the elderly. [He] was not used to these broad, sweeping issues, including major issues of the economy. So you saw him more energized on the things he had dealt with as governor. He was more interested, at the beginning, on those issues.

What he came to see was a powerful role in foreign policy, a role in shaping the economy. He came to understand that one of the roles of the federal government is to make sure no matter where a kid is born in this country, no matter what state they're born in, they ought to have the same opportunities.

And so while, initially, he wanted to give a lot more power to the states, and welfare reform was almost the last piece of that, h e came to understand that fundamental opportunities, that justice ought not to depend on geography, and the powerful role of a federal government in making sure that every senior citizen, wherever they [live] in this country, ought to have a pharmaceutical benefit.

...The special role of the federal government in evening out the differences between opportunity and background and the wealth of your community, he began to understand more in the second term than in the first term.

You've known the Clintons for a long time, long before he took office. Beyond the policy and government, what's the biggest personal change you've noticed, after eight years in the White House in Mr. Clinton?

I think that a lot of things have taken a toll on them. But I think the loss of friends has taken a great toll on the president. Ron Brown's death. No one ever talks about the effect that had on the president. I think the president had never thought before the risks that people take in public life, and the death of Ron Brown, the death of foreign service officers, and others, in the bombing in Africa. Vince Foster. The special stresses of people that work in the government. The special responsibilities. The kind of courage people have. And I think that the president has become more than eloquent.

But he's found something inside of himself in terms of handling crises. We elect people maybe on what their positions are. We ought to elect them on how they'll handle unanticipated circumstances, emergencies. And the one fundamental change that we didn't know how this president would handle crises, how he would handle emergencies, how he would handle national crises -- we found that out from this presidency. And that's the real test of leadership and that's what I've seen in Bill Clinton. He can step up at a moment when everyone's devastated around him, and say the right thing to the American people.... Oklahoma City, for many of us, was the most devastating thing that happened during the course of the Clinton presidency. Nothing like that had ever happened before, and the president brought us together.



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