the clinton years

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interview: leon panetta
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 member.

. . . 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 would happen.

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 story.

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 issues.

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 challenge.

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 about that?

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 back.

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 can't happen."

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 happen.

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 by Morris.

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 do."

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 way?

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 Republican proposal.

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 did.

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 fight for.

In the fall of 1995, there is the showdown with Republicans on the government.

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 those moments.

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 remember?

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, on welfare.

. . . 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 administration.

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 that presidency.

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 the world.

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