Bill Clinton goes to Washington

November 17, 1992

When President-elect Clinton goes to Washington tomorrow, he needs to demonstrate he has control of his agenda despite a multitude of distracting issues. Gays in the military, ethics reforms, asylum for Haitian refugees, line-item veto authority, D.C. statehood -- these are campaign promises he cannot discard. But they have received so much prominence since his Nov. 3 triumph that there is concern they could cross up his stated intention to keep focused on the economy.

However one feels about these non-economic issues, there can be little doubt they will be highly contentious on Capitol Hill. Democratic leaders already have made it clear they will resist ceding to any president power to veto a budget line item.

Likewise, Mr. Clinton's proposal to do away with the ban against homosexuals in the military is causing resentment in the officer corps that could set off a storm in Congress. Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has warned the president-elect to go slow with this proposal. "If you did it overnight, I fear for the lives of people in the military themselves," Mr. Nunn said over the weekend.

The president-elect was careful when asked about his pledge to the Haitians not to extend a wide open-door invitation to thousands of would-be emigres from that nation's military rule. But by raising expectations among Haitians eager to come to the United States, he has gratuitously created conditions for a potential "boat-people" problem.

Similar complications arise with D.C. statehood and ethics reform that could keep the new administration from concentrating on the economy.

Although relations between President Bush and Governor Clinton are bound to be edgy so soon after a bitterly fought election, both are political pros. Indeed, even while flinging insults at Mr. Clinton, the president said he "liked" him. If this is the case, Mr. Bush should use his session with the president-elect tomorrow to warn him of pitfalls and offer what guidance he can.

Mr. Clinton, of course, is besieged with advice from all quarters (including this one) on how he should launch his administration. If he listens to the "Establishment" consensus, he will downplay talk about another Roosevelt-style "Hundred Days," avoid unnecessary disputes that could jeopardize his agenda and make sure any moves to stimulate the economy do not make a mockery of his vows to reduce the size of the federal deficit.

Sounds reasonable, but he also has a mandate to be bold and force change. How he resolves these questions will set the early tone of his presidency.

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