Clinton's 1st visit shows he is no isolationist He seeks views, both high and low

November 20, 1992|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- President-elect Bill Clinton left the capital last night after two days of demonstrating through gestures great and small that he intends to avoid the pitfalls that left his predecessor too far removed from the people.

The Arkansas governor jogged at sunrise through city streets, stopped for coffee at McDonald's in his sweat pants, and gathered advice on fixing national problems of "mind-bending complexity" from merchants and shoppers in one of Washington's struggling neighborhoods.

"They don't expect miracles, but they do expect progress," Mr. Clinton said yesterday of the advice he heard.

President Bush's bid for a second term was overcome by the Clinton challenge, in part, because voters complained that the more aloof Republican didn't seem to understand the crushing burdens imposed on average Americans by the sour economy, soaring health care costs, crime and other problems.

His jogging rarely took him outside the fence of a federal compound.

The president-to-be said he has also gotten the message that Americans don't want to hear any more excuses about conflicts between the executive and Congress -- a key Bush campaign theme.

Mr. Clinton made a point yesterday of meeting with Republican as well as Democratic congressional leaders and set aside special private time for some of Capitol Hill's most powerful, and potentially troublesome, committee chairmen.

"It is my intention that he shall not have trouble on the Hill," said Rep. John D. Dingell, an influential Michigan Democrat who heads the House Energy and Commerce committee.

He and Mr. Clinton spent a half hour or so yesterday talking

about health-care reform and fuel efficiency standards for cars -- two areas in which they disagree and in which Mr. Dingell could be a formidable opponent.

Mr. Clinton also met privately with Sen. Robert Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and stands as the most likely roadblock to progress on broader budget-cutting powers for the president.

Earlier yesterday, at a Clinton breakfast with Democratic leaders, Mr. Byrd announced that he has not yet taken a position on a proposal by House Speaker Thomas Foley, praised by the president-elect, that would make it easier for the president to eliminate congressional spending he regards as wasteful.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole has let it be known to Bush administration officials that he's been approached by a number of Democrats who oppose Clinton positions and are hoping to forge alliances with the Republican opposition.

But he and House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel of Illinois were almost as effusive as the Democrats yesterday in their appreciation of Mr. Clinton for seeking their views on issues before his first legislative package is crafted.

"I want to compliment the president-elect . . . for taking this step, in my view, in the right direction," Mr. Dole told reporters following a bi-partisan luncheon with Mr. Clinton.

"We're going to have a lot of areas of agreement. We're going to have some of disagreement . . . but our common interest is moving the country forward."

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat who attended both the breakfast and luncheon sessions with Mr. Clinton and Vice President-elect Al Gore, said the new president "expects to be doing this a lot."

"I think most of the time we'll be down at the White House," said Mr. Hoyer, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus.

"But if there is some particular legislator that Clinton needs to talk to, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him come down here any time he feels like it."

That would also break the pattern established by Mr. Bush and other presidents, who only made rare trips to Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile, Mr. Clinton's transition director, Warren M. Christopher, was sounding out legislators this week on their advice for appointments to the Clinton cabinet.

Senator Lloyd Bentsen, the Texas Democrat who ran as the Democratic nominee for vice president in 1988, told reporters Mr. Christopher sought his advice Wednesday about potential candidates for Treasury secretary.

Mr. Bentsen, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said he was not offered the job himself, but might take such an offer if it comes.

The original purpose of Mr. Clinton's first visit to Washington since his election two weeks ago was to meet with Mr. Bush at the White House so the two could formally put their political combat behind them and set the tone for an orderly transfer of power.

But their hour-and-45-minute session at the White House early Wednesday afternoon was quickly overshadowed by the Clinton-orchestrated events, including his walking tour of a predominantly black neighborhood and his morning jog around the monuments on the national mall.

Mr. Clinton spent almost as much time yesterday with Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as he did with Mr. Bush.

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