Watchdog Perot begins to nip at Clinton's heels

January 12, 1993|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- In a post-election debut that could have passed for a one-man variety hour, former presidential contender H. Ross Perot burst back on the TV screen yesterday to launch a membership drive for his volunteer organization and begin nipping at the heels of the incoming administration.

"I guess you're all going to be stuck with me for a while," Mr. Perot said at a televised press conference in Dallas that, with its flip charts, 800 number and Patsy Cline music, was like a microcosm of the Texas billionaire's quirky, unconventional presidential campaign.

Mr. Perot, who ended up with 19 percent of the vote in November, made it plain that, using his "United We Stand, America" organization as a base and a "bullhorn," he was sticking around to provide a critique of the new president and to continue sounding the economic alarms and calls for governmental reform that formed the basis of his candidacy.

Already yesterday, with Bill Clinton not yet in the White House, Mr. Perot chided the president-elect for surrounding himself with former lobbyists. He particularly criticized his nominee for commerce secretary, Ronald H. Brown, the Democratic National Committee chairman, who once represented foreign interests.

"We don't understand the change in position on lobbyists," he said when asked about the Cabinet appointments. "He is surrounded by people from that system and is under tremendous pressure to leave that system intact and even make it more valuable."

The re-emergence of Mr. Perot could be a political headache for Mr. Clinton, who won the election with 43 percent of the popular vote.

George Stephanopoulos, the Clinton spokesman, acknowledged that the president-elect needs to appeal to the 19 million people who voted for Mr. Perot.

"I don't know that we have to play to Perot, but we certainly do have to address the concerns of those who voted for Perot," Mr. Stephanopoulos said.

Mr. Clinton has limited the influence of special interests on government by imposing on top Clinton appointees a five-year ban on lobbying their former agencies and a lifetime ban on lobbying on behalf of foreign governments, the spokesman said.

Mr. Perot repeatedly said he thought Mr. Clinton had the right instincts about economic issues and wanted to give him some breathing room. But in the next breath, he took jabs at the incoming leader, more pointedly than any Republican has done during this honeymoon period and often in a feisty, "I-told-you-so" fashion.

Without referring directly to Mr. Clinton and his economic advisers, who have said they'll have to adjust their economic prescriptions in light of recently-released deficit projections, Mr. Perot mocked those now saying, " 'My goodness, we didn't know we had this extra deficit coming up next year.' Go back to the presidential debates. I guess they don't listen -- to us. But we were covering this in Technicolor."

Mr. Stephanopoulos, in Little Rock, Ark., responded by noting that even the figures outlined in Mr. Perot's book, "United We Stand," underestimated the numbers recently released by budget director Richard G. Darman. "[B]y any estimate, by any baseline that anybody had come out with previously, the deficit is about $50 to $60 billion higher than anybody thought," the Clinton spokesman said.

In a sort of encore of the Perot campaign choreography, yesterday's lengthy press conference was followed by an appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live" last night and a three-day blitz of morning show spots beginning with ABC's "Good Morning America" today.

Mr. Perot, who spent about $60 million of his own money on his presidential bid, is asking citizens to send an annual fee of $15 to his organization which will serve as a watchdog group to the new president and Congress, chiefly monitoring deficit-cutting and budget-balancing activities, and possibly endorsing candidates.

The billionaire businessman said he will supply start-up money for the organization, including financing four 60-second commercials that will begin airing five days after Mr. Clinton takes office.

At yesterday's press conference, Mr. Perot presented those TV spots -- as well as what seemed like a collection of his greatest hits: Three times, he gleefully played a tape recording of Patsy Cline's "Crazy," a song he reveled in at the end of his campaign, dedicating it to George Bush's press secretary Marlin Fitzwater "and all those other wonderful people who called me crazy."

He waved his book. He waved newspaper stories. He dismissed as a "giant yawn" an ongoing Secret Service investigation of some of his campaign practices.

And with quip after familiar quip -- "We can't leave it up to the special interests roaming around in their alligator shoes and blow-dried hair" -- he reminded voters why the '92 presidential election was such a spectacle.

Although his presence on the horizon could set the stage for a 1996 presidential run, Mr. Perot discarded that prospect yesterday, saying he won't have to run if his organization is successful.

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