Clinton, set for oath, promises 'new spirit' Iraq crisis shadows inauguration eve marked by visit to Kennedys' graves

January 20, 1993|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Bill Clinton will be sworn in as 42nd president of the United States today, sounding the themes of renewal and reunion, and walking down Pennsylvania Avenue to symbolize his intention to stay in touch with ordinary people.

"My goal as president will be to bring to this city a new spirit of innovation," he said at a meeting of the nation's governors yesterday. "I desperately want to make a difference."

He spent the final day before his inauguration paying homage to the former president who inspired his pursuit of power, making more appointments, meeting with the governors and chatting with children's television icon Fred Rogers at a Kennedy Center program for children. His day ended at midnight with a gala concert, 16 hours after it began with a jog at dawn.

Dominating the day again, however, was the confrontation with Iraq, which Mr. Clinton will confront as of noon today, with Iraqi concessions on the table. Those concessions were rejected yesterday by Mr. Clinton until Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is in full compliance with United Nations resolutions.

The thrust of the Clinton administration's policies at home and abroad will be outlined in an inaugural address expected to last about 20 minutes, strikingly brief for a politician with a reputation for verbosity.

Aides said Mr. Clinton wrote the original draft himself, a departure from his usual practice of using other people's first drafts. He tapped John F. Kennedy's address, Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address and the first inaugural addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson for ideas.

A team of researchers and two speech writers -- David Kusnet, author of "Speaking American: How the Democrats Can Win in the Nineties," and Michael Waldman, a former executive of Ralph Nader's Public Citizen lobbying group -- helped put his thoughts into an estimated 2,400 words.

The speech will echo the remarks of his three days in the nation's capital, which have focused on national unity and building a better world, and have cast U.S. power abroad in terms of the nation's economic strength at home.

When he arrives in the Oval Office, a series of executive orders will be awaiting his signature. One of them is expected to abolish the so-called gag rule, which bars federally funded health clinics from giving women information about abortion.

In a solemn break from the hectic round of celebrations that has greeted his arrival in Washington, Mr. Clinton paid tribute yesterday to the man who inspired him to run for the presidency and whose words he often quoted in winning it -- John F. Kennedy.

As a teen-age delegate to the American Legion's Boys Nation in July 1963, Bill Clinton met and shook hands with President Kennedy in the White House Rose Garden. He has credited that brief encounter, captured in a much-published photograph, with leading him to enter public service.

Mr. Clinton's visit to Arlington Cemetery yesterday was an interlude of solemnity and private reflection. The visit was not on Mr. Clinton's schedule, and only a small group of reporters and photographers was allowed to witness the gathering from 150 yards away.

Waiting at the cemetery for the president-elect were Sen. Edward M. Kennedy; Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert F. Kennedy; her son Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II; and John F. Kennedy Jr.

Mr. Clinton and his wife, Hillary, paused first at Robert Kennedy's grave, marked by a simple white cross near his older brother's final resting place on the Virginia hillside overlooking the capital.

After kneeling at the graveside for a few moments with Ethel Kennedy and the senator, Mr. and Mrs. Clinton each placed a white rose on the grave of Robert Kennedy, who was shot June 5, 1968, while campaigning for the presidency.

Mr. Clinton then walked alone up the steps to John F. Kennedy's grave and placed another long-stemmed white rose on the marker. Head bowed, he knelt for several seconds before the grave of the man who was shot on Nov. 22, 1963.

He then stood, looked for a few more moments at the grave, and walked back down the steps.

Mr. Clinton filled 13 senior State Department posts yesterday, two of them with Bush administration holdovers, swelling the ranks of his crisis-management team, which immediately will be fully occupied with Iraq, Somalia and the continuing problems in the former Yugoslavia.

The first issue for Mr. Clinton today will be Iraq. He must decide whether to continue the attacks started by Mr. Bush, which Mr. Clinton has strongly supported.

After the governors' lunch, Mr. Clinton attended a "Salute to Children" at the Kennedy Center, where he was interviewed by Mr. Rogers, host of the children's program "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood."

He answered a question about how many bathrooms the White House has (lots, but they are all small) and talked about when he first realized he wanted to be in public service.

"You know the Clinton family likes 'Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood,' and if we can make every neighborhood like Mr. Rogers' neighborhood, America would be a happier place," he told the children.

The event ended with Kermit, the famous frog from Sesame Street, perched on Hillary Clinton's shoulder as they all sang "This Little Light of Mine."

Mr. Clinton's pre-inaugural day ended at a star-studded presidential gala featuring Elton John, Barbara Streisand, Aretha Franklin, Chuck Berry, Judy Collins and the Alvin Ailey Dance Troupe. Fleetwood Mac, the rock group that gave his campaign its theme song, "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow," reunited for the occasion.

Thinking about his own tomorrow, Mr. Clinton asked for prayers and support, saying, "I face daunting challenges, too great for any person's mind to comprehend or wisdom to judge or strength to meet alone."

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