Gore hopes to be most influential vice president

January 21, 1993|By Peter Honey | Peter Honey,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Albert Gore Jr. became the 45th vice president of the United States shortly before noon yesterday with hopes of becoming the most influential person ever to hold that office.

The 44-year-old senator from Tennessee took the oath before Justice Byron R. White, the last justice on the Supreme Court appointed by a Democrat.

Mr. Gore's teen-age daughters, Karenna, Kristin and Sarah, and 10-year-old son, Albert III, stood by as he placed his hand on the family Bible supported by his wife, Tipper, and promised to "well and faithfully perform the duties of the office I am about to hold."

"I know you will, Mr. Vice President," commented the justice to conclude the minute-long ceremony shortly before Bill Clinton was sworn in as president.

Mr. Gore, the Harvard-educated son of a New Deal Democratic senator, has been groomed for national office since his youth and made an unsuccessful bid for the party's presidential nomination in 1988.

The consummate Washington insider, Mr. Gore now hopes to use his experience and knowledge of environmental, scientific and arms control issues to enhance his secondary position to unprecedented heights.

It is a role that so far seems to suit Mr. Clinton, who has insisted that he wants a policy "partnership" with his vice president -- but a partnership still so ill-defined and without constitutional support that skeptics question its viability.

Michael K. Nelson, an authority on presidential and vice presidential politics at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., expects Mr. Gore to become frustrated in his second-fiddle role.

"It's not that he isn't competent for the job -- he is -- but it's because he wants to be a full partner in the administration, which is just not going to happen," he said. "Presidents don't have partners in an administration -- they only have subordinates."

Mr. Gore bristles at reports that his unusually close relationship with Mr. Clinton is bound to diminish.

It "couldn't possibly be any better," he told reporters this week.

They share, Mr. Gore told reporters this week, "a closeness that has never been apparent between any other president and vice presidential candidates. You will see the same thing in the White House."

He said he expected to be an all-purpose adviser to the president and would also try to play a greater role in formulating "proposals and plans," particularly in his specialties: the environment, space and technology, and arms control.

Aides say that Mr. Gore will work out of the Old Executive Office Building as his predecessors have, but would also have an office at the White House -- a precedent set in the 1970s by Vice President Walter F. Mondale, whose strong influence in the White House has been attempted but never surpassed by his successors.

Gore aides point out that he already has played a significant role in helping to choose Mr. Clinton's Cabinet and other top administrators. Carol M. Browner, proposed head of the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, was once Senator Gore's chief legislative assistant.

It is equally true, though, that some of Mr. Gore's favored candidates never made it to the top: former Colorado Sen. Timothy E. Wirth, for instance, wanted to be energy secretary but is having to settle for a second-tier job in the State Department.

Much is made of the Clinton-Gore commonalities. Both are Southern, Ivy-League baby-boomers. And while they barely knew each other before the election, the good chemistry between them has made them constant companions. The two men and their families spent most of yesterday in joint public appearances, much as they did throughout the election campaign and the transition.

But there are striking differences between them, too, which are held up sometimes as portents of discord: Mr. Clinton was raised in modest surroundings in a poor state with little of the stability enjoyed by Mr. Gore, who, as the son of a U.S. senator, was weened on politics and grew up in privilege.

Mr. Gore had a relatively easy entree to national politics -- elected first to the House in 1976 and then eight years later to the Senate.

Although Mr. Gore failed in his first attempt at the presidency, he might have run again in 1992 if his son had not come close to dying in a car accident after an Orioles game at Memorial Stadium in 1989.

Mr. Gore brings a weightier air to the office than did his predecessor, Dan Quayle, largely due to his thoughtful, though some say wooden, manner. Mr. Clinton, on the other hand, is more naturally gregarious and emotional.

The vice president's only constitutional duty will be to preside over the Senate -- a task he will seldom have to perform. He is also expected to head the White House Space Council and will almost certainly use his influence to revitalize the President's Council on Environmental Quality, which had little influence in the Bush administration and was practically invisible under Ronald Reagan.

It is not clear whether Mr. Clinton will retain the controversial White House Council on Competitiveness which, under Dan Quayle, often stalled federal regulation on behalf of business.

Paul Light, a specialist in vice presidential politics at the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, believes that the differences between the two men will be a strength instead of a weakness in the administration.

"I think it will be a strong partnership because they complement each other's weaknesses," he said.

He predicted Mr. Gore would be influential because he is knowledgeable and experienced in areas -- such as the Senate, environmental affairs and science -- while Mr. Clinton is not.

"Bill Clinton will listen to him on the basis of his substance, not his style."

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