Mrs. Clinton to help formulate health care, domestic policies First lady to work in West Wing with senior staffers

January 22, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Hillary Rodham Clinton will set up shop in the West Wing of the White House, alongside the president's senior staff members, where she will help formulate policy on health care and other domestic issues, according to White House officials.

First ladies have customarily operated from the East Wing of the White House, with their official contributions limited to social duties or charitable causes.

Presidents' wives have always exercised influence and power, but they have often been reluctant, in their public comments, to acknowledge the full scope, for fear of offending voters.

Almost since Mr. Clinton's entry into the presidential race in October 1991, questions have been raised about whether Mrs. Clinton, a lawyer well known as a social advocate in her own right, would shatter that mold.

Dee Dee Myers, Mr. Clinton's press secretary, said the first lady would have an office in the West Wing. Asked why, Ms. Myers said: "Because the president wanted her to be there to work. She'll be working on a variety of domestic policy issues. She'll be there with other domestic policy advisers."

Mrs. Clinton was right behind her husband when he made his first appearance in the Oval Office yesterday, between sessions of greeting the public together on their first full day in the White House.

And in the first sign of Mrs. Clinton's role as a policy maker in the new administration, White House officials said yesterday that she would supervise the drafting of a proposal to revamp the nation's health-care system.

Mr. Clinton has repeatedly said that he will submit his proposal to Congress within 100 days, or by April 30. But experts on health policy, including several advising the new president and his staff, say the administration has had great difficulty working out details of Mr. Clinton's campaign promise to guarantee health care for all Americans while controlling health costs. Mrs. Clinton's involvement is seen by some experts as an effort to rescue an enterprise that was floundering in confusion.

Asked about Mrs. Clinton's role, George Stephanopoulos, White House communications director, said yesterday: "I think she'll be closely involved in developing health-care policy with the president, and she'll be part of those discussions. We don't have any final decisions on structures right now, but I'm certain that she'll be involved."

Administration officials said the first lady was deeply involved in an interagency working group that is to draft the president's health-care proposal. She is already playing an informal role and has been mentioned in the Wall street Journal as a possible head of the interagency working group.

Mrs. Clinton's new role differs markedly from the image she and her staff tried to cultivate in the seven months before Election Day. The campaign dismissed any suggestion of independence on her part and presented her to voters as something closer to a cookie-baking mom than the candidate's chief adviser.

Early in 1992, Mr. and Mrs. Clinton boasted in jest about her talents, saying, "Vote for one, get one free." But interviews with potential voters showed that she was unpopular in the role of chief policy adviser to her husband, and the Clinton campaign set out to remake her image.

Mrs. Clinton had originally kept the name Hillary Rodham when she married, then took the name Hillary Clinton while he was governor of Arkansas.

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