Gore leaves few tracks, stays close to Clinton Profile contrasts to Quayle's role

February 15, 1993|By Paul West | Paul West,Washington Bureau Chief

ABOARD AIR FORCE TWO -- It's 4 a.m. and Vice President Al Gore is 30,000 feet above America's heartland, streaking back to Washington. To be there.

His red-eye flight from California the other night was the latest -- and most vivid -- example of his determination to be at President Clinton's side as much as possible these days.

Mr. Gore's presence has been noticed by political allies, who worry that he appears to be trying to advertise his importance in an unseemly way. "The guiding principle of his vice presidency seems to be that there should never be a photograph of Bill Clinton without Al Gore at his side," says William A. Kristol, who was Vice President Dan Quayle's chief of staff during the Bush presidency.

After a heady season of campaigning in which Mr. Gore found himself closer to the center of the action than any vice-presidential candidate in memory, he now faces a tough challenge: carving out a role in the new administration.

That task is complicated by the bare-bones nature of his official duties. By law, there are only two: casting rare tie-breaking votes in the Senate and assuming power if the president is disabled or dies.

"The vice president is always walking a very thin wire," says Paul C. Light, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. If he starts getting too much attention, "the president's people may bite back and say, 'We've got to muzzle this guy.' And if he disappears, then there will be stories that he's become the 'incredible shrinking vice president.' "

Mr. Gore's highly visible involvement during the transition and in the first month of the Clinton presidency stands in sharp contrast to the past four years, when the Bush White House tried to keep Mr. Quayle in the background.

"He is not only at the table. He's making a contribution," says Marla Romash, Mr. Gore's press secretary. It is too early to say how influential Mr. Gore will become. Political observers say it often takes a year to work out the terms of a relationship between president and vice president. But Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore start with an advantage: the bonding that occurred during those long campaign bus trips last summer and fall.

"They have the potential to build the strongest relationship of any president and vice president in history," says Richard Moe, who was chief of staff to Walter F. Mondale, generally regarded as the most influential vice president up to now. "[President Jimmy] Carter and Mondale didn't really know each other well until after the campaign. That gives Clinton and Gore a big leg up."

If Mr. Gore has his way, no one will ever know for sure just how powerful -- or impotent -- he is. Pursuing what his aides call a "no fingerprints" policy, he intends to keep his advice to the president a secret, much as Mr. Mondale -- and George Bush under President Ronald Reagan -- tried to do.

"The vice president believes he would rather have something reported incorrectly [in the media] than violate the confidence on which his relationship with the president is based," says Ms. Romash, his spokeswoman.

So concerned is Mr. Gore about inadvertent leaks that he apparently surprised members of his staff last week by announcing at a news conference that Mr. Clinton had given him the responsibility for overseeing final White House review of new government regulations.

Despite Mr. Gore's prominence at public events, he has ducked most requests for interviews with reporters.

Boarding Air Force Two for the first time Wednesday, Mr. Gore was heading toward the rear of the vintage Boeing 707's passenger cabin when an aide warned him that the last compartment contained the traveling press corps. The vice president quickly spun on his heel and returned to the front of the plane.

Later, he did allow himself a brief chat with the half-dozen reporters on board, again fleeing for the sanctuary of his private compartment once the questions turned to his evolving role inside the White House.

"My principal role is that of a general adviser to the president," Mr. Gore explained, "to help him in every way I can to be the best president our nation has ever had."

He's already helping direct the administration's policy on environmental issues and technology. And last week he began taking up the time-honored vice-presidential chore of partisan attacker, which helps keep the president above the political fray. In his California appearance Wednesday night, Mr. Gore's first foray outside the Washington area since the inauguration, he assailed Republicans who criticized the administration's plans for an economic stimulus package.

Mr. Gore's influence has been felt in the appointments process, at least in the environmental field. Former Gore aides now head the Environmental Protection Agency and the new White House Office on Environmental Policy, and a Gore confidant, Peter S. Knight, is playing a central role in the continuing effort to staff the new administration.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.