Political punches leave Clinton groggy Jobs bill failure, Bosnia, Waco horror test new president's resiliency

April 22, 1993|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON -- This is surely the worst week of Bill Clinton's young presidency -- and it's not over.

"I must say there is a lot I have to learn about this town," an exasperated Mr. Clinton said yesterday.

In his latest setback, the president yesterday lost what seemed the conclusive round in a continuing Senate fight over his jobs bill, signaling political weakness to the wolves of Washington.

Things started to go bad on Monday when the president ducked rather than immediately accept full responsibility for federal actions that led to the fiery debacle in Texas.

That provoked criticism for timid leadership. He accepted responsibility on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, even Mr. Clinton's political allies were protesting his failure to act on the slaughter in Bosnia -- a genocidal horror show becoming impossible to ignore, especially since a museum commemorating Hitler's Holocaust is being dedicated here today.

Critics -- including Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, a senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- say the holocaust is happening again in Bosnia while Mr. Clinton does nothing but endlessly study his options.

If all that weren't enough, Hillary Rodham Clinton told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday that the average American's job-related health benefits may be taxed to pay for the health plan she's developing, signaling political storms ahead.

The president does appear poised to avoid at least one potentially controversial encounter: He will be far out of town this weekend, missing a march by tens of thousands of gay rights activists. Of course, he already has been criticized for his absence.

It was the kind of week that independent analysts agree may come to symbolize the Clinton presidency, although they disagree over what that symbolism means.

"Listen, there are going to be ups and downs in this administration," said Thomas Mann, director of governmental studies for the Brookings Institution, a prominent think tank in Washington.

"This is an administration that's tackling big problems and it's shown a tendency to make mistakes. It is truly a mortal administration. They have had some big wins and some stinging losses, and I think this is a pattern we can expect over time."

David Mason, who directs studies of executive-legislative relations for the conservative Heritage Foundation, is less charitable.

After this week, Mr. Mason said, "Clinton is fundamentally not in very good shape. It's a little too early to write it off as a failed presidency, but it's not too early to say that if he doesn't change this sort of behavior, it will doom him politically -- and do so a lot sooner than 1996."

Both analysts agreed that the week's most lasting damage to Mr. Clinton will stem from his failure to win Senate approval of his jobs bill.

Though Mr. Clinton's Senate allies were still searching for compromises on the jobs bill yesterday, they weren't finding any Republican takers. And it was clear that it is unlikely the president will win more than extended unemployment benefits.

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