Clinton defends decisions, way he makes them President returns to podium, goes on the offensive

June 16, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- A day after angrily stalking away from a news conference because a question offended him, President Clinton returned to the podium yesterday and defended his decision-making style, declaring: "This is the most decisive presidency you've had in a very long time on all the big issues that matter."

The lively 28 minutes of give-and-take with reporters showed Mr. Clinton's determination to recapture control of the national agenda, which seemed to have gotten beyond his grasp in recent weeks in a succession of image blunders, late-night deal-making and melodramatic personnel moves -- from which White House officials are determined to show they are recovering.

Mr. Clinton, who has often appeared defensive and edgy over press questions, repeatedly turned critical questions into opportunities for an energetic defense of his record.

To an early question about apparent "wavering" on foreign and domestic matters, for example, Mr. Clinton responded: "I might say all the heat we're getting from people is because of the decisions that have been made, not because of those that haven't."

And he ticked off in campaign style a series of accomplishments for which he wishes to take credit, from "unemployment under 7 percent for the first time in a year and a half" and "a 20-year low in interest rates" to the passage of family leave and motor-voter legislation and the recent signing of the global biodiversity treaty.

"That's a pretty good and decisive record," he said.

Mr. Clinton insisted that he had not made a diplomatic retreat over Bosnia but that European leaders had rejected his proposed solution to the crisis. He disputed a suggestion that he had embarrassed Interior Secretary Bruce E. Babbitt and U.S. Circuit Judge Stephen G. Breyer by dangling a Supreme Court seat before them and then yanking it away. He denied that he had undercut House Democrats who voted for his now-abandoned energy tax.

And he issued an only somewhat veiled warning to Republican senators that they could be blamed for perpetuating Washington gridlock if they persist in filibustering administration initiatives.

Noting that a filibuster was blocking action on a campaign finance reform bill -- the Senate failed yesterday in a second attempt to break the filibuster -- Mr. Clinton said that "the thing that particularly troubles me" is that several of the filibustering senators had voted for a similar bill only last year "when there was a Republican in the White House."

The suggestion that Republicans are blocking legislative progress for purely partisan reasons is one that White House officials hope will turn to their advantage if the filibusters continue on future issues.

At the end of the 25-minute session, questions about Mr. Clinton's decision-making process still loomed, particularly in the wake of the tortuous nomination experience of Lani Guinier for a senior Justice Department post and the still-unresolved negotiations over the $500 billion deficit reduction bill.

But it was clear that the White House, advised by Mr. Clinton's new counselor, David R. Gergen, was doing its best to get back on the offense, trying to avoid past antagonisms with the press.

After an opening statement, Mr. Clinton turned to his antagonist of the previous day, ABC's Brit Hume, who asked the question that had roused the president's ire. He offered Mr. Hume the first question, joking that what he was "really upset" about was that the recently married Hume had gotten a two-week honeymoon while Mr. Clinton had not been granted the political honeymoon usually afforded presidents.

From that point on, Mr. Clinton successfully deflected difficult questions about his relations with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, his plans for an Air Force general who reportedly called Mr. Clinton a draft-dodger and a womanizer during a recent speech, and the deviations of his policy on Bosnia.

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