Clinton's day nearly perfect Foster note clouds 2 upbeat events

August 11, 1993|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- It was supposed to be a perfect day at the White House -- and it nearly was.

The sun shone, audiences at the White House clapped appreciatively and President Clinton basked -- twice -- in the Marine band's renditions of "Hail to the Chief," first as he signed his hallmark economic bill and then again when he marched into the East Room for the swearing-in of new Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

"It's a great day," said an enthusiastic Hillary Rodham Clinton, as she walked from the swearing-in to a reception in Justice Ginsburg's honor. "It's a great day for the country."

By the end of the afternoon, however, the White House staff found itself once again defending its image as it fended off embarrassing questions involving a despairing note left by Vincent W. Foster Jr., the deputy White House counsel whose body was found July 20 in what authorities have termed a suicide.

"It's a shame," one White House official said. "Even on good days, it's always two steps forward and one step back. . . ."

Mr. Clinton himself seemed to be going in two directions yesterday as well.

In his speech celebrating the signing his economic package, the president, as he has for the past four days, called for reconciliation with Republicans, who opposed his plan unanimously in Congress. Yet the White House invited no Republicans to the bill signing; moreover, the first half of Mr. Clinton's speech was spent blasting away at the Republicans for almost sinking his plan.

"For five months, the American people heard too little about the real debate and too much from those who oversimplified and often downright misrepresented the questions of tax increases and spending cuts because they had narrow economic or political or personal reasons to do so," he said.

The president aimed one jab indirectly at Senate Republican leader Bob Dole, who he suggested was already angling for a 1996 presidential run -- at Mr. Clinton's expense.

White House officials said that every Democratic member of Congress who voted for the bill was invited to the bill-signing, although only about two dozen showed up. Most were already on vacation.

The ceremony was held on a scenic spot on the far end of the South Lawn. Lemonade and iced tea were served to the guests.

In a made-for-television touch, White House media advisers had the president and Vice President Al Gore walk the 250 yards or so from the White House residence to the ceremony to the spirited applause of the guests.

Mr. Gore gave a flowery and lengthy introduction, and the two

men stayed longer than most of their guests, shaking hands and thanking the members of Congress who came.

An hour later, Mr. Clinton beamed while Chief Justice William Rehnquist administered the oath of office to Justice Ginsburg, who becomes the second woman to serve on the high court.

"In Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I believe the nation is getting a justice who will be a guardian of liberty for all Americans and an ensurer of equal justice," Mr. Clinton said of the 60-year-old former law professor and lawyer who pioneered many of the early anti-discrimination suits brought on behalf of women.

It took a long time for Mr. Clinton to settle on Justice Ginsburg as jTC a replacement for retiring Justice Byron R. White. But once picked, she proved a popular choice, passing the Senate on a vote of 96-3 last week.

Mr. Clinton made a point of that vote in his remarks in the packed East Room.

But one prominent attorney present for the ceremony noted privately that seated beside Mrs. Clinton was Bernard Nussbaum, Mr. Foster's boss and colleague in the White House counsel's office. Three weeks ago, Mr. Nussbaum and Mr. Foster watched on cable television as Judge Ginsburg wowed the Senate Judiciary Committee with her clear and compelling testimony.

"We hit a home run today," Mr. Nussbaum said, turning to Mr. Foster. Five hours later, Mr. Foster's body was found in a park overlooking the Potomac River.

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