WASHINGTON -- President Clinton, looking ahead to his second inaugural, called yesterday for a new "spirit of reconciliation" in Washington and across the country.
The nation's continued progress is at stake, he said, as is its place in the world through the next century.
"How can we prove in America that we can all get along -- without giving up our basic beliefs but in finding a ground of mutual respect?" the president asked about 100 national religious leaders at the White House. "It seems to me that may be the single most significant decision facing the United States."
Clinton, echoing the "get-along" plea of Los Angeles police-beating victim Rodney King, used his ecumenical breakfast remarks to launch a thematic prelude to his Jan. 20 swearing-in and a second term.
The president plans an almost daily drumbeat of events to recast his campaign promises in the context of governing.
Yesterday, Clinton repeated a central campaign theme. He called for "reconciliation and respect" in moving forward as he again faces a Republican-controlled Congress.
Education, welfare-to-work, family and children's issues, economic opportunity, balancing the federal budget, campaign finance reform, immigration and foreign policy are among Clinton's stated priorities.
The new presidential thrust has another component as well. White House aides hope it will lift the president above the fray of continuing ethics deliberations on Capitol Hill concerning both House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the president's own 1996 campaign fund raising.
On welfare, the president acknowledged yesterday that many of the religious leaders gathered -- Catholics, Muslims, Southern Baptists, Adventists, evangelicals, Jews and others -- had opposed his signing of the Republican legislation. Then he challenged them to act on their concern for welfare recipients by hiring them.
On Friday, the president will use another White House session to press some of the nation's chief executives to do the same.
This week, the president also will highlight plans for two-year community college scholarships and, today, he'll receive a new report exploring potential causes of illnesses traced to the Persian Gulf war.
While attention has been trained on Cabinet and senior staff appointments, much work has been under way on policy, White House press secretary Mike McCurry said.
"The unveiling of that work that has been done for the last two months begins today," the spokesman said yesterday.
Clinton will play host at a two-day working retreat with Cabinet secretaries at Camp David this weekend to focus on second-term priorities.
Tentatively, the president is set to deliver his State of the Union address Feb. 5, with the presentation of his budget to follow soon after, White House aides said.