Clinton to step back into limelight Democrats fearful amid expectations of fuller apology

August 27, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton plans to venture off the vacation resort of Martha's Vineyard, Mass., today amid growing expectations that he will offer a more contrite apology for misleading the nation about his sexual relationship with a former White House intern.

But some congressional Democrats fear the president would only make matters worse -- for himself and for them -- by trying again to explain his conduct to the American people.

"It's an understatement to say there's a lot of disappointment about how the president has handled it so far," said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore-area Democrat. "I'm not so sure we want to hear any more."

Clinton is scheduled to travel to Worcester, Mass., this morning to announce an expansion of the Police Corps program created by Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. The program, now operating in 17 states, grants academic scholarships to young people who serve four years in a police force.

Clinton is providing funds to extend the program to five more states. Four Maryland Police Corps cadets are expected to attend today's announcement, and one is to introduce the president.

But Townsend declined an invitation to join them. She strongly denied that her decision had anything to do with the president's personal ordeal.

"If he had decided to come to Maryland, I'd be there, and I was very tempted to go up there to be with him," said Townsend, who will be at campaign events most of the day. "I just felt my first duty was to get re-elected."

Eagerly awaited words

Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, will be at the president's side. Worcester residents appear eager to hear from the president at the first public event since his admission Aug. 17 of an intimate relationship with Monica Lewinsky. About 1,000 people showed up to obtain tickets to the event in the first three hours of their availability, said McGovern's spokesman, Michael Mershon.

In Washington, congressional Democratic aides are planning a series of legislative gambits -- from pushing a health care bill to calling for a raise in the minimum wage -- that they hope will capture the public's attention next week when the Senate returns from a monthlong August recess.

Changing the subject

An aide to Democratic leaders in the Senate said they are seething about the position the president has put them in and feel they have to change the subject. "If we get caught up in discussing what he did and what we should do about it, we don't deserve to be here."

Democrats believed they had a winning agenda for the fall campaigns, and for a change, they were united with the president in a drive to retake the House. But the president's sex scandal has destroyed that short-lived unity and overwhelmed their carefully developed election strategies. Trepidation about a pending report from independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr has injected still more insecurity into the political atmosphere.

Little wonder that Democrats would rather talk about anything but the president's troubles.

Partisan jabs

Meanwhile, Republicans are trying hard to keep the spotlight on Clinton. Even as GOP leaders such as House Speaker Newt Gingrich affect a judicious air of statesmanship, their subordinates are calling loudly for the president's resignation or jabbing at Democrats for their silence on the matter. Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson goaded McGovern to join other Democrats in distancing himself from Clinton.

"Jim McGovern is wearing blinders if he thinks that Bill Clinton's trip to Worcester is a chance to change the subject," Nicholson said.

To that, Mershon said, "Jim was very disappointed, as were all Americans, with the president's admission of his behavior, but we hope that this campaign is going to be about issues that really matter to people's lives."

A second apology?

Talk of a second presidential statement on Lewinsky has floated around Washington since Aug. 17, when Clinton owned up to an inappropriate relationship but was widely viewed as being less apologetic than angry at Starr for poking into his personal life. White House spokesman Barry Toiv held out the possibility yesterday that Clinton could respond to Lewinsky-related questions today.

"The president is getting advice from a lot of quarters, including people he has a lot of respect for," Toiv said. "If the president decides to address this issue it will be his decision."

Nervous Democrats

Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, the co-chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said this week: "We've got to get beyond this, but the speech didn't quite do it. And it didn't because it sounded like too much of an explanation."

But given Clinton's past performance, many Democrats are not relishing an encore. And bringing Lewinsky up today will only overshadow efforts to get the focus back on issues on which Democrats believe they can win support.

"The problem is how he handled it the first time. That's fact now. It's going to be difficult to change," Cardin said.

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.