Lingering in his farewell to presidency

Clinton makes several executive orders in final hours of term

January 21, 2001|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Bill Clinton, so enthralled with the job he was leaving that he wasted little time sleeping in his final days, ended his eight-year odyssey yesterday with an extraordinary daylong farewell, draining every last moment out of his presidency and then clinging to the spotlight even after his term had expired.

In an unusual post-presidential speech at Andrews Air Force Base, an hour after turning over the reins of power to George W. Bush, Clinton thanked more than 2,000 supporters and staffers for the "great gift" of the presidency. He beamed more like a triumphant incoming president than a retiring one.

"You gave me the ride of my life," he said, smiling, "and I've tried to give as good as I've got."

At 54, the youngest president to leave office since Theodore Roosevelt, Clinton made clear that they had not heard the last of him.

"You see that sign there that says, `Please don't go,'" Clinton said, laughing as he pointed to a placard held by a well-wisher. "I left the White House. But I'm still here. We're not going anywhere."

Indeed, the 42nd president, who left office with some of the highest approval ratings of the past half-century, despite being the only elected president ever impeached, spent more than an hour after his remarks shaking hands and hugging supporters, an exercise he relished as few politicians have.

It would be nearly three hours from the time his term expired to the time Clinton, his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea, would board the jumbo jet dubbed Special Air Mission 28000 - no longer Air Force One, since it was not carrying a president - to New York.

After arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport, both Clintons spoke at a welcoming rally, shook hands, signed autographs and kissed babies just as they had at Andrews before heading to their home in the suburb of Chappaqua.

In contrast to previous presidents who have quickly and quietly left Washington after their successors were sworn in, Clinton's long goodbye seemed to vie with the incoming president's inaugural festivities for the news media spotlight much of the day.

"When you leave the White House, you wonder if you'll ever draw a crowd again," quipped Clinton, who seemed to rely on the adulation of his audiences as a lifeline throughout his roller-coaster presidency.

In his remarks at Andrews, his first as an ex-president, Clinton described his final hours at the White House as "bittersweet."

Clinton, who on Friday sealed a deal with the independent counsel to avoid indictment in the Monica Lewinsky matter, said he had bid goodbye to all of the staff yesterday morning and taken a last look at all the rooms.

He walked out of the Oval Office for the last time at about 10 a.m. yesterday with his chief of staff, John Podesta.

"He was tearing up a little bit," Clinton said of Podesta.

The president who had vowed on the day he was impeached to work until "the last hour of the last day" of his term packed his final half-day with actions that recalled both the scandals and successes of his administration.

He pardoned 140 Americans and commuted the sentences of 36 others, still making news 90 minutes before his presidency ended.

In a clemency list that included many who are personally close to Clinton, the departing president issued a pardon to Susan McDougal, a former Whitewater business partner who went to prison and steadfastly refused to cooperate with the independent counsel, as well as his half-brother, Roger Clinton; John M. Deutch, the former CIA director; and Patty Hearst, the one-time kidnapped heiress turned revolutionary.

Also granted a last-minute pardon was one of Clinton's favorite Cabinet members, Henry G. Cisneros, a former housing secretary who was convicted of making false statements about payments he made to a mistress.

In his final White House hours yesterday, Clinton also declared a national monument on a 20-acre piece of Governors Island in New York - a move promptly blocked by President Bush hours later. And in the last of his more than 400 Saturday morning radio addresses, Clinton announced funding for an additional 1,400 police officers for communities around the country.

In the morning, Clinton was glimpsed waltzing with his wife in a White House foyer. He left a handwritten note for his successor. And he grabbed a ceremonial pen and a few golf balls from the Oval Office to take with him.

In his radio address, he called Inauguration Day "an extraordinary day for freedom when the magic, the mystery, the miracle of American democracy is on full display."

In the Clinton White House, it was also a day for protocol and tradition, ironies and stiff upper lips.

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