Clinton To Participate In Race Town Meeting
President tours space center with John Glenn
HOUSTON (AllPolitics, April 14) -- President Bill Clinton, trying to jump-start his stalled race relations initiative, will participate Tuesday night in a televised town hall meeting dealing with the sensitive issue of race and sports.
The session will cover a wide range of issues, from playground games to the professional level. The White House hopes the event will turn things around for Clinton's national dialogue on race that even his advisers acknowledge has been a disaster so far.
With considerable fanfare, Clinton announced last June what was supposed to be a yearlong initiative. As a white son of the South with a record of trying to improve race relations, he was seen as well positioned to take on the issue. In fact, his aides spoke of it becoming his legacy.
But there have been several setbacks in the 10 months since, undermining the entire process.
There was the sensitive issue of whether Clinton should formally apologize for slavery; he decided against that, even during his recent visit to Africa.
There was what was widely seen as an ineffective town hall meeting on race in Akron, Ohio, last December. And since January, the allegations against the president involving ex-White House intern Monica Lewinsky have precoccupied much of his and his aides' time.
Now, some advisers don't expect the president to release his report on race until early next year.
They are hoping tonight's meeting will go smoothly. But the panel has already drawn some fire, with complaints that only one Hispanic-American person was included. The ESPN cable network, which selected the panel and will televise the event, says two dozen Hispanics who were invited to participate, declined.
Earlier in the day, Clinton toured NASA's Johnson Space Center, outside of Houston, with senator and astronaut John Glenn, who invited Clinton to Texas to observe his training for an October flight.
"When it comes to exploring space, we must never consider any mission impossible. The story of our space program is the story of barriers broken and new worlds uncovered," Clinton told workers at the space center. "Let us make sure that is the story of our space program in the 21st century."
The president said NASA had made strides to continue its cutting-edge work while cutting costs. "Even as you have worked hard to reach for the stars, NASA has more than ever kept its feet grounded in fiscal discipline," Clinton said.
"I am committed to maintaining a strong, stable, balanced space program," the president pledged.
Praising Glenn for returning to space, the president noted the physical fitness and history of service of "our oldest and newest man in space." Clinton recalled Glenn using his age as a reason for not running for re-election ,to which he responded, "Now, wait a minute, John. You're too old to do six more years in the Senate, but you're plenty young enough to go into space?"
Glenn, who will be 77 at the time of his upcoming trip to space, will take part in experiments to determine the effects of space on aging. "And since he really hasn't aged in the last 40 years, it's going to be a total bust," Clinton joked. "But we'll get a kick out watching him wander around up there, anyway."
During his visit to Johnson Space Center, the president also placed a video call to the crew of Columbia, which is set for launch Thursday. During the 16-day mission, the astronauts will study the human nervous system and how it functions in space.
"The space program has enormous potential to change life here on earth for the better," Clinton told the crew.
Wednesday the president will travel on to Alabama to survey the tornado damage caused by storms last week.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer contributed to this report.