Clinton and congressional leaders sit down for 'positive' meeting
February 23, 1999
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, February 23) -- President Bill Clinton met with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders Tuesday morning as all sides try to put the impeachment trial behind them. On their agenda: "Now what."
The meeting -- the first such bipartisan gathering since the summer of 1997 -- was characterized as "positive" by leaders from both sides as they emerged separately from the White House.
"We're starting to work to put together ideas, that's the first step. We need to put the ideas so we can frame the debate, so we can move forward for what the agenda is for the American people," House Speaker Dennis Hastert said.
Addressing the lingering distrust between the president and Republicans, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt said he thinks both groups want to work together: "Well I think the meeting is a sign of trust ... I thought there was a lot of good positive developments. I don't have any concern about our ability to work together. We just need to get on it and get it done and start making progress."
While domestic issues like education and the defense were high on the list for both sides, the Kosovo crisis, reforming Social Security and Medicare dominated the leaders' talk.
"Domestically, I think we spent the most amount of time talking about what do we do with the surplus, which is an unusual situation for us, to be able to have a good debate about the surplus," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said.
The White House and congressional Democrats are united behind a plan to put 62 percent of the federal budget surplus into the Social Security trust fund and 15 percent into the Medicare trust fund. The president does not consider these points negotiable.
Clinton wanted to reach out on this idea to Republicans, who have indicated they will support the proposal, though they wanted more specific details.
Gephardt also called for Hastert to schedule debate on a patients' bill of rights, a minimum wage increase and campaign reform. Hastert was reportedly noncommittal on the issue of campaign finance reform during the meeting.
One topic that did not come up during the meeting was the impeachment votes in the House or trial in the Senate.
Hastert, House Majority Leader Dick Armey and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, all of whom voted to impeach or convict the president, represented the Republican party.
The Democrats were Gephardt, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and White House chief of staff John Podesta.
Despite the recent impeachment process, the meeting was expected to be cordial but Clinton wasn't going to beg. The president believes his agenda has strong public support and that the country wants universal savings accounts, the patients' bill of rights, his education agenda and a minimum wage hike.
The Republicans laid the groundwork for the meeting in an open letter "to the American people" from Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and House Speaker Dennis Hastert in Tuesday's edition of USA Today, in which they said they were willing to work with the president.
Saying that they are committed to "saving Social Security," easing the tax burden and creating the "world's best schools," Hastert and Lott say in the letter: "Today, we affirm our strong commitment to addressing your concerns."
"Now is the time to move on and focus our attention on an agenda that strengthens our nation. We have invested considerable time and effort in developing a comprehensive blueprint that secures America's future," the letter reads.
White House officials feel they have a much better chance of getting their program through Congress this year than the Republicans do of getting theirs.
Democrats at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue say that there are some moderate Republicans who will feel a lot of pressure to join the Democrats to make up the impeachment vote to their constituents.
But expect election politics to also be a factor over the next year.
Congressional Democrats are in a tough spot. If they cooperate, a productive Republican Congress might reduce their chances of regaining control in the 2000 elections. If they don't cooperate they might be blamed for gridlock which could improve the GOP chances of retaining control.
It was the first meeting with both the president and the bipartisan congressional leadership since July 1997.
CNN's Chris Black and Bob Franken contributed to this report.
Tuesday, February 23, 1999
Congress ponders independent counsel demise
Governors want control of federal education money
Dole does Iowa swing in 'non-campaign'
Governors drum up support for another Bush presidency
Republicans waffling on 10 percent tax cut
Moderate GOP veteran to replace Gingrich
Chicago's Daley beats Rush for third term as mayor
Starr, Reno have 15 days to comment on possible independent counsel probe
White House shifts Y2K focus to states
Fed chief's talk about economy and overvalued stocks rattles markets
Legislation aims to keep Y2K bug out of the courtroom
U.S. Census OKs Web filing test
Buchanan takes leave from `Crossfire' to explore presidential candidacy
New Census statistics on blacks posted
Watergate Hotel to hold GOP fund-raising event
How to pass legislation: Give it a catchy name
Clintons returning to Park City for family time on the slopes
Administration, in policy reversal, rejects Hughes satellite export
ABC set to air Lewinsky interview