GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS
CLINTON-SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISOR

© 1996 Hedrick Smith Productions, Inc.

Clinton: Learning The Presidency and Relations with Congress

SMITH: What's the fascination with 100 days?

STEPHANOPOULOS: I think 100 days is a metaphor for making the system work. And when you say you're going to get something done within 100 days, what you're saying is, watch me, test me, see if I'm keeping my promises. Now, the fact is -- and scholars have pointed out -- that the President has kept more of promises than any of his predecessors in the century. And it's been pointed out by scholars like Thomas Patterson -- but we couldn't get everything done. And you end up getting defined not by what you've gotten, but by what you haven't gotten done inside your agenda. But the 100 days tells people I'm serious and I'm going to keep my promise.
...Roosevelt started it. What it says is that we're going to get the country moving again. But I'm not sure the 100 days was a disaster. I mean, you're facing an entirely different dynamic now than Roosevelt faced. Not only the fact that we have opposition in the Congress. But, in part because of the way the media is set up today. I think that right now the media is essentially conservative. And by that I don't mean conservative ideologically, but they have an anti-action bias

STEPHANOPOULOS: Looking back on those years, we probably read over our mandate in 1993 and tried to do too much too quickly. All of the issues the President talked about, education and health care and reducing the deficit and investing in people were important, but trying to do them all at the same time was not sustainable in the system at that time.

STEPHANOPOULOS: In 1993...We passed the Family and Medical Leave law, we passed an assault weapons ban, we passed the Brady Bill to keep hand guns out of the hands of criminals. We put 100 thousand police on the street. We reduced the deficit. We cut taxes on working people. We increased investment in education. We passed the National Direct Student Loan program. All of that was done and it was keeping the promises the President made. The problem was that whole agenda that I just mentioned to you was summed up by the Republicans in 1994 in four words, biggest tax increase in history -- five words.

SMITH: But you also had tremendous problems in 94 and you also had tremendous defections....these were not resounding victories.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But they were victories.

Party Unity vs. Lone Rangers and Renegades

SMITH: But...when the President is begging for Bob Kerrey's vote and trying to hold Dennis DeConcini and the Vice President has to break a tie -- it doesn't look like the Democrats are real unified.

STEPHANOPOULOS: There's no question that's true. The Democratic Party has a big tent, there's no question about it. It is trying to hold together a very diverse coalition both -- oh, on class lines, by region. There's a part of it that's held together a long time and we have a difficult time doing that. I think there's no question about that.

The Need for Bipartisanship & Compromise

STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, I think it's probably easiest for anybody in public policy right now. In some ways, whenever you're on defense, you have the advantage. Look at the history of the last three years.
In 1993, we went forward with a budget, bring down the deficit, that's exactly what it did. It had to make some tough choices. Not a single Republican voted for it. They simply opposed it full stop and used that issue in the elections of 1994 along with the President's health care plan.Whenever you go out there with an initiative and you try and get something done, you can be sure you're going to raise the wrath of interest groups, face a skeptical media and encounter some political opposition. So, it's almost always easier to counter punch than it is to propose, but that's probably not the best thing for the country.

Presidency: Power & Myth

SMITH: You described that in terms of the Congress. Now, what about in terms of the President. Look at what he's done this past year, in terms of defining himself, positioning himself.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, no, but that's the issue. You can define yourself, but that may come at the expense of getting something done. And the fact is that Americans are ambivalent. They don't want gridlock. They want the President to be effective and to get something done. At the same time, getting something done requires compromise. And the minute a President compromises, he's open or she's open to the charge of not standing on principle. So, it's true that by opposing things that the Congress is doing, the President can help his self-definition, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you can actually get your programs through.

SMITH: Is the Presidency in much weaker office than it was in Roosevelt's day vis-a-vis the Congress, the lobbyists, the media?

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's certainly at a disadvantage given the fact that you have a Congress with less party loyalty and a Congress that's more beholden to special interest. I think the single biggest difference between now and 1945 is the proliferation of money and politics. That's kind of a paradox, because you have -- the money is actually coming in more cleanly probably than it did 40 or 50 years ago. There are limits. But there are just so many more organized interests who have access to so much more money that it becomes very hard to put forward proposals that are in the general interests, but may cost a lot from a lot of particular interests.
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