White House podium turns time machine for Bill Clinton redux
Bill Clinton took the White House press corps on an unexpected journey back in time on Friday afternoon with an impromptu trip to the briefing room podium, where he held forth for half an hour, obviously loving every minute.
The former president didn’t rise to the bait when he was asked whether he enjoyed coming in and offering advice more than running the country. Clinton, like his fellow Democratic President Barack Obama, grappled with crushing losses to Republicans in mid-term congressional elections two years into his presidency.
The two Democratic presidents called the surprise news conference after an Oval Office meeting to discuss Obama’s deal with Republicans, which extends tax cuts for middle-income earners and the wealthiest Americans and includes an extension of unemployment benefits and a cut in payroll taxes. Obama has been lambasted by some congressional Democrats for reaching an agreement that they say concedes far too much to the rival party.
“I had a quite a good time governing,” Clinton said, but then allowed: “I am happy to be here, I suppose, when the bullets that are fired are unlikely to hit me, unless they are just ricocheting.”
Clinton, who famously “triangulated” toward the center after the Democrats’ 1994 congressional election losses, gave a ringing endorsement to Obama’s compromise tax deal. While he was at it, he also shouted out for several of the current Democratic president’s achievements, including financial regulatory overhaul, student loan changes and the healthcare reform plan — although Clinton said he could think of “four or five” ways to improve it.
The tax deal is the best Obama could do for the country right now, Clinton said repeatedly during his stint at the podium. Obama bowed out after 10 minutes, saying the first lady was waiting to co-host one of the White House’s annual Christmas parties.
“The agreement, taken as a whole is, I believe, the best bipartisan agreement we can reach to help the largest number of Americans and to maximize the chances that the economic recovery will accelerate and create more jobs and to minimize the chances that it will slip back,” Clinton said.
The former president — who saw the government shut down during his fights over spending with a Republican Congress — may have been drawing on his memories, with this message to recalcitrant Democrats about the virtues of compromise.
“In a democracy where no one is a dictator, we would all be at each other’s throats all the time and we would be in a state of constant paralysis if once power is divided, there is no compromise,” Clinton said.
Pictures credit: Jim Young/Reuters