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Clinton, Democratic Leaders Commit to Ending `Cold War' Between Congress, White House

Clinton, Democratic Leaders Commit To Ending `Cold War' Between Congress, White House

By Ruth Marcus
The Washington Post


President-elect Clinton and Democratic congressional leaders Monday made an enthusiastic, if ritualistic, commitment to end "the Cold War between the Congress and the White House" but gave no indication they had agreed in their first meeting to a strategy of accomplishing their priorities.

Reporting on their dinner at the governor's mansion Sunday night, Clinton, Vice President-elect Al Gore and the Democratic leaders -- Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (Maine), House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (Wash.) and Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.) -- offered glowing assessments of what Clinton described as "a very helpful first step toward a new ethic of shared responsibility."

"The message of this meeting is simple and clear," Gephardt said in a remark representative of the love-fest tone that characterized Monday morning's news conference. "Gridlock is over, and cooperation and teamwork have begun."

Four years ago, then President-elect Bush launched his dealing with Congress on a similarly cooperative tone, and Mitchell noted Monday that the first half of Bush's term was marked by significant legislative accomplishments.

But the Senate leader said he expected Clinton to take advantage of Democratic control of the executive and legislative branches for the first time in 12 years by being more hands-on in his relationship with Congress.

"He wants to help, he wants to participate, he wants to know what senators to meet with, when to meet them, where to meet them, how he could be most helpful," Mitchell said upon his return to Washington. "I think it will be a very positive change in attitude ... and a lot of personal involvement."

The three-hour working dinner encompassed a smorgasbord of topics, including -- in addition to the main course of economic recovery programs -- health care, financial institutions, the environment, education, welfare overhaul, the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Haiti and the former Soviet Union.

One participant said he was struck by the degree of Clinton's "personal commitment to a national service requirement," his ambitious plan to pay for the college educations of any American who wants one in return for community service. Hillary Clinton, who attended the dinner, discussed legal actions that could be taken to recover losses from failed savings and loans, the participant said.

Hillary Clinton's presence at the table prompted a question at Clinton's news conference, to which Clinton responded that "She stayed. She talked a lot. She knew more than we did about some things."

There has been much speculation about role Hillary Clinton will play in the administration, but the transition's communications director George Stephanopoulos said there was nothing unusual about her attending the dinner.

"Why would people be surprised by that? She's been doing this for a long time. She's been one of the top 100 lawyers in the United States," he said.

After having Washington come to him, Clinton comes to Washington Wednesday to sit down with Bush, meet with Republican as well as Democratic members of Congress and see some of the city where he will be living.

Stephanopoulos said Clinton will make a "street walk" to visit some businesses along Georgia Avenue NW near Howard University.