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Administration No Longer 'New'

By Carl M. Cannon
The Baltimore Sun


Like the man on those irreverent T-shirts that surfaced a while back showing Richard Nixon's face and the slogan, "Tan, Rested and Ready," President Clinton did his time re-charging his batteries.

He golfed in Vail, Colo., with former President Ford and golf legend Jack Nicklaus, taught his daughter to water-ski on a lake in Arkansas, yachted in the Atlantic Ocean with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and partied all over this island with his pal Vernon Jordan.

But now, as his vacation ends, Clinton returns to Washington no longer a new president in the eyes of the American people and facing a policy agenda as ambitious as any president in recent history.

On Friday, as his stay neared an end on this island, Clinton pronounced himself "spoiled" and said he wished he had another week. But as the week wound down, he also indicated that he was ready to get going again.

First, the president issued a statement to be read at Saturday's 30th anniversary of the March On Washington that commemorated Martin Luther King Jr. and the causes he lived and died for.

In addition, the president found time Friday between a round of golf and a sailing trip to pre-tape his weekly Saturday radio address.

"In the quiet of this August day, as we reflect on what's happened over the last several months, we can say that together we've made a good beginning, but the job has just begun," the president said. "As our children go back to school, and, after a great family vacation, I go back to work..."

On the foreign policy front, officials said that Clinton plans an address in September to the United Nations where he will outline U.S. foreign policy goals.In addition, he plans to meet in New York with Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa.

Sometime in late autumn or early winter, the president plans to attend a NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, followed, possibly, by a visit to Moscow and a meeting with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin.

In the midst of that, officials said, the president hopes to formulate along with Gen. John Shalikashvili, his new handpicked candidate for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a consistent, firm policy regarding Serbian aggression in Bosnia.

"It's a full plate, no question," said one administration foreign policy official.

The administration's primary emphasis, however, is on domestic issues, including the following:

--The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. Although his administration has negotiated side agreements on environmental and labor regulations, he faces opposition from congressional Democrats, including House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo.

One administration official said that private negotiations will begin this week between the White House and Gephardt. This official said the president was "optimistic" that when Gephardt examines the side agreements carefully, he might be persuaded to drop his opposition. But with businessman and failed presidential independent candidate Ross Perot out there beating up on the treaty daily, White House officials say the president will be traveling the country, stumping for NAFTA approval.

--Reinventing Government. This is the task force headed by Vice President Al Gore that has been interviewing government workers in hopes of attacking government inefficiency. This effort has taken on additional importance because of promises made by Clinton to Congress during the fight for his budget bill. The promise was to search for additional spending cuts, a difficult chore that has been added to Gore's mandate.

--Health care reform. This is the big daddy, and it never seems to be far from the minds of the president or first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who chairs the president's task force on health care reform.

The president, in his radio address, termed reforming health care the "biggest challenge" of his administration.

He plans to unveil the first wave of specifics of his plan in an address to a joint session of Congress sometime in late September.

White House officials appear to have come to terms during their vacation with the notion that when Clinton returns to Washington Sunday, he comes back with a subtly different aura; namely, he is no longer a new president.

The American people have seen him fail in Congress, they've seen him succeed. They've seen him cry when he yanked the appointment of controversial law professor Lani Guinier, a longtime friend, and they've seen him laugh with his friends on a golf course. They've watched in grim sympathy as he struggled to deal with the suicide of a close aide, Vincent Foster Jr., and they've winced as he snapped at junior aides in public.

For better or worse, he said, after this week or after Labor Day, it's no longer "the new Clinton administration" but simply, "the Clinton administration."

As his vacation wound down, Clinton seemed to be reluctant to leave this island, but eager to get back to work at the same time.

"I'm ready," he said.