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Clinton's Advice for the Democrats

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- Bill Clinton wants to be very clear: It's not just familial relations that are leading him to support his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), in the 2008 presidential race.

"Even if she wasn't my wife, I'd be for her," the 42nd president told House Democrats Thursday evening, according to lawmakers and aides in attendance.

Bill Clinton
Former President Bill Clinton spoke to House Democrats on Friday.

Clinton had been asked inside the James River Ballroom of the Kingsmill Resort to handicap the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, and he wanted to be up front with his audience that Sen. Clinton was his first choice.

However, during his more than two-hour marathon session with the newly empowered Democrats, Clinton gave the caucus a series of admonitions about how they should govern from Capitol Hill -- and in the process, he may have given insight into how his wife's presidential campaign will be run.

Clinton told House Democrats not to over-reach in their ambitions, not to go too far in their priorities and to instead accept compromises with President Bush on small initiatives that show they can govern effectively.

"If you can't get a dollar and you can get a dime, take a dime every time," Clinton told the lawmakers, according to one attendee who kept notes on the talk. "Make incremental progress if you can."

In essence, Clinton was telling the new majority to avoid the Congressional mistakes of 12 years ago, when the new Republican majority tried to dramatically down size the federal government. That showdown ended with government shutdowns and a terrible drop in approval ratings for Republicans, particularly their top leader, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

Instead, Clinton wants current Speaker Nancy Pelosi (R-Calif.) to lead her Democratic caucus in a unified manner, particularly on the major issues, but to also accept compromise as long as it moves the ball forward.

"The American people will appreciate incremental steps because they're used to big divided government and not used to getting things done," he told the crowd.

This is exactly the play calling that Clinton used to foil Gingrich in 1995 and 1996, honing a carefully constructed agenda of small but popular issues (such as supporting school uniforms in public schools) that helped plant him in the center of the political spectrum.

This time around, Clinton wants Congressional Democrats to be in the political position he enjoyed as president in the mid-90s -- which could enable them to push Bush and his Congressional allies out to the fringes.

Back then, Clinton made a critical internal move, switching to pollster Mark Penn, who helped craft some of the White House's agenda items.

Now, as Sen. Clinton embarks on her presidential campaign, Penn is at her side as the top pollster.

Clinton's words of wisdom for House Democrats Thursday evening could be interpreted as a measure of what type of agenda his wife will push on the campaign trail throughout 2007 and into 2008.

Lawmakers and staff said the one issue Clinton continually kept coming back to was energy independence and global warming, instructing the Democrats to frame it in terms of national security -- a way to free Americans from the whims of oil oligarchs and create domestic jobs.

"Everything went back to energy," one attendee said of Clinton's presentation.

This will also be a fascinating issue to watch as the campaign heats up; the Democrat who has the longest standing reputation on this issue is Clinton's vice president, Al Gore, who just collected an Oscar nomination for his documentary film on the subject.

Despite his denials, Gore continues to be at the center of speculation about his own presidential ambitions. By positioning much of his policy talk on this issue, Clinton may well have been staking an early claim on what would inevitably be the centerpiece of Gore's campaign.

In typical Clinton fashion, he spoke far longer than anyone expected, and then worked the crowd afterward for a long time.

"He stayed around forever," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said.

By Paul Kane  |  February 2, 2007; 6:58 PM ET
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Next: Bush and the Dems -- Together Again


This Republican LOVES Bill Clinton

Posted by: George | February 3, 2007 8:22 AM | Report abuse

Can governing from the middle end a war?

It didn't during the Vietnam War, and it sure as heck won't end the Iraq war.

Posted by: Rachel in Laos | February 3, 2007 10:57 AM | Report abuse

The Dems should bundle extra Iraq spending (which they're going to eventually pass anyway) with caps in CO2 emissions in the same bill. Sending these two items together to Bush as a "take-it-or-leave-it" offer would force Bush either to veto Iraq spending or agree to this critical environmental and national security goal.

Posted by: David | February 3, 2007 1:21 PM | Report abuse

I'm confused; BC is advocating incremental change. HRC is famous for attempting massive changes in the health care system. How can you say that what BC says reflects HRC's expected style of governance? Granted, she has undoubtedly learned her lesson but the evidence doesn't agree with the extrapolation....

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | February 4, 2007 11:56 PM | Report abuse

I will make this simple. I love the heart in both of the Clinton's but they what is winning is more important than what is good for the country and strengtheningthe dem. party.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 5, 2007 12:19 AM | Report abuse

Enough of Bill. Get over him. He isn't President anymore! Can't everyone stop talking about him????

Remember that mantra the libs would say when it was all bad news for Bill?

Well I say, seriously, can't this guy go hide in his unfurnished Harlem office and leave us alone?

Posted by: Hillaryisashemale | February 5, 2007 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Bill Clinton, despite his moral laxity, was the most successful Democrat President of the past half century. He still has plenty to offer, even if he bloviates and can't stay away from the limelight for very long. They should set him up in a think-tank somewhere and let him design/advise Democratic campaigns and policy issues. He will be with us for a looooong time, no matter how or when Miss Hillary self-destructs.

Posted by: L Sterling | February 5, 2007 9:41 AM | Report abuse

I agree that President Clinton was a good President.However I do not beleive that we need another President from the same family.This is not a dynasty nor kingdom.There are other capable people to fill the job of President.

Posted by: cincigal74 | February 5, 2007 10:11 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Cincigal that we do not need to have another Clinton as President.

I have great concern about the potential for a conflict of interest at policymaking level with an ex-president being the spouse of a sitting president.

Are there any Constitutional questions here??? I have not heard this aspect discussed anywhere. Thanks. Nancy

Posted by: Nancy | February 6, 2007 1:10 PM | Report abuse

i think i know now what David Brinkley meant when he said Clinton was "boring." it's not just that he's longwinded, it's also he has absolutely nothing new to say.

Posted by: cd | February 6, 2007 1:35 PM | Report abuse

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