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S aturday, November 4, started out to be a hopeful day. The Bosnian peace talks had begun three days earlier at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, and we had just won a vote in Congress to beat back seventeen anti-environment riders to the EPA budget. I had prerecorded my usual Saturday-morning radio address, assailing the cuts that were still in the EPA budget, and was enjoying a rare, relaxing day, until 3:25 p.m., when Tony Lake called me in the residence to tell me that Yitzhak Rabin had been shot while leaving a huge peace rally in Tel Aviv. His assailant was not a Palestinian terrorist but a young Israeli law student, Yigal Amir, who was bitterly opposed to turning over the West Bank, including land occupied by Israeli settlements, to the Palestinians..cheap prom dresses.
Yitzhak had been rushed to the hospital, and for a good while we didnt know how badly hed been wounded. I called Hillary, who was upstairs working on her book, and told her what had happened. She came down and held me for a while as we talked about how Yitzhak and I had been together just ten days before when he had come to the United States to present me with the United Jewish Appeals Isaiah Award. It was a happy night. Yitzhak, who hated to dress up, showed up for the black-tie event in a dark suit with a regular tie. He borrowed a bow tie from my presidential aide, Steve Goodin, and I straightened it for him just before we walked out. When Yitzhak presented the award to me, he insisted that, as the honoree, I stand on his right, even though protocol dictated that foreign leaders stand on the Presidents right. Tonight we reverse the order, he said. I replied that he was probably right to do so before the United Jewish Appeal because, after all, they may be more your crowd than mine. Now I hoped against hope that we would laugh together like that again..cheap wedding dresses.
About twenty-five minutes after his first call, Tony called again to say that Rabins condition was grave, but he knew nothing else. I hung up the phone and told Hillary I wanted to go down to the Oval Office. After talking to my staff and pacing the floor for five minutes, I wanted to be alone, so I grabbed a putter and a couple of golf balls and headed for the putting green on the South Lawn, where I prayed to God to spare Yitzhaks life, hit the ball aimlessly, and waited...
After ten or fifteen minutes I saw the door to the Oval Office open and looked up to watch Tony Lake walking down the stone pathway toward me. I could tell by the look on his face that Yitzhak was dead. When Tony told me, I asked him to go back and prepare a statement for me to read...
In the two and a half years we had worked together, Rabin and I had developed an unusually close relationship, marked by candor, trust, and an extraordinary understanding of each others political positions and thought processes. We had become friends in that unique way people do when they are in a struggle that they believe is great and good. With every encounter, I came to respect and care for him more. By the time he was killed, I had come to love him as I had rarely loved another man. In the back of my mind, I suppose I always knew he had put his life at risk, but I couldnt imagine him gone, and I didnt know what I would or could do in the Middle East without him. Overcome with grief, I went back upstairs to be with Hillary for a couple of hours...
The next day Hillary, Chelsea, and I went to Foundry Methodist Church with our guests from Little Rock, Vic and Susan Fleming and their daughter Elizabeth, one of Chelseas closest friends from back home. It was All Saints Day, and the service was full of evocations of Rabin. Chelsea and another young girl read a lesson from Exodus about Moses confronting God in the burning bush. Our pastor, Phil Wogaman, said that the site in Tel Aviv where Rabin laid down his life has become a holy place...
After Hillary and I took communion, we left the church and drove to the Israeli embassy to see Ambassador and Mrs. Rabinovich and sign the condolence book, which lay on a table in the embassys Jerusalem Hall alongside a large photograph of Rabin. By the time we arrived, Tony Lake and Dennis Ross, our special envoy to the Middle East, were already there, sitting in silent respect. Hillary and I signed the book and then went home to get ready to fly to Jerusalem for the funeral...
We were accompanied by former Presidents Carter and Bush, the congressional leadership and three dozen other senators and representatives, General Shalikashvili, former secretary of state George Shultz, and several prominent business leaders. As soon as we landed, Hillary and I went to the Rabin home to see Leah. She was heartbroken, but trying to put on a brave front for her family and her country...
The funeral was attended by King Hussein and Queen Noor, President Mubarak, and other world leaders. Arafat wanted to come, but was persuaded not to because of the risk and the potentially divisive impact of his presence in Israel. It was also a risk for Mubarak, who had recently survived an assassination attempt himself, but he took it. Hussein and Noor were devastated by Rabins death; they genuinely cared about him and thought he was essential to the peace process. For each of his Arab partners, Yitzhaks assassination was a painful reminder of the risks they, too, were running for peace...
Hussein gave a magnificent eulogy, and Rabins granddaughter Noa Ben ArtziPelossof, then doing her service in the Israeli army, moved the audience by speaking to her grandfather: Grandpa, you were the pillar of fire before the camp, and now we are just a camp left alone in the dark, and were so cold. In my remarks, I tried to rally the people of Israel to keep following their fallen leader. That very week, Jews around the world were studying that portion of the Torah in which God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac, or Yitzhak; once Abraham demonstrated his willingness to obey, God spared the boy. Now God tests our faith even more terribly, for he has taken our Yitzhak. But Israels covenant with God, for freedom, for tolerance, for security, for peacethat covenant must hold. That covenant was Prime Minister Rabins lifes work. Now we must make it his lasting legacy. I closed with Shalom, chaver...
Somehow those two words, Shalom, chaverGood-bye, friendhad captured the feelings of Israelis about Rabin. I had a number of Jewish staff members who spoke Hebrew and knew how I felt about Rabin; I am still grateful that they gave me the phrase. Shimon Peres later told me that chaver means more than mere friendship; it evokes the comradeship of soul mates in common cause. Soon Shalom, chaver began to appear on billboards and bumper stickers all across Israel...
After the funeral I held a few meetings with other leaders at the King David Hotel, with its magnificent view of the Old City, then headed back to Washington. It was almost 4:30 a.m. when we touched down at Andrews Air Force Base, and all the weary travelers staggered off the plane to get whatever rest they could before the budget battle moved into its final phase...
Ever since the new fiscal year had begun on October 1, the government had been running on a continuing resolution (CR), which authorized funding for departments until their new budgets were enacted. It wasnt all that unusual for a new fiscal year to begin without Congress passing a couple of appropriations bills, but now we had the whole government on a CR, with no end in sight. By contrast, in my first two years, the Democratic Congress had approved the budgets on time...
I had offered a plan to balance the budget in ten years, and then one to balance it in nine, by 2004, but the Republicans and I were still far apart on our budgets. All my experts believed the GOP cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, education, the environment, and the EITC were larger than they needed to be to finance their tax cuts and reach balance, even in seven years. We had differences over the estimates of economic growth, medical inflation, and anticipated revenues. When they controlled the White House, the Republicans had consistently overestimated revenues and underestimated spending. I was determined not to make that mistake, and had always used conservative estimates that had enabled us to beat our deficit reduction targets...
Now that they controlled the Congress, the Republicans had gone too far in the other direction, underestimating economic growth and revenues and overestimating the rate of medical inflation, even as they promoted HMOs as a surefire way to slow it down. Their strategy appeared to be the logical extension of William Kristols advice in his memo to Bob Dole, urging that he block all action on health care. If they could cut funding for Medicare, Medicaid, education, and the environment, middle-class Americans would see fewer benefits from their tax dollars, feel more resentful paying taxes, and become even more receptive to their appeals for tax cuts and their strategy of waging campaigns on divisive social and cultural issues like abortion, gay rights, and guns.
President Reagans budget director, David Stockman, had acknowledged that his administration had intentionally run huge deficits to create a crisis that would starve the domestic budget. They succeeded partially, underfunding but not eliminating investments in our common future. Now the Gingrich Republicans were trying to use a balanced budget with unreasonable revenue and spending assumptions to finish the job. I was determined to stop them; the future direction of our nation hung in the balance.
On November 10, three days before the expiration of the continuing resolution, Congress sent me a new one that threw down the gauntlet: the price for keeping the government open was signing a new CR that increased Medicare premiums 25 percent, cut funding for education and the environment, and weakened environmental laws.
The following day, just a week after Rabins assassination, I gave my radio address on the Republican attempts to pass their budget through the back door of the CR. It was Veterans Day, so I pointed out that eight million of the seniors whose Medicare premiums would be raised were veterans. There was no need for the GOPs draconian cuts: the combined rates of unemployment and inflation were at a twenty-five-year low; federal employment as a percentage of the overall workforce was the smallest since 1933; and the deficit was down. I still wanted to balance the budget, but in a way that was consistent with our fundamental values and without threats and without partisan rancor.
On Monday night the Congress finally sent me an extension of the debt limit. It was worse than the CR, another backdoor effort to pass the budget cuts and weaken environmental laws. The legislation also stripped from the secretary of the Treasury the fund management flexibility he had had since the Reagan years to avoid defaults under extraordinary circumstances. Even worse, it lowered the debt limit again after thirty days, virtually ensuring a default.
Gingrich had been threatening since April to shut the government down and put America in default if I didnt accept his budget. I couldnt tell whether he really wanted to do it or whether he simply believed all the press coverage during my first two years that, in the face of ample evidence to the contrary, had portrayed me as too weak, too willing to abandon commitments, too eager to compromise. If so, he should have paid more attention to the evidence.
On November 13, with the existing CR scheduled to expire at midnight, the negotiators met one more time to try to resolve our differences before the government shutdown. Dole, Gingrich, Armey, Daschle, and Gephardt were there, as were Al Gore, Leon Panetta, Bob Rubin, Laura Tyson, and other members of our team. The atmosphere was already tense when Gingrich started the meeting by complaining about our TV ads. We had started running ads in targeted states in June to highlight administration achievements, beginning with the crime bill. When the budget debate heated up after Labor Day, we put up new ads targeting the proposed Republican cuts, especially in Medicare and Medicaid. After Newt carried on for a while, Leon Panetta tersely reminded him of all the terrible things hed said about me before the 1994 election: Mr. Speaker, you dont have clean hands.
Dole tried to calm things, saying that he didnt want the government to shut down. At that point, Dick Armey broke in to say Dole didnt speak for the House Republicans. Armey was a big man who always wore cowboy boots and seemed to be in a constant state of agitation. He launched into a tirade about how the House Republicans were determined to be true to their principles, and how angry he was that my TV ads on the Medicare cuts had frightened his elderly mother-in-law. I replied that I didnt know about his mother-in-law, but if the Republican budget cuts were to become law, large numbers of elderly people would be forced out of nursing homes or lose their home health care.
Armey replied gruffly that if I didnt give in to them, they would shut the government down and my presidency would be over. I shot back, saying I would never allow their budget to become law, even if I drop to 5 percent in the polls. If you want your budget, youll have to get someone else to sit in this chair! Not surprisingly, we didnt make a deal.
After the meeting, Daschle, Gephardt, and my team were elated by my confrontation with Armey. Al Gore said he just wished everyone in America had heard my declaration, except I should have said I didnt care if I fell to zero in the polls. I looked back at him and said, No, Al. If we drop to 4 percent, Im caving. We all laughed, but our insides were still in knots.
I vetoed both the CR and the debt ceiling bill, and the next day at noon large portions of the federal government shut down. Almost 800,000 workers were sent home, disrupting the lives of millions of Americans who needed their applications for Social Security, veterans benefits, and business loans processed, their workplaces inspected for safety, their national parks open for visits, and much more. After the vetoes, Bob Rubin took the unusual step of borrowing $61 billion from retirement funds to pay our debt and avert default for a while longer.
Not surprisingly, the Republicans tried to blame me for the shutdown. I was afraid theyd get away with it, given their success at blaming me for the partisan divide in the 94 election. Then I got a break when, at a breakfast with reporters on the fifteenth, Gingrich implied that he had made the CR even harsher because Id snubbed him during the flight back from Rabins funeral by not talking to him about the budget and asking him to leave the plane by the back ramp instead of the front one with me. Gingrich said, Its petty but I think its human . . . nobody has talked to you and they ask you to get off the plane by the back ramp. . . . You just wonder, where is their sense of manners? Perhaps I should have discussed the budget on the way home, but I couldnt bring myself to think about anything but the purpose of the sad trip and the future of the peace process. I did visit with the Speaker and the congressional delegation, as a photograph of Newt, Bob Dole, and me talking on the plane showed. As for getting off the back of the plane, my staff thought they were being courteous, because that was the exit closest to the cars that were picking up Gingrich and the others. And it was four-thirty in the morning; there were no cameras around. The White House released the photo of our conversation, and the press lampooned Gingrichs complaints.
On the sixteenth, at a news conference, I continued to ask the Republicans to send me a clean CR and to begin good-faith budget negotiations, even as they threatened to send me another one with all the same problems. The night before, I signed the Department of Transportation appropriations bill, only the fourth of the needed thirteen, and canceled my scheduled trip to the Asia Pacific leaders meeting in Osaka, Japan.
On November 19, I made a move toward the Republicans, saying that, in principle, I would work for a seven-year balanced budget agreement but would not commit to the GOP tax and spending cuts. The economy had continued to grow, with the deficit dropping more than expected; Panetta, Alice Rivlin, and our economics team believed we could now get to balance in seven years without the harsh cuts the Republicans were pushing. I signed two more appropriations bills, for the legislative branch and for the Treasury Department, the Postal Service, and general government operations. With six of the thirteen bills signed, about 200,000 of the 800,000 federal employees were back at work.
On the morning of November 21, Warren Christopher called me from Dayton to say that the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia had reached a peace agreement to end the war in Bosnia. The agreement preserved Bosnia as a single state to be made up of two parts, the Bosnian Croat Federation and the Bosnian Serb Republic, with a resolution of the territorial disputes over which the war was begun. Sarajevo would remain the undivided capital city. The national government would have responsibility for foreign affairs, trade, immigration, citizenship, and monetary policy. Each of the federations would have its own police force. Refugees would be able to return home, and free movement throughout the country would be guaranteed. There would be international supervision of human rights and police training, and those charged with war crimes would be excluded from political life. A strong international force, commanded by NATO, would supervise the separation of forces and keep the peace as the agreement was being implemented.
The Bosnian peace plan was hard-won and its particulars contained bitter pills for both sides, but it would bring an end to four bloody years that claimed more than 250,000 lives and caused more than two million people to flee their homes. American leadership was decisive in pushing NATO to be more aggressive and in taking the final diplomatic initiative. Our efforts were immeasurably helped by the Croatian and Bosnian military gains on the ground, and the brave and stubborn refusal of Izetbegovic and his comrades to give up in the face of Bosnian Serb aggression.
The final agreement was a tribute to the skills of Dick Holbrooke and his negotiating team; to Warren Christopher, who at critical points was decisive in keeping the Bosnians on board and in closing the deal; to Tony Lake, who initially conceived and sold our peace initiative to our allies and who, with Holbrooke, pushed for the final talks to be held in the United States; to Sandy Berger, who chaired the deputies committee meetings, which kept people throughout the national security operation informed of what was going on without allowing too much interference; and to Madeleine Albright, who strongly supported our aggressive posture in the United Nations. The choice of Dayton and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base was inspired, and carefully chosen by the negotiating team; it was in the United States, but far enough away from Washington to discourage leaks, and the facilities permitted the kind of proximity talks that allowed Holbrooke and his team to hammer out the tough details.
On November 22, after twenty-one days of isolation in Dayton, Holbrooke and his team came to the White House to receive my congratulations and discuss our next steps. We still had a big selling job on the Hill and with the American people, who, according to the latest polls, were proud of the peace agreement but were still overwhelmingly opposed to sending U.S. troops to Bosnia. After Al Gore kicked off the meeting by saying that the military testimony to date had not been helpful, I told General Shalikashvili that I knew he supported our involvement in Bosnia but that many of his subordinates remained ambivalent. Al and I had orchestrated our comments to emphasize that it was time for everybody in the government, not just the military, to get with the program. They had the desired effect.
We already had strong support from some important members of Congress, especially Senators Lugar, Biden, and Lieberman. Others offered a more qualified endorsement, saying that they wanted a clear exit strategy. To add to their numbers, I began to invite members of Congress to the White House, while sending Christopher, Perry, Shalikashvili, and Holbrooke to the Hill. Our challenge was complicated by the ongoing debate over the budget; the government was open for the time being, but the Republicans were threatening to shut it down again on December 15.
On November 27, I took my case for U.S. involvement in Bosnia to the American people. Speaking from the Oval Office, I said that our diplomacy had produced the Dayton accords and that our troops had been requested not to fight, but to help the parties implement the peace plan, which served our strategic interests and advanced our fundamental values.
Because twenty-five other nations had already agreed to participate in a force of sixty thousand, only a third of the troops would be Americans. I pledged that they would go in with a clear, limited, achievable mission and would be well trained and heavily armed to minimize the risk of casualties. After the address I felt that I had made the strongest case I could for our responsibility to lead the forces of peace and freedom, and hoped that I had moved public opinion enough so that Congress would at least not try to stop me from sending in the troops.
In addition to the arguments made in my speech, standing up for the Bosnians had another important benefit to the United States: it would demonstrate to Muslims the world over that the United States cared about them, respected Islam, and would support them if they rejected terror and embraced the possibilities of peace and reconciliation.
On November 28, after signing a bill to provide more than $5 billion for transportation projects that included my zero tolerance drinking standard for drivers under twenty-one, I left for a trip to the UK and Ireland to pursue another important peace initiative. Through all the activity in the Middle East and Bosnia and discussions over the budget, we had continued to work hard on Northern Ireland. On the eve of my trip, and with our urging, Prime Ministers Major and Bruton announced a breakthrough in the Irish peace process: a twin tracks initiative that provided for separate talks on arms decommissioning and the resolution of political issues; all parties, including Sinn Fein, would be invited to participate in talks overseen by an international panel, which George Mitchell had agreed to chair. It was nice to fly into good news.
On the twenty-ninth, I met with John Major and spoke to Parliament, where I thanked the British for their support of the Bosnian peace process and their willingness to play a major role in the NATO force. I commended Major for his pursuit of peace in Northern Ireland, quoting John Miltons lovely line, Peace hath her victories, no less renowned than war. I also had my first meeting with the impressive young opposition leader, Tony Blair, who was in the process of reviving the Labour Party with an approach remarkably similar to what we had tried to do with the DLC. Meanwhile, back home, the Republicans had reversed their position on lobbying reform, and the House passed it without a dissenting vote, 4210.
The next day I flew to Belfast as the first American President ever to visit Northern Ireland. It was the beginning of two of the best days of my presidency. On the road in from the airport, there were people waving American flags and thanking me for working for peace. When I got to Belfast, I made a stop on the Shankill Road, the center of Protestant Unionism, where ten people had been killed by an IRA bomb in 1993. The only thing most of the Protestants knew about me was the Adams visa. I wanted them to know I was working for a peace that was fair to them, too. As I bought some flowers, apples, and oranges from a local shop, I talked to people and shook a few hands.
In the morning I spoke to the employees and other attendees at Mackie International, a textile machine manufacturer that employed both Catholics and Protestants. After being introduced by two children who wanted peace, one Protestant, the other Catholic, I asked the audience to listen to the kids: Only you can decide between division and unity, between hard lives and high hopes. The IRAs slogan was Our day will come. I urged the Irish to say to those who still clung to violence, You are the past, your day is over.
Afterward, I stopped on the Falls Road, the heart of Belfasts Catholic community. I visited a bakery and began to shake hands with a quickly growing crowd of citizens. One of them was Gerry Adams. I told him that I was reading The Street, his book of short stories about the Falls, and that it gave me a better feel for what the Catholics had been through. It was our first public appearance together, and it signaled the importance of his commitment to the peace process. The enthusiastic crowd that quickly gathered was obviously pleased at the way things were going.
In the afternoon Hillary and I helicoptered to Derry, the most Catholic city in Northern Ireland and John Humes hometown. Twenty-five thousand cheering people filled the Guildhall Square and the streets leading to it. After Hume introduced me, I asked the crowd a simple question: Are you going to be someone who defines yourself in terms of what you are against or what you are for? Will you be someone who defines yourself in terms of who you arent or who you are? The time has come for the peacemakers to triumph in Northern Ireland, and the United States will support them as they do.
Hillary and I ended our day by returning to Belfast for the official lighting of the citys Christmas tree just outside city hall, before a crowd of about fifty thousand people, which was fired up by the singing of Northern Irelands own Van Morrison: Oh, my mama told me therell be days like this. We both spoke; she talked about the thousands of letters we had received from schoolchildren expressing their hopes for peace, and I quoted from one written by a fourteen-year-old girl from County Armagh: Both sides have been hurt. Both sides must forgive. Then I ended my remarks by saying that for Jesus, whose birth we celebrated, no words more important than these: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall inherit the earth.
After the tree lighting, we attended a reception, to which all the party leaders were invited. Even the Reverend Ian Paisley, the fiery leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, came. Though he wouldnt shake hands with the Catholic leaders, he was only too happy to lecture me on the error of my ways. After a few minutes of his hectoring, I decided the Catholic leaders had gotten the better end of the deal.
Hillary and I left the reception for our night at the Europa Hotel. On that first trip to Ireland, even our choice of lodging carried great symbolism. The Europa had been bombed on more than one occasion during the Troubles; now it was safe for the President of the United States to stay there.
It was the end of a perfect day, which even included some progress back home, as I signed the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, in which the congressional leaders had provided funding for our troop deployments in Bosnia. Dole and Gingrich had come through, in exchange for a few billion dollars of extra spending that even the Pentagon said was unnecessary.
The next morning we flew into Dublin, where the streets were lined with even bigger and more enthusiastic crowds than we had seen in the north. Hillary and I met with President Mary Robinson and Prime Minister Bruton, then went to a site outside the Bank of Ireland on the Trinity College Green, where I spoke to 100,000 people waving Irish and American flags and cheering. By that time I had been joined by a large number of Irish-American congressmen; Secretary Dick Riley and Peace Corps director Mark Gearan; the Irish-American mayors of Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles; my very Irish stepfather, Dick Kelley; and Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, who had worked on our economic initiatives for Northern Ireland and kidded the rest of us about his being black Irish. Once more, I urged the sea of people to set an example that would inspire the world.
When the event was over, Hillary and I walked back into the majestic Bank of Ireland to greet Bono, his wife, Ali, and other members of the Irish rock band U2. Bono was a big supporter of the peace process, and for my efforts he gave me a gift he knew Id appreciate: a book of William Butler Yeatss plays inscribed by the author and by Bono, who wrote, irreverently, Bill, Hillary, ChelseaThis guy wrote a few good lyricsBono and Ali. The Irish arent known for understatement, but Bono pulled it off.
I left the College Green to address the Irish parliament, reminding them that all of us had to do more to bring the tangible benefits of peace to ordinary Irish citizens; as Yeats said: Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart.
Then I went to Cassidys Pub, to which we had invited some of my distant relatives through my maternal grandfather, whose family had come from Fermanagh.
Feeling full of my Irishness, I went from the pub to the American ambassadors residence, where Jean Kennedy Smith had arranged a brief meeting with the opposition leader, Bertie Ahern, who would soon become prime minister and my newest partner for peace. I also met Seamus Heaney, the Nobel Prizewinning poet whom Id quoted in Derry the day before.
The next morning, as I flew to see our troops in Germany, I had the feeling that my trip had shifted the psychological balance in Ireland. Until then, the advocates of peace had to argue their case to the skeptics, while their adversaries could just say no. After those two days, the burden had shifted to the opponents of peace to explain themselves.
In Baumholder, General George Joulwan, the NATO commander, briefed me on the military plan and assured me that the morale of the troops about to go to Bosnia was high. I met briefly with Helmut Kohl to thank him for his commitment to send four thousand German soldiers, then flew to Spain to thank Prime Minister Felipe Gonzlez, the current EU president, for Europes support. I also acknowledged the leadership of NATOs new secretary-general, the former Spanish foreign minister Javier Solana, an exceptionally able and delightful man who inspired the confidence of all his NATO leaders, no matter how large their egos.
Three days after I got home, I vetoed the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, because it went too far in limiting access to our courts to innocent investors victimized by securities fraud. Congress overrode my veto, but in 2001, when all the problems with Enron and WorldCom arose, I knew I had done the right thing. I also vetoed another Republican budget. They had made a few changes and tried to make it harder to veto by including their welfare reform bill, but it still cut health and education, raised taxes on the working poor, and relaxed rules that kept pension funds from being depleted for non-pension purposes, less than a year after the Democratic Congress had stabilized Americas pension system.
The next day I submitted my own seven-year balanced budget plan. The Republicans panned it because it didnt accept all their estimates for revenues and expenses. We were $300 billion apart over seven years, not an insurmountable difference in an annual budget of $1.6 trillion. I was confident we would eventually reach an agreement, though it might take another government shutdown to get us there.
In mid-month, Shimon Peres came to see me for the first time as prime minister, to reaffirm Israels intention to turn over Gaza, Jericho, other major cities, and 450 villages in the West Bank to the Palestinians by Christmas, and to release at least another 1,000 Palestinian prisoners before the coming Israeli elections. We also discussed Syria, and I was encouraged enough by what Shimon said to call President Assad and ask him to see Warren Christopher about it.
On the fourteenth, I flew to Paris for a day, for the official signing of the agreement ending the Bosnian war. I met with the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia, and went to a lunch with them hosted by Jacques Chirac at the Elyse Palace. Slobodan Milosevic was sitting across from me, and we talked for a good while. He was intelligent, articulate, and cordial, but he had the coldest look in his eyes I had ever seen. He was also paranoid, telling me he was sure Rabins assassination was the result of betrayal by someone in his security service. Then he said that everyone knew thats what had happened to President Kennedy, too, but that we Americans have been successful in covering it up. After spending time with him, I was no longer surprised by his support of the murderous outrages of Bosnia, and I had the feeling that I would be at odds with him again before long.
When I came home to the budget war, the Republicans shut down the government again and it sure didnt feel as if Christmas was on the way, though seeing Chelsea dance in The Nutcracker brightened my mood considerably. This time the shutdown was somewhat less severe because about 500,000 federal employees deemed essential were allowed to work without pay until the government reopened. But benefits to veterans and poor kids still werent being paid. It wasnt much of a Christmas present to the American people.
On the eighteenth, I vetoed two more appropriations bills, one for the Department of the Interior, the other for the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development. The next day I signed the Lobbying Disclosure Act, after the House Republicans reversed their opposition, and vetoed a third appropriations bill, for the Departments of Commerce, State, and Justice. This one was really something: it eliminated the COPS program in the face of clear evidence that more police on the beat reduced crime; it eliminated all the drug courts, like those that had been promoted by Janet Reno when she was a prosecuting attorney, which reduced crime and drug abuse; it eliminated the Commerce Departments Advanced Technology Program, which many Republican businesspeople supported because it helped them become more competitive; and it severely cut funding for legal services for the poor and for foreign operations.
By Christmas, I had felt for some time that if left to our own devices, Senator Dole and I could have resolved the budget impasse fairly easily, but Dole had to be careful. He was running for President, and Senator Phil Gramm was running against him with Gingrich-like rhetoric, in Republican primaries in which the electorate was well to the right of the country as a whole.
After breaking for Christmas, I vetoed one more budget bill, the National Defense Authorization Act. This one was tough because the legislation included a military pay increase and a larger military housing allowance, both of which I strongly supported. Nevertheless, I felt I had to do it because the bill also mandated the complete deployment of a national missile defense system by 2003, well before a workable system could be developed or would be needed; moreover, such action would violate our commitments under the ABM Treaty and jeopardize Russias implementation of START I and its ratification of START II. The bill also restricted the Presidents ability to commit troops in emergencies and interfered too much with important management prerogatives of the Defense Department, including its actions to redress the threat of weapons of mass destruction under the Nunn-Lugar program. No responsible President, Republican or Democrat, could have allowed that defense bill to become law.
During the last three days of the year our forces deployed to Bosnia, and I worked with the congressional leaders on the budget, including one seven-hour session. We made some progress, but broke for New Years without agreement on the budget or on ending the shutdown. In the first session of the 104th Congress, the new Republican majority had enacted only 67 bills, as compared with 210 in the first year of the previous Congress. And only 6 of the 13 appropriations bills were law, three full months after the beginning of the fiscal year. As our family headed down to Hilton Head for Renaissance Weekend, I wondered whether the American peoples votes in the 94 elections had produced the results they wanted.
And I thought about the last two emotionally draining, exhausting, jam-packed months, and the fact that the enormity of the eventsRabins death, the Bosnian peace and the deployment of our troops, the progress in Northern Ireland, the herculean budget fighthad done nothing to slow down the worker bees in Whitewater World.
On November 29, as I was making my way to Ireland, Senator DAmatos committee called L. Jean Lewis to testify again about how her investigation of Madison Guaranty had been thwarted after I became President. During her appearance before Congressman Leachs committee the previous August, she had been so badly discredited by government documents and her own tape-recorded conversations with Resolution Trust Corporation attorney April Breslaw that I was amazed DAmato would call her back. On the other hand, hardly anybody knew of the problems with Lewiss testimony, and DAmato received a lot of publicity, as Leach had, by simply leveling charges that were unsupported and were actually disproved by subsequent testimony.
Lewis once again repeated her claim that her investigation was thwarted after I was elected. Richard Ben-Veniste, the committees minority counsel, confronted her with evidence that, contrary to her sworn deposition, she had tried repeatedly to push federal authorities to act on her referral of Hillary and me as material witnesses in Whitewater before the election, not after I became President, and had told an FBI agent that she was altering history by her actions. When Senator Paul Sarbanes read to Lewis from the 1992 letter of U.S. Attorney Chuck Banks saying that acting on her referral would constitute prosecutorial misconduct, then referred to a 1993 Justice Department appraisal of Lewiss inadequate knowledge of federal banking law, Lewis cried, slumped in her chair, and was led away, never to return.
This was what the New York Times and the Washington Post had wanted to know when they called for an independent counsel. I eagerly awaited their coverage. Immediately after the RTC report was released, the Post mentioned it in passing, in the eleventh paragraph of a front-page story about an unrelated subpoena battle with Starr, and the New York Times didnt run a word. The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Washington Times ran an Associated Press story of about four hundred words on the inside pages of their papers. The TV networks didnt cover the RTC report, though. ABCs Ted Koppel mentioned it on Nightline, then dismissed its importance, because there were so many new questions. Whitewater wasnt about Whitewater anymore. It was about whatever Ken Starr could dig up on anybody in Arkansas or my administration. In the meantime, some Whitewater reporters were actually covering up evidence of our innocence. To be fair, a few journalists took note. Washington Post writer Howard Kurtz wrote an article pointing out the way the RTC report had been buried, and Lars-Erik Nelson, a columnist for the New York Daily News, who had been a correspondent in the Soviet Union, wrote, The secret verdict is in: There was nothing for the Clintons to hide . . . in a bizarre reversal of those Stalin-era trials in which innocent people were convicted in secret, the President and the First Lady have been publicly charged and secretly found innocent.
I was genuinely confused by the mainstream press coverage of Whitewater; it seemed inconsistent with the more careful and balanced approach the press had taken on other issues, at least since the Republicans won the Congress in 1994. One day, after one of our budget meetings in October, I asked Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming to stay a moment to talk. Simpson was a conservative Republican, but we had a pretty good relationship because of the friendship we had in common with his governor, Mike Sullivan. I asked Alan if he thought Hillary and I had done anything wrong in Whitewater. Of course not, he said. Thats not what this is about. This is about making the public think you did something wrong. Anybody who looked at the evidence would see that you didnt. Simpson laughed at how willing the elitist press was to swallow anything negative about small, rural places like Wyoming or Arkansas and made an interesting observation: You know, before you were elected, we Republicans believed the press was liberal. Now we have a more sophisticated view. They are liberal in a way. Most of them voted for you, but they think more like your right-wing critics do, and thats much more important. When I asked him to explain, he said, Democrats like you and Sullivan get into government to help people. The right-wing extremists dont think government can do much to improve on human nature, but they do like power. So does the press. And since youre President, they both get power the same way, by hurting you. I appreciated Simpsons candor and I thought about what he said for months. For a long time, whenever I was angry about the Whitewater press coverage I would tell people about Simpsons analysis. When I finally just accepted his insight as accurate, it was liberating, and it cleared my head for the fight.
Despite my anger over Whitewater and my puzzlement about what was behind the press coverage of it, I headed into 1996 feeling fairly optimistic. In 1995, we had helped save Mexico, gotten through Oklahoma City and increased the focus on terrorism, preserved and reformed affirmative action, ended the war in Bosnia, continued the Middle East peace process, and helped make progress in Northern Ireland. The economy had continued to improve, and so far I was winning the budget fight with the Republicans, a battle that in the beginning seemed likely to doom my presidency. It could still lead to that, but as we headed into 1996 I was ready to see it through to the end. As I had told Dick Armey, I didnt want to be President if the price of doing so was meaner streets, weaker health care, fewer educational opportunities, dirtier air, and more poverty. I was betting that the American people didnt want those things either.