Documents show health care concerns during Clinton years

KEN THOMAS and PHILIP ELLIOTT Associated Press Published:

WASHINGTON -- Bill Clinton's aides revealed concern early in his presidency about the health care overhaul effort led by his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and later about what they saw as a need to soften her image, according to documents released Friday. Mrs. Clinton now is a potential 2016 presidential contender

The National Archives released about 4,000 pages of previously confidential documents involving the former president's administration, providing a glimpse into the ultimately unsuccessful struggles of his health care task force, led by the first lady, and other Clinton priorities such as the U.S. economy and a major trade agreement.

Hillary Clinton's potential White House campaign has increased interest in Clinton Presidential Library documents from her husband's administration during the 1990s and her own decades in public service.

A former secretary of state and New York senator, Mrs. Clinton is the leading Democratic contender to succeed President Barack Obama, though she has not said whether she will run.

Friday's documents included memos related to the former president's ill-fated health care reform proposal in 1993 and 1994, a plan that failed to win support in Congress and turned into a rallying cry for Republicans in the 1994 midterm elections.

The documents also include detailed media strategy memos written as aides tried to soften Mrs. Clinton's image.

Her press secretary, Lisa Caputo, encouraged the Clintons to capitalize on their 20th wedding anniversary as "a wonderful opportunity for Hillary."

Placing Clinton in a historical context "may help to round out her image and make what she is doing seem less extreme or different in the eyes of the media," Caputo wrote in a lengthy August 1995 memo about courting better press coverage as the president looked toward re-election. It noted the first lady had an "aversion to the national Washington media."

As for Clinton himself, by the end of his presidency he showed frustration with his proposed farewell speech to the nation. He told aides that he didn't think the drafts included enough of his administration's accomplishments.

"Doesn't anybody care about me?" he asked aides during his final days in office.

The new documents offer glimmers of Clinton's internal national security deliberations. The most detailed material, contained in files from then-national security speechwriter Paul Orzulak, show top Clinton officials wrestling with how to deal with China's emergence as a world financial power.

Notes from an undated meeting with Berger show the Clinton national security adviser pushing for China's membership in the World Trade Organization despite concerns about human rights abuses.

Other documents released Friday offered a glimpse into the juggling of priorities early in Clinton's first term and administration concerns after Republicans took control of the House and Senate in the 1994 elections.

A July 1993 memo shared among Clinton's advisers sought guidance on how the administration should focus its attention on three major priorities: health care reform, the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement and an initiative aimed at "reinventing government."

"The president has repeatedly promised that health care will come after the economic package passes," the memo from Clinton advisers Emanuel, Bob Boorstin, Mark Gearan and others said. "Surveys indicate that health care remains the second or third priority (behind job creation) for the vast majority of voters, but also that people fear reform is just another promise to be broken."

"Our core supporters are rapidly losing patience and could block passage by throwing their support to alternative plans," the memo warned.

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Associated Press writers Stephen Braun, Henry C. Jackson, Pete Yost, Laurie Kellman, Connie Cass and Charles Babington in Washington and Jill Zeman Bleed in Little Rock, Ark., contributed to this report.

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