Historic Whispers: Clinton's First 100 Days Part 1

Barack Obama is trying to learn from Bill Clinton's mistakes.

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When Bill Clinton, the last Democrat in the White House, came to Washington he had a rocky first 100 days. Now President Barack Obama is trying to learn from Clinton's mistakes. Here are some of the best Whispers, detailing a few of Clinton's slip-ups and also how the new president was adapting to life in the White House, from the column in early 1993.

  • Job gridlock. One reason President Clinton is having trouble plotting the big picture with Capitol Hill Democrats: His congressional liaison team, responsible for laying groundwork on issues like the economic plan, finds itself becoming a career counseling service for the "phenomenal" number of job applicants being pushed by Democratic members of Congress. After 12 years out of power, many Democrats are frantic for executive branch jobs, and legislators are jamming the administration with requests for employment of their friends. ( First published in the February 8, 1993 issue. )
    • Perk wars. As promised during the campaign, Clinton will soon announce a series of cuts in White House perks to show the administration will be sacrificing along with the rest of America under the budget plan. Among the moves: a reduction in the executive branch's fleet of limousines, restrictions on door-to-door service so federal big shots can use official vehicles for official business only, limits on travel by government jet and a new requirement that federal managers make a 3 percent across-the-board cut in administrative costs. Aides now say, however, that Clinton might not be able to keep some other campaign promises to show frugality. His pledge to reduce the White House staff by 25 percent, for example, might not be achievable at all, advisers concede. And at least one favorite White House perk is actually being aggressively promoted. The Clintons have issued a memo saying that they want the president's boxes at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts filled as often as possible. The tickets are doled out to aides and friends through the White House communications office. (February 15, 1993)
      • Bush blues. Some of George Bush's friends worry that the former president may soon sink into depression in Houston. One reason is that the hyperactive Bush will have trouble filling his days. Among the things Bush will miss most, friends say, is his daily intelligence briefings, where he soaked up details about other world leaders, especially adversaries like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qadhafi. Bush will also miss lesser things like tossing out the first ball at the World Series. Friends predict he will spend considerable time raising money for his presidential library in Texas. Some associates say the former president would most enjoy visiting his friends in capitals around the world—and possibly serving as a special envoy for the man who defeated him. (February 8, 1993)
        • Home alone. Bill Clinton's desires to maintain a semblance of both privacy and normalcy have run into unexpected obstacles. In their first morning after the inauguration, Bill and Hillary Clinton were stunned when a staffer walked into their bedroom to wake them up. The president also found that household or security staff would escort him wherever he went, even on strolls between floors. He told aides that he wanted to be left alone when at home. Clinton is also uncomfortable with all the attention he gets. "When Bill asks for a cup of coffee," says one friend, "he gets 14 cups." (February 15, 1993)
          • A phone of his own. One early Clinton frustration was the Oval Office's phones. Whenever he tried to push a number on the touch-tone phone, an operator came on the line and asked his bidding. Clinton requested a phone on which he could place calls himself and was told he could have one in a few months, once the updating of the White House phone system was completed. Clinton suggested that as president he should be able to have the kind of phone he likes. The upshot is that he can now do what most Americans take for granted: He can place his own phone calls. (February 15, 1993)