Clinton tries to sell his foreign policy at bipartisan retreat
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Acting as host, President Clinton served up foreign policy with dinner to three dozen lawmakers Wednesday, adding a dash of persuasion and a side order of schmooze.
The president, still using crutches because of his injured knee, rode in his limousine to Blair House, across the street from the White House. He was accompanied by Vice President Al Gore, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Gore’s national security adviser, Leon Firth.
Among those who attended were U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson; Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.; House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo.; and Sens. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., Pete Domenici, R-N.M., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and John Kerry, D-Mass.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declined Clinton’s invitation.
Clinton hoped the bipartisan retreat would improve relations with the GOP-dominated Congress.
On the agenda were such sticky overseas issues as NATO’s planned expansion, freer trade, Chinese and Cuban relations, the chemical weapons treaty and U.S. payments to the United Nations.
The Senate likely will vote on the chemical weapons treaty next week; the administration said the outcome is in doubt. ``It is really a jump ball at this point,″ Berger said. The administration reached agreement with key Senate leaders on 23 conditions addressing concerns about the treaty but a handful of sticking points remain.
``There still are some concerns we can’t address without gutting the treaty,″ Berger said. He said treaty opponents will try to block the pact with four ``killer amendments.″
``Our goal, largely stated, is bipartisanship in foreign policy,″ White House spokesman Mike McCurry said. ``Maybe the spirit of Arthur Vandenberg will linger over these discussions.″
The late Sen. Arthur H. Vandenberg of Michigan, a Republican who converted from his isolationist views to write the script for bipartisanship in foreign policy 50 years ago, urged a mutual effort ``to unite our official voice at the water’s edge.″ The senator added that does not mean surrendering free debate.
Indeed, the Blair House retreat was designed to promote debate, but a cordial variety unlike much of the discourse between the parties since the GOP took over Congress in 1994.
The retreat’s opening session was a discussion on the future of Europe with an expanding NATO and tensions in Bosnia. Both issues brought Clinton congressional criticism.
For dinner, the White House orchestrated an elaborate seating arrangement that put lawmakers at specific ``chat tables″ with ear-bending administration officials. The ``U.N. table″ featured Bill Richardson, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, lobbying lawmakers on the importance to the United States of paying its U.N. debts.
Lawmakers wavering on the chemical weapons treaty, which Clinton supports, might have found themselves breaking bread with an administration official pressing the president’s case.
Rhetoric also was served with the rations at the ``NATO table″ and the ``free-trade table.″
With so many important votes in one room, aides said they suspected Clinton would do plenty of table hopping during dinner.
After the meal, Clinton was conducting a discussion on the Asian-Pacific community.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were among administration officials in attendance. The retreat was closed to press and public.