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Clinton, GOP Offer Peace, and Clenched Fists


WASHINGTON — President Clinton and the new Republican leaders of Congress proffered olive branches to each other but simultaneously clenched their fists amid strong signs that the post-election cease-fire may prove fragile and fleeting.

Though both sides vowed to work together on a broad range of issues, including welfare reform and government streamlining, each laid down markers that seem to make collision inevitable.

In press conferences Wednesday, Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), soon to become Senate majority leader and Speaker of the House, declared their intention to move quickly to pass a balanced-budget amendment, limit welfare benefits and reform the political system.

Gingrich also spoke of a middle-class tax cut and Clinton, adapting quickly to a hostile new climate, indicated that he might cooperate in this area--but only if a way can be found to pay for it through spending cuts.

It was a clearly chastened Clinton who emerged Wednesday morning to survey an utterly changed political landscape and to wonder what he can salvage of his damaged presidency. Buoyant Republican leaders, trying unsuccessfully not to gloat, spoke with voices of authority that they had never before known.

Dole said that Tuesday's GOP groundswell was a clear vote of no confidence in Clinton's agenda but he reassured the President in a telephone conversation that Republicans in the Senate "want to work together where we can."

Clinton, smiling wanly at a press conference, said of voters: "They sent us a clear message. I got it."

He accepted responsibility for the voters' harsh verdict on the Democrats' performance over the last two years but asserted that much of the popular anger was directed not at him but at an arrogant Congress dominated for 40 years by Democrats.

"With the Democrats in control of both the White House and the Congress, we were held accountable yesterday and I accept my share of the responsibility in the result of the elections," Clinton said.

He added later in the news conference: "I believe that a lot of these things that we saw yesterday were the culmination of many years of trends, as well as a dissatisfaction with the last two years."

A senior White House aide, glumly analyzing Tuesday's results, said voters clearly concluded that the American political process was paralyzed.

"Something had to happen and it had to be big," the aide said. "And it was big."

Secretary of State Warren Christopher, meeting with South Korean officials in Seoul, felt compelled to reassure his hosts that the course of American foreign policy will not change because of Tuesday's elections.

"There is a strong continuity in American foreign policy," Christopher said in a hastily rewritten public speech. "I want to assure this international audience that we intend to go forward in the spirit of bipartisanship. . . . Our policy toward Asia and particularly toward Korea has strong bipartisan support."

Tuesday's electoral earthquake left behind a political landscape transformed almost beyond recognition. After controlling the House without interruption for 40 years, Democrats surrendered the lower chamber with a loss of at least 51 seats in Tuesday's balloting, with seven elections still too close to call.

In the Senate, the Democrats lost six open seats that the party now holds, saw two incumbents (Harris Wofford of Pennsylvania and Jim Sasser of Tennessee) defeated, and failed to capture a single seat now held by Republicans.

The Republicans concluded election night with a 52-48 advantage in the Senate and swelled their margin by another vote on Wednesday, when conservative Democratic Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama switched to the GOP. In announcing his decision, Shelby declared that "there is not" room in the Democratic Party any longer "for a conservative Southern Democrat such as myself."

While at least 33 Democratic House incumbents were defeated, not a single Republican incumbent was turned out of office. Republicans will hold at least 229 seats in the House next year, with the potential for further gains as the last races are decided.

Topping the list of defeated Democrats is House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.). Foley conceded defeat Wednesday afternoon to George Nethercutt, a Republican attorney who, like many GOP winners, had never previously held public office. With 99% of the vote counted, Foley trailed Nethercutt by 2,174 votes, 50.6% to 49.4%.

The defeat of Foley--who became the first House Speaker denied reelection since 1860--offered an emphatic coda to a GOP sweep.

In addition to Foley, Republican challengers took out such other prominent Democrats as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jack Brooks of Texas, 34-year veteran Neal Smith of Iowa, former Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois and House Intelligence Chairman Dan Glickman of Kansas.

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