TRYING POST: For the second time in three years, President Clinton's liaison with Capitol Hill has fallen to the relentless pace of the job. Patrick J. Griffin is resigning Feb. 1, citing exhaustion. Griffin, 47, and predecessor Howard Paster, who departed near the end of Clinton's first year, both burned out trying to provide the lubricant between Clinton and congressional leaders. Early in Clinton's term, the main task was to sell the president's ambitious agenda, which drew fire within the Democratic Party and without. Since last year, the White House has scrambled to deal with the freshly minted Republican majority. Griffin will be replaced by John L. Hilley, who is chief counsel to Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and onetime chief of staff to former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell of Maine.
PLOWING THROUGH: Although it has become something of a tradition for Americans to view the federal work force as a collection of diddlers, many employees routinely put in long hours and give up weekends. So when blizzards closed much of the East Coast last week, including the federal government, some in Washington trudged on. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David A. Kessler, for instance, snuggled up at home with thousands of pages of public comments that his agency received about its proposal to regulate cigarettes as a drug delivery system for nicotine. At the Supreme Court, employees discovered that while the rest of the federal government dealt with the all-but-impassable city streets by granting workers four days off with pay, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist kept the court open. Under the ever-conservative jurist's "liberal leave policy," court employees were told either to be on the job or take a vacation day.
BUCKEYE BOOST: Some people plan. Take George Voinovich, the popular Republican governor of Ohio. He could be running for the U.S. Senate in 1998--and for vice president this year. Voinovich, who enjoys a 70% favorable rating in the polls, intends to try for the Senate seat held by Democrat John Glenn. With the race more than two years away, his media advisor, Greg Stevens, already is distributing a video bio to potential fund-raisers and to the national media. Aides say Voinovich wants to get an early start to avoid clogging up the final year of his second term as governor. But many people believe the moderate governor of a Midwest industrial state would be just the thing to round out the GOP national ticket. His press secretary, Mike Dawson, scoffs. "You don't run for vice president," he claims. On the other hand, Voinovich supporters are fond these days of quoting the late President Richard Nixon's advice to past Republican standard-bearers: "You need Ohio to win the presidency." And the surest way to get the Buckeye State with its 21 electoral votes, the ever-pragmatic Nixon used to say, is to pick its governor as veep.
BAD TIMING: Comedian and political activist Dick Gregory upstaged all participants, including President Clinton, at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration in Atlanta this week. As he addressed the crowd, Gregory turned to Clinton and held up a copy of Time magazine's Man of the Year cover featuring a haggard House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). "That boy done had a bad two months," Gregory said. "It all began with you and that trip to Israel. He had to sit on the back of the plane. You made him Negro for a day." As the congregation erupted in laughter, Clinton bit his lower lip, rolled his eyes and mouthed, "Oh, my God." Playing to the predominantly African American crowd, the black comic noted that Gingrich reacted to the perceived presidential snub by shutting down the federal government. "I'm glad you didn't make him Negro for a month," he said, "or we would have had World War III."