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Washington Insight

January 14, 1998|From The Times Washington Bureau

STAYING POWER: After months of suspense over what was rumored to be the imminent departure of the chief of staff who brought discipline to the Clinton White House, Erskine Bowles has announced that he in fact will stay for a "long period of time." When Bowles took over the job from Californian Leon E. Panetta a year ago, he left his family in North Carolina and said he would not stay long. "It's no secret that I miss my family a great deal," Bowles said Tuesday. The job "does extract a lot from you, emotionally, financially and personally. But my dad always used to talk about 'adding to the woodpile,' and this is my chance to do it." Bowles--an investment banker who left a hefty salary to serve President Clinton--said he hoped his decision would persuade other senior White House officials to do the same. His reason for reenlisting, he said, is his enthusiasm about exciting stuff like Clinton's commitment to "fiscal discipline and fiscal responsibility." White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said Bowles' announcement inspired whistles and a standing ovation from his colleagues. But McCurry, who also is rumored to be on the way out, refused to make a similar declaration about his own intentions.

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PAINT JOB: A woman on a regular tour of the White House Tuesday whipped out a spray can in the Blue Room and defaced two historic busts with rusty brown paint, McCurry said, adding that "it looks like a bad rouge job on the busts." The busts--one of Christopher Columbus and another of Amerigo Vespucci--were created by Giuseppe Ceracchi and are among the oldest sculptures in the residence, having been acquired in 1817. The wall behind the busts sustained about $1,000 worth of damage from the noontime incident, but White House officials had not assessed the damage to the busts. The woman was taken into custody. It was the first such incident in the White House since the 1970s, McCurry said, adding that the White House has no plans to change its visitation rules. "This president and this first lady are committed to keeping the residence open to the American public," he said. "It's one of the only residences in the world that's open for public tour, and the Clintons think that's an important principle to maintain." To discourage any copycat vandals, the White House refused to release photos of the damage.

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SPELL-CHECK MELTDOWN: Former Vice President Dan Quayle, taking a now-traditional step toward a presidential campaign, has begun work on a book outlining his conservative political philosophy. Quayle associates wince audibly at bad jokes about the former veep's sometimes-mangled spelling and syntax.

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THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY: When Pope John Paul II visits Fidel Castro's Cuba next week, he is sure to condemn the U.S. sanctions that have helped cripple the economy of the Caribbean island nation for more than 30 years. Sanctions, the pope has said often, hurt the common people more than they hurt Castro. You might expect the pope's stance on this issue to upset Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), a great champion of anti-Cuba sanctions. But Helms, sure that the pope's sermons will undermine Cuban communism, supports his visit to Cuba wholeheartedly. "We do have a disagreement with the pope on sanctions," said a Helms aide, "but the pope and Fidel Castro have a lot more disagreements with each other than we have with the pope."

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