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National Perspective

Washington Insight

September 02, 1998|From The Times Washington Bureau

NAME GAME: Nearly 12 years ago, in the depths of the Iran-Contra affair, Ronald Reagan swept out most of the senior staff assembled for his second term. With two years left in office, he installed a new team that included Howard H. Baker, the former Senate majority leader; Colin L. Powell, at the time a little-known lieutenant general, and Kenneth M. Duberstein, an expert on all things congressional. By Tuesday, Washington will be running at full tilt, with the House and Senate back in session following summer recesses and the president in residence after three weeks of vacation and foreign travel. Among the key questions sure to dominate the cocktail circuit: With such advisors as White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin and counselor Rahm Emanuel in various stages of rumored departure, to whom will President Clinton turn, even as his own future remains uncertain?

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MONICA-FREE: Sierra Club officials decided they needed a hook to drum up interest in a news conference unveiling radio and TV ads addressing the environmental voting records of lawmakers. So they advertised the briefing as "100% scandal-free." None of the media spots, the environmental group proclaimed, featured "Monica You-Know-Who." The angle worked; about two dozen reporters showed up. "It was more than we hoped for," said a surprised Holly Minch, the club's Washington spokeswoman.

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TONGUE-TIED: As Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) stood before a bank of television cameras Tuesday, he knew he would be barraged with questions about Clinton's indiscretions. But the first comment from a reporter--"Nice tie"--threw him off guard. The compliment for the snazzy gold-and-blue number was enough to bring to mind reports that Monica You-Know-Who had given Clinton a necktie during their relationship. "No comment," was all Daschle could respond, before declaring the tie a gift from his wife. Conceding he was failing to keep the White House controversy at arm's length, Daschle quipped: "I'm digging myself in a hole and I haven't even started yet."

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REVERSE SPIN: Even in a town beset by rampant cynicism, how jaundiced can you get? Here's one possible answer: Atty. Gen. Janet Reno's decision to open a preliminary 90-day investigation of Vice President Al Gore's fund-raising calls--seemingly yet more ominous news for a beleaguered White House--was actually a cleverly calculated effort to stave off the president's impeachment. So suggested Larry Klayman, the relentlessly litigious thorn in the administration's side. He maintains that Reno's decision "may be timed, in part, to remind Democrats that impeaching Clinton won't erase the taint of scandal from the White House."

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THOMAS BITES BACK: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas usually addresses gatherings of political conservatives, but he has branched out this year, albeit not without controversy. In July, he spoke to a conference of black lawyers and judges in Memphis, Tenn., but only after some of its leaders tried to withdraw the invitation. In two weeks, the National Restaurant Assn. convenes in Washington. Their keynote speaker: Thomas. He will present "his perspective on the Supreme Court," says the group's president, Herman Cain, because "judicial decisions have a far-reaching impact on the future of business in America. And there is no greater definition of business in America than the restaurant industry."

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