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Clinton's Remark Criticized

The senator is under fire for comparing the GOP-led House to a 'plantation.' First Lady Laura Bush calls it a 'ridiculous comment.'

January 19, 2006|Edwin Chen | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's description of the Republican-dominated House of Representatives as a "plantation" continued making political waves Wednesday, with Laura Bush joining the fray.

"I think it's ... a ridiculous comment," the first lady told reporters as she flew home after visiting Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria.

Laura Bush became the latest Republican to take her White House predecessor to task. The day before, presidential spokesman Scott McClellan called the New York Democrat's comments "way out of line."

Clinton, who appears to be coasting to reelection and is seen as a 2008 contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, spoke Monday during a ceremony in Harlem honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Addressing a supportive audience, she said: "When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation, and you know what I'm taking about.... It has been run in a way so that nobody with a contrary view has had a chance to present legislation, to make an argument, to be heard."

Clinton went on to condemn the Bush administration: "I predict to you that this administration will go down in history as one of the worst that has ever governed our country."

The senator's comments about the Bush White House and Republicans highlighted a balancing act she has tried to maintain as she seeks reelection but also considers a bid for the White House.

Her partisan attacks keep the Democratic Party's base energized and her liberal supporters reasonably happy, even as she works in the Senate to burnish an image as a centrist, which would help her in a presidential campaign.

Her remark also revealed a level of uncertainty among Republicans about how to deal with her.

Initially, the White House referred reporters to the Republican National Committee. There, Tracey Schmidt, a party spokeswoman, said: "On a day when Americans are focused on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Hillary Clinton is focused on the legacy of Hillary Clinton."

By Tuesday, McClellan was more than prepared to jump in.

Given the racial overtones of Clinton's remark, Democrats dispatched Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the Senate's only African American, to the airwaves Wednesday to defend his colleague.

"I think what Sen. Clinton was referring to was ... that there's been a consolidation of power by the Republican Congress and this White House," he told CNN's "American Morning."

On ABC's "Good Morning America," Obama accused the Republican Party of "shutting out Democrats and people who are not willing to pay to play in conference committees -- the various negotiations on legislation."

"And so what you've seen is further and further concentration of power around a very narrow agenda that advantages the most powerful, and I think that's what Sen. Clinton was referring to," he said.

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