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Bill Clinton downplays tension with President Obama

November 08, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli | Washington Bureau
(Chris Kleponis / Pool/Getty…)

Bill Clinton on Tuesday downplayed perceived criticism of President Obama in his newly-released book, saying that his Democratic successor has "done a better job than he's getting credit for."

The former president does say in the book, "Back To Work," that the White House did not always take his advice on issues like the debt ceiling and Democrats' message in the 2010 campaign. But in a pair of interviews he sought to minimize any talk of a rift.

"The book lavishly praises the administration's economic policy, its energy policy, its whole thing," Clinton told Ann Curry on NBC's "Today" show.

He also compared the situation Obama now faces — with a hostile Republican faction in Congress — to what he dealt with in his first term.

"Not much happened. We fought. Then there were two government shutdowns. And the voters decided they agreed with the approach I was taking," he said. "His politics will improve when the economy gets better. But the American people need to send a signal to Congress that they want them to work together — not that he's right all the time or that I was right."

Four years ago Clinton was ramping up his advocacy for his wife's campaign against Obama. In the midst of the Democratic primaries, there was no harsher critic of Obama than the former president.

Any animosity between the two appears gone now. But the timing of Clinton's new book ‐ one year before Obama faces the voters again ‐ has struck some in the chattering class as curious. One commentator referred to Clinton as "backseat driving" the Democratic administration.

Clinton says his book is primarily his assessment of the American economy and politics in the last 30 years, though he understands that conflict makes for better news coverage.

In his book Clinton writes that he urged Democrats and the White House to adopt a more coherent national message to help the party's congressional candidates. In his interview Tuesday, he notes that he also points out he made the same mistake as president when Republicans won back the Congress in 1994.

He also writes that the Obama White House should have sought to raise the debt ceiling when Democrats still controlled both houses of Congress. He says he's since been told they did try to do so, but still faced a Republican filibuster.

"I think he's done a better job than he's getting credit for," Clinton said.

Asked if he ever thinks about whether the nation would have been better off with his wife as president, Clinton said no.

"Because I deal with the world as it is."

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