As President Clinton opened a four-day train tour through key states Sunday, administration officials said that if re-elected, the president will use his new line-item veto powers to force Congress to soften the recently approved welfare reform bill - a move likely to mollify liberal Democrats on the eve of the party’s national convention.
Opening the final stage of the final campaign of his career, Clinton departed from here on a circuitous, politically inspired trek expected to culminate in his unanimous nomination for a second term in Chicago on Wednesday night.
As he seeks to become only the third member of his party in this century to win two presidential elections, Clinton still is engaged in a delicate balancing act.
He is seeking to appeal to moderate and conservative voters who supported him in 1992 but deserted the party in 1994, while at the same time trying to ensure peaceful relations with the more liberal party activists awaiting him in Chicago.
There, in a TV interview, Vice President Al Gore said that while Clinton had signed the welfare bill, he is not through working on it.
Clinton will try to use the increased leverage he gains through the line-item veto next year to convince Republicans to soften some provisions that have drawn the strongest liberal criticism, Gore said.
“The line-item veto gives the president more of an ability to bargain with the Congress about all kinds of things …,” Gore said on ABC’s “This Week With David Brinkley.”
“The parts of the bill that we did not agree with, the cuts in food stamps and the provisions on immigrants, we will have an opportunity to fix,” he said, noting that at least some parts of the new law do not go into effect until July 1, 1997.
He suggested that Clinton will negotiate to restore spending and benefits in those areas. Under the line-item veto law passed this year, whoever is elected president in November will, for the first time, have the power to veto individual items of interest to various members of Congress that now are protected inside huge, multi-item spending bills.
The new law is expected to give the executive branch much greater power in negotiations with Congress.
The administration’s message drew an immediate rebuke from Republicans, but it came as leaders of the Democratic Party’s left wing appeared to soften their stance toward Clinton.
“We can be assured that if he says he (Clinton) will gut the welfare reform plan, he means it,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour. Gore’s statement is further proof, Barbour said, that a second Clinton term would be a return to liberal government.
On the other side, although a number of protests by immigrant groups, children’s rights advocates and others still are expected in Chicago, prominent party liberals began to sing Clinton’s tune.
At a rally in Chicago on Sunday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson admonished liberals that one effect of the New Left protests at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago was the election of Richard Nixon as president.
“We do have to make choices,” he said. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “chose Kennedy over Nixon, but neither of them ran on a public accommodation platform. … Dr. King chose Johnson over Goldwater. Neither one ran on a voting rights platform.” This year, he said, “there’s a choice between Clinton and Dole.”
For his part, as he opened his train trip, Clinton spared nothing in symbolism, pageantry and arm-waving oratory at his whistle-stop rallies. Repeatedly, he hammered away at his chief message: He has gotten the job done over the last four years and deserves a new term.
Clinton set out on his rail trip from Huntington, W.Va., on the western edge of the state, and traveled to Ashland, then to Chillicothe and Columbus, Ohio. During the next three days, his train, the 21st Century Express, will wind through Michigan and northeastern Indiana, where he will board a helicopter for a splashy arrival at the convention.
In addition to hailing his administration’s economic record, Clinton plans to ladle out a series of policy proposals to underscore that he is in tune with the concerns of the middle class.
Today, Clinton is to air a proposal to bar convicted wife abusers from having handguns. Tuesday, he will propose steps to promote literacy, and Wednesday, he is to offer a series of safeguards to protect the environment.
These proposals are to be capped Thursday, when, after his renomination, he will propose a measure to help rebuild inner cities.