President Clinton skipped church Sunday and plunged in among the nation’s last-minute Christmas shoppers.
Wearing a holiday tie and a Santa pin on his jacket lapel, the president trekked across Capitol Hill to the glittering shopping mall at Union Station, the city’s Amtrak rail depot.
There, he lingered over the kiosks in the elegant east hall, purchasing a few trinkets and knickknacks while several hundred people gathered nearby - including a man in a toy soldier suit who mingled in the crowd on stilts.
The onlookers waited patiently for nearly two hours as Clinton shopped, and some sang a languid rendition of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” that echoed in the cavernous hall.
Clinton shopped alone and did not tell reporters what he bought. But he was seen making purchases at two stands, Aurea and Bouvier’s, where he’d been admiring bracelets, earrings and necklaces.
After browsing among the kiosks, Clinton ducked into two stores, Platypus and Appalachian Springs. Then he returned to the White House, toting two shiny green shopping bags into the Oval Office while aides followed with two larger bags.
As Clinton was leaving the mall, two hecklers began shouting, “Hey Bill! Your AIDS plan is a sham!” The president was shaking hands and ignored them, but after the shouting began he limited his handshaking to the farthest edge of the crowd.
The protesters were from the AIDS activist group ACT UP, which has complained that Clinton’s national AIDS strategy does not include lifting a ban on spending federal funds on programs that give clean syringes to intravenous drug users.
During his shopping excursion, the president stopped to chat with Hyla Hurley, who created the mistletoe “kissing ball” hanging in the White House’s grand foyer. “He said it was absolutely beautiful,” Hurley said.