WASHINGTON – The National Archives on Friday released its largest batch yet of previously withheld documents from the Clinton administration, with topics including the conflicts in Somalia and Rwanda, Middle East peace negotiations, the Oklahoma City bombing and public figures as varied as Richard M. Nixon and Oprah Winfrey.
The bundle that is likely to receive the most attention, though, is one that covers Hillary Rodham Clinton’s ill-fated attempt as first lady to overhaul the health care system. Clinton, who ran for president in 2008, is considering a second attempt in 2016.
Here are some notable sections.
Health care legislation – The memos chronicle aspects of the Clinton-era fight over health care that are familiar today.
In a May 1993 memo, Ira Magaziner, architect of the administration’s plan, made a lengthy argument to the president and first lady, urging them to maintain the push for a health care overhaul even though many in the administration wanted the president to focus more on economic programs.
“Great presidencies are defined by a few major achievements,” Magaziner wrote. “You should pick the ones that really count and plan for them carefully. Comprehensive health care reform is clearly one that has such potential. Reducing the deficit to $200 billion, though very important, may not carry the same historical significance.”
The Clinton health care push faded, and the sweeping overhaul would not be resurrected until President Obama’s first term.
Vice President Al Gore – The memos offer a glimpse at tensions between the offices of President Clinton and Vice President Gore in the second term.
“I am trying to knock down the idea that the Clinton White House’s support for Gore is based on legacy notions, and build up the idea that it is based on respect, relationships and in-the-foxhole camaraderie,” Ron Klain, Gore’s chief of staff, wrote to a White House speechwriter, Jonathan Prince, in September 1997.
Klain pointed to Clinton’s use of an anecdote in the 1996 State of the Union speech, about a government worker named Richard Dean who re-entered the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City after it had been bombed the previous spring. Clinton cited Dean as an example of why Congress should respect federal workers and avert a repeat of the government shutdown of 1995-96.
The anecdote, which was featured prominently in news coverage of the State of the Union address, had been Gore’s idea.
“You will recall that many around here made fun of Gore’s push for this item, and until very late in the day, this idea appeared in SoU draft as ‘Gore anecdote,’ ” Klain wrote. “But it turned out to be one of the most powerful moments in the 96 SoU and a key moment in the budget battle.”
He went on: “This anecdote rebuts the charge that Gore lacks a Clinton type of feel for political rhetoric.”
The 1994 midterms – The papers underscore the sense of desperation in late 1994-early 1995 as Republicans seized control of Congress and Clinton was left to argue his relevance in a new political era.
In a Nov. 1, 1994, memo just days before the landslide they knew was coming, several Clinton aides wrote a plan for the president to get out in front of public mistrust in government institutions.
The aides recommended “a renewed assault on bureaucracy,” an agenda aimed at “shifting power back to the American people” and a series of initiatives for “fixing Congress” like term limits, lobbying reform, a congressional pay freeze until the budget was balanced and a 25 percent cut in the congressional staff.
A month later, after the enormous electoral loss, speechwriter Michael Waldman sent a memo discussing how to obstruct the Republican agenda.
“We need to decide where, if anywhere, is the place to try and blow up the railroad tracks,” he wrote. “We need a complete strategy on how to paint the GOP as the party of wealthy special interests.”
Financial deregulation - The financial crisis of 2008 and the recession that followed cast a critical light on legislation signed by Clinton nearly a decade earlier that deregulated much of the financial services industry. It also provoked criticism of Robert E. Rubin, Clinton’s Treasury secretary, who took a lucrative job at one of the law’s main beneficiaries, Citigroup, after he left office.
But in 1998, as senior administration officials prepared to meet with the chief executives of Citicorp and Travelers, who were proposing a megamerger to form Citigroup that relied heavily on deregulation, Rubin expressed concern over the regulatory effects of combining retail banking, investment banking and insurance, which was prohibited at the time.
“It would upset the existing balance between the elected administration and the independent agencies – diminishing the role of the elected administration in a critical area of economic policy-making,” Rubin wrote.