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President Clinton and President-elect Bush Hold Photo-Op Before Meeting in the White House

Aired December 19, 2000 - 11:28 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We interrupt that commercial break to take you live to the Oval Office. Here is the photo opportunity between President-elect George W. Bush and President Clinton.

Let's listen.


QUESTION: ... about problems with the economy, are you going to inherit a recession from President Clinton?

And, President Clinton, what are your thoughts about that?

PRESIDENT-ELECT GEORGE W. BUSH: I really don't have any comments. I look forward to talking to the president. I'm so honored that he extended his hospitality to me and my wife yesterday. He didn't need to do this, and I'm most grateful that he would do so.

QUESTION: Mr. President, what do you think about a recession?

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, a recession is two quarters in a row of negative growth. I don't think we're going to have that. But we couldn't keep up 5 percent growth a year, you know, forever. So I think 49 of the 50 Blue Chip forecasters think that growth will be 2.5 percent or better next year, and that'll keep unemployment low.

But I think there will be things to be managed. He'll have economic challenges and we ought to give him a chance to meet them, not try to figure it all out in advance.


QUESTION: Did you have advice for the president-elect?

CLINTON: Well, I just told him, my only advice to anybody in this is get a good team and do what you think is right.

QUESTION: Are you going to North Korea?

CLINTON: No decision has been made on that. We've been talking -- our people have -- about what we've attempted to do in North Korea. It's interesting, when I had this meeting eight years ago with the president-elect's father, he told me the biggest problem we were facing was the nuclear program in North Korea, and we were able to build on the work they had done and put an end to that.

And now the big problem there is the missile program. We may have a chance to put an end to it. And if we can, I think we should.

But this is something that I want to consult with the president- elect and his team about, and we'll see what the facts are. And I'll try to do what's best for the country.

QUESTION: I understand that you're not against him going. Is that right?

BUSH: I haven't had a chance to talk to the president yet, Helen.

CLINTON: No, we haven't talked about this.

QUESTION: What will you tell him is the biggest problem, Mr. President?

CLINTON: I want to talk to him, not you.


I waited eight years to say that.


QUESTION: Governor, how different is it to come to this house in your position now?

BUSH: It's vastly different. It's such a huge honor to come as the president-elect. I don't think I'll really, fully realize the impact until I swear in. I expect the president would say the same thing.

And I am humbled and honored, and I can't thank the president enough for his hospitality. He didn't need to do this.

QUESTION: Yes, he did.


BUSH: I haven't quite finished yet.


And I'm grateful. And I've looked forward to the discussion. I'm here to listen. And if the president is kind enough to offer some advice, if he is, I will take it in.

QUESTION: Are there questions you have for the president, sir?

BUSH: If there are, I'm going to ask it in private.

STAFF: All right. Thank you.

BUSH: And afterwards not sharing with you. Thank you.


STAFF: Thank you.

BUSH: A high-energy moment.

KAGAN: We've had a chance there to listen to little meeting there, a photo opportunity between President-elect George W. Bush and President Clinton.

I think we have our John King standing by as well -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Daryn, very little of substance said by the two men. Although the current president -- this could get confusing, I guess -- the current president, Mr. Clinton. did say he wanted to seek the president- elect's advice as to whether he should travel to North Korea in an effort to seal a deal under which North Korea would significantly curtail its missile program and eliminate its sale of missiles to what the United States considers rogue nations. Mr. Clinton, we are told, very much wants to take that trip, believes the deal is within reach, but he also doesn't want to do anything that ties the hand of the next administration. So he said he would consult on that.

We will be told to look for the president to make the case that the economy is a bit stronger than President-elect Bush has been suggesting in public. But the president chose his words very carefully there as well, saying only that the technical definition of a recession was two quarters in a row of negative growth, and he did not believe the United States was heading in that direction. But he also said he believed there would be economic challenges facing the new president, and Governor Bush, now President-elect Bush, should have the leeway to deal with that.

The picture very reminiscent of one eight years ago, but the roles reversed. It was President Bush-then escorting Governor Clinton around the White House. Now President Clinton escorting a Governor Bush, a different George Bush, George W. Bush, around the White House.

Both men in very good spirits there, as you could see. And, as is tradition, saying very little in public. The hard part of their discussions will come now in private.

KAGAN: And as George W. Bush added, and he would not be telling reporters what they discusses later.

Getting back to the point about the economy. This is kind of a symbolic topic, because going back eight years ago, a lot of people thinking that Clinton -- Mr. Clinton beat his George W. Bush's father on those four words, "It's the economy, stupid." And now here they are, eight years later, now the son is there, and they are talking about the economy once again. KING: And here they are with a very divided Congress and a divided country. Remember Al Gore won more votes. George W. Bush won the White House; Al Gore ran against that but tax cut, the across-the- board tax cut Governor Bush wants. President Clinton, himself, was harshly critical of the across-the-board tax cut President-elect Bush wants. And in the Congress, even many Republicans say, some of them oppose it from a policy standpoint, others say the votes are not there.

So the president-elect talking about a possible economic downturn, as a way to try to build more political support for his big tax cut plan, that one of the political subplots here. Still a month before the new president takes office. You can be certain he will stick with his plan and propose it to the Congress. But top Bush advisers say, they understand the vote are not there, and they will have to accept some form of a compromise. They are just trying to strengthen their hand, as they head into his very first budget negotiation.

KAGAN: And finally, John, an interesting exchange there between George W. Bush, and I believe it's reporter Helen Thomas. I think that the governor was trying to be gracious, and saying President Clinton didn't have to do this, he didn't have to have me here, and he didn't have to have my wife here, Helen Thomas trying to make the point: It's protocol. The outgoing president is supposed to welcome the incoming president.

KING: Well, it is protocol, one of the rituals we go through. But again, very much of a difference from this moment eight years ago. Still some in the Bush White House stinging from the defeat then. They couldn't believe that they had lost the election, quite frankly. And when President Clinton, President-elect Clinton came here eight years ago, there was no coverage of this meeting in the Oval Office, photographs only, no cameras allowed in, no microphones allowed in, to capture the two men, especially in a live way. They waled through the Rose Garden, but we did not get the access eight years ago to this event that we have received here today, and that because Governor Bush agreed to it eight years ago -- President Bush would not allow it.

KAGAN: Very interesting perspective, John King, at the White House. John, thank you.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Quickly to Bill Schneider, again.

Bill, let's talk about the political healing at this point. Has it begun with this photo-op in the Oval Office or not?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that it has begun. It began really over the weekend when the President-elect Bush name a number of women and minorities to his administration as a way of reaching out to groups that had not been very supportive of him.

What I noticed, in particular, was the talk about the recession. There is no recession right now. The president saying, he doesn't think that it is going to happen. But there needs to be a sense of urgency behind the Bush accession to office so that he can get his program in place.

He doesn't have much of a real honeymoon because a lot of Americans are questioning the legitimacy, the procedures of his election. So he needs a sense of momentum. Certainly Bill Clinton had that because the economy was in terrible shape in 1993. George Bush needs that sense of urgency to get his program in place.

HEMMER: And if you look at the calender, January 20th is just about five weeks away, and George Bush referred to the fact that it may just hit him when he actually does the swearing in there.

SCHNEIDER: I imagine it will.

HEMMER: And he made the same reference for Bill Clinton back in 1993 of January that year, when it hit him at that point.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. But Bill Clinton came in, remember, with a very powerful mandate because Americans were angry and upset over the condition of the economy. Just like when Ronald Reagan came in in 1981. People wanted big changes. Right now, you know, John King raised the question about, you know, Bush was surprised that Clinton beat him; and I think Clinton may be surprised that he wasn't succeeded by Al Gore because, look, he feels he gave the country peace, prosperity, the crime rate is down, the world situation is pretty much under control. How did the Democrats not keep the White House? It has a lot to do with Bill Clinton's leadership and his personal values himself.

But it raises the question to a lot of people, you know: What is George Bush going to do? What does he have a mandate to do, if Americans are generally happy with Clinton's policies?

HEMMER: And we know George W. Bush doesn't though need the map to find the Red Room; right?

SCHNEIDER: Absolutely not. He has been around the White House, though he has never worked in Washington.

HEMMER: Bill Schneider, thanks again.



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