President Bill Clinton was coached to combat the narrative that his “health-care debacle” was the result of influence from his “ultraliberal wife” and “wonky” elites, according to the fifth batch of Clinton administration documents released by his presidential library.
White House health adviser Ira Magaziner delivered that advice before Clinton sat down with authors and journalists David Broder and Haynes Johnson on July 17, 1995, to discuss the failure of his health-care plan, which had been championed by then-first lady Hillary Clinton, now a leading prospect for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.
“Right now, as you know, the First Lady and I and to some extent you, are blamed for the so-called ‘health-care debacle’ by the Washington conventional wisdom,” Magaziner wrote in a memo.
“You were influenced by your ultraliberal wife and ‘wonky’ old college friend to accept this unwise venture over the objections of most of your advisors,” he wrote of the perceptions about the bill’s demise. “Your presidency, the Democratic Party and any chance of reasonable health reform went down the drain due to this grave error.”
Magaziner urged Clinton to fight that image in his interview with Broder and Johnson, identifying many of the political problems that later became obstacles in President Barack Obama’s path to winning passage in 2010 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
“The major elements of your program were considered moderate when first proposed,” Magaziner wrote to Clinton, listing talking points for the president to use. “There’s no way to solve the problems of the health-care system without creating fierce controversy.”
Since February, the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, has released thousands of pages of previously withheld Clinton administration documents. The batch made available Friday, containing roughly 2,000 pages, covers a variety of subjects, including the North American Free Trade Agreement among the U.S., Mexico and Canada that went into effect in 1994.
In winning congressional approval of the pact the year before, Clinton had to overcome opposition among many fellow Democrats, concerned about its effects on U.S. jobs, and it was approved due to strong support from Republicans.
In a private 1995 letter to Clinton released yesterday, then-White House aide Rahm Emanuel complained that Mexico looked to be getting “the better end of the deal” on NAFTA and a $12 billion loan agreement.
Emanuel, now the mayor of Chicago, wrote that an October 1995 state visit by Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo hurt Clinton more with American voters than it helped him with investors.
“I know that Wall Street was happy with the visit, but for the rest of America it looks like we gave them $12 billion and our jobs and they give us narcotics and immigrants,” Emanuel wrote to Clinton on Oct. 13, 1995. “The lack of progress on narcotics or immigration only show that the Mexicans got the better end of the deal.”
Emanuel had lobbied for votes on Clinton’s behalf for NAFTA’s ratification by Congress. His effort led some organized labor supporters to back his opponent in a 2002 Democratic congressional primary in Chicago. Emanuel won the primary and spent six years in the House of Representatives before becoming President Barack Obama’s first White House chief of staff in 2009. He was elected mayor in 2011.
Emanuel, who earned a reputation in Washington for his brusque manner, in his 1995 letter unloaded on colleagues that worked on the president’s National Security Council staff.
“I know that I am in the minority and hold a contrary view, but I think the visit from Zedillo was a net loss for you and shows that we do not coordinate your politics with the NSC,” Emanuel wrote. “This trip only reinforces the public’s perception that we are elitist and removed from their concerns on jobs and drugs. I would only hope that in the future their would be better coordination between the NSC and your own politics.”