The Clinton White House Was Not Sure What to Do With Hillary

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Feb. 28 2014 4:29 PM

The Clinton White House Was Not Sure What to Do With Hillary

475112267-hillary-rodham-clinton-former-secretary-of-state-speaks
Could have been on Home Improvement.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

On Friday, National Archives released about 4,000 pages of documents from the Clinton White House, many pertaining to Hillary Clinton's novel and ultimately contentious role in the administration. Despite initial enthusiasm from aides about Hillary's health care reform efforts, the documents track the slow realization that the project was doomed to failure. From the AP:

By September 1993, Mrs. Clinton acknowledged the obstacles in a Capitol Hill meeting with House and Senate Democratic leaders and committee chairs. "I think that, unfortunately, in the glare of the public political process, we may not have as much time as we need for that kind of thoughtful reflection and research," the first lady said, citing "this period of challenge."
The meetings also showed that Mrs. Clinton was doubtful that a health care law with a universal mandate — requiring people to carry health insurance — would be approved. "That is politically and substantively a much harder sell than the one we've got — a much harder sell," she told congressional Democrats in September 1993.
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The papers also chronicle aides' attempts to present Hillary as a more traditional First Lady during the 1994 campaign:

Her press secretary, Lisa Caputo, encouraged the Clintons to capitalize on their 20th wedding anniversary as "a wonderful opportunity for Hillary" and also suggested she spend more time doing White House events celebrating first ladies of the past.
Placing Clinton in a historical context "may help to round out her image and make what she is doing seem less extreme or different in the eyes of the media," Caputo wrote in a lengthy August 1995 memo about courting better press coverage as the president looked toward re-election.
Caputo also proposed the "wild idea" of having Clinton do a guest appearance on a popular sitcom of the day, "Home Improvement."

In addition to tantalizing us with an alternate universe in which Hillary Clinton appeared on "Home Improvement," the newly released documents detail the administration's struggle to remain relevant following the 1994 midterm shellacking and to contend with China's sudden prosperity. You can access the papers at the Clinton Presidential Library's website.

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.

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