A new book reveals the deep division that developed between Vice President Al Gore and first lady Hillary Clinton during Bill Clinton’s years in the White House.
“For Love of Politics — Bill and Hillary Clinton: The White House Years” by Sally Bedell Smith claims that Hillary not only tried to usurp Al Gore’s role as vice president, she cost him the presidency in the 2000 election by draining funds and resources away from his campaign in favor of her Senate bid. [Editor’s Note: Get Sally Bedell’s book “For Love of Politics — Bill and Hillary Clinton: The White House Years” — Go here now. ]
The bitter feelings between Gore and 2008 presidential candidate Hillary are said to persist to this day, leading some observers to speculate that Gore could enter the 2008 race after all — a move that might prove a final payback to Hillary.
The rift between the then-new first lady and the vice president began to develop just days after Bill Clinton’s inauguration, when he appointed Hillary to head his healthcare task force, according to an excerpt, published in the November issue of Vanity Fair, from Smith’s book.
“The move took nearly all his top officials by surprise, including Al Gore,” she writes. “Bill had invested Gore with considerable responsibility, but his failure to confide in his vice president was a telling sign of the real pecking order.”
Before long, administration officials came to realize that Hillary would play a part in all of Bill’s decisions. “He would say, ‘Hillary thinks this. What do you think?’ White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum told Smith.
Staff members began calling Hillary “the Supreme Court,” the final arbiter on many issues.
Gore, meanwhile, was being increasingly marginalized. White House insiders recalled meetings where Hillary urged Bill to discount Gore’s advice, telling him: “Bill, you are the president.”
Smith observed: “The Clintons resented the Gores because they were products of Washington’s prestigious private schools and its social network . . .
“Hillary always had an undercurrent of competition with Al Gore that burst into the open from time to time.”
On Nov. 6, 1998, New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan announced that he would not run for a fifth term.
“The Moynihan seat had in fact been on the Clintons’ radar for months,” Smith discloses, and Hillary would eventually campaign for the seat while Gore campaigned to succeed Bill in the White House.
Even before the campaigns began, the “center of gravity” in the Clintons’ relationship had been shifting from Bill to Hillary.
Bill was a lame duck, crippled by the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and she was “the rising political star,” according to Smith’s book, which will officially be published on Oct. 23.
“Hillary’s ascendancy had a significant impact on the presidential prospects of Al Gore, diverting attention and resources from his candidacy and adding to the growing tensions between the Gores and the Clintons over Bill’s involvement with Lewinsky,” Smith writes.
On the day he announced his candidacy for president, Gore said in a televised interview that he thought Bill Clinton’s behavior was “terribly wrong.” When Bill heard about the comment, he “erupted” in anger.
Bill was still a sitting president, in a position to give Gore’s campaign major boosts, but according to Smith, “in 1999 those resources were diverted from Gore to Hillary ‘in a big way,’ said one member of the Gore team. ‘The Clintons come first.’”
That year, Hillary’s office had 86 major speeches listed on the White House Web site — four times as many as those listed for her husband and Gore combined.
One dramatic example of the “contest” between Hillary and Gore came in September 1999 when the Federal Trade Commission was set to release a report on violence in the media.
“Under ordinary circumstances, a vice president running for the presidency would have first call on publicizing the report,” Smith notes. “But Hillary insisted she should handle the rollout.”
When the decision was made to have Gore and the Clintons make more or less simultaneous announcements, “this did not sit well” with Gore and his vice presidential running mate Joe Lieberman, and they decided to break the news on their own.
Perhaps more significantly, Hillary was also competing with Gore for campaign contributions.
Bill and Hillary “raised millions for themselves, distracting attention from the presidential race, siphoning off Democratic money, and further angering the vice president and his team,” discloses Smith, a former New York Times reporter whose other works include books about the Kennedy White House and Princess Diana.
She tells that when a friend of Tipper Gore planned a fundraiser in Los Angeles, Hillary insisted on being invited — “then shocked the vice president’s supporters by soliciting donations for herself in front of Tipper.”
The result of the Gore-Hillary clash, according to Smith: “The colliding agendas of the president, first lady, and vice president were gifts to the Republicans.”
When Hillary easily won her Senate seat, rumors “almost immediately” started about a Hillary run for the White House in 2004 or 2008, Smith writes.
Gore, meanwhile, went down to a bitter defeat to George Bush after a legal wrangle over Florida votes that lasted 36 days.
After the outcome was determined, Gore and Bill Clinton met in the Oval Office on Dec. 21. “It was an unpleasant encounter, as Gore forthrightly blamed Bill’s scandals, while Bill rebuked Gore for failing to make the most of their successful record,” Smith reveals.
“Afterward, Bill told [presidential adviser] Sidney Blumenthal they had parted after ‘patching everything up,’ but in fact the mutual resentments among the Clintons and Gore persisted.”
[Editor’s Note": Get Sally Bedell’s book “For Love of Politics — Bill and Hillary Clinton: The White House Years”— Go here now. ]
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