Clinton and Congress: How've You Been?

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If the Monica Lewinsky scandal seemed to last an eternity, it’s because it did. On Tuesday, for the first time in 19 months, President Clinton met with congressional leaders of both parties finally to discuss matters of state. Officially on the table were issues such as Social Security, tax reform and defense matters. But what was really on everyone’s mind was whether the participants could actually bear to be in each other’s presence. “The amazing revelation,” says TIME congressional correspondent Jay Carney, “was how everyone managed to stay on their best behavior and how everyone expressed a willingness to get things done.”

Was it all polite window dressing? No, says Carney: The Republicans came to the session with “a level of honesty because they have only a slim majority in the new Congress.” GOP leaders know they are in no position to take bold steps and that they cannot afford to get into a major confrontation with the President or his party at this time. For the Democrats at the session, the major objective was to take measure of new House Speaker Dennis Hastert. By all accounts, says Carney, the impression he made was one of “graciousness and non-confrontation.” Both sides seemed to come away feeling they could do business with each other, making the political news from the nation’s capital read (for a change): so far, so good.