The story of the Clintons' $190,027 worth of gifts just gets more interesting, although not the way most of the Beltway press was spinning it last week. Led by NBC's Andrea Mitchell, the press was busy bashing the Clintons for accepting an excessively large amount of gifts during 2000, with most of them going to furnish the Clintons' new million-dollar homes. Mitchell and others implied that most of the pricier gifts arrived after Hillary was elected New York's senator but before she was officially sworn in, thereby allowing her to bypass the Senate's ban on expensive gifts.
The truth is the Clintons' haul included many gifts received years ago, but which for various reasons were not accepted until last year. One such gift was a $22,000 piece from renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. According to his assistant Janet Makela, the artist actually presented the sculpture to the Clintons eight years ago, and even though they claimed it as a gift last year the piece has not been moved to either of the Clintons' private homes. Rather, it will remain as part of the permanent White House Museum collection because the Clintons donated it. Makela explains that because the piece was essentially on loan from Chihuly, the Clintons had to officially accept it before donating it to the White House collection; otherwise the sculpture would have been returned to the artist. -- Eric Boehlert [1:35 a.m. PST, Jan. 31, 2001]
President Bush is on pace to complete his Cabinet faster than Bill Clinton did and faster than his father did. But at his first Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, there will still be one empty chair, and the Democrats could make filling it the first ugly partisan battle of Bush II.
John Ashcroft's nomination as attorney general finally made it out of committee after a week of hearings and another week of delays, with the Senate Judiciary Committee voting 10-8 in favor, almost exactly along party lines. The sole exception was Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who managed to become the Republicans' favorite Democrat by voting to approve the nomination. Even so, Feingold blasted Ashcroft for his record on civil rights and his treatment of Ronnie White, the black Missouri Supreme Court judge whom Ashcroft blocked from winning a federal judgeship.
Democrats aren't expected to stop Ashcroft's progress, but they are planning to make his confirmation as tough as possible without resorting to a filibuster. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., has been open to allowing the Democrats plenty of floor time for sound and fury, as long as the matter is wrapped up by the end of the week. Though official debate on the nomination is set to begin Wednesday morning, a Republican retreat scheduled for Thursday could push the final vote to next week.
No matter how Senate Democrats are treating him over Ashcroft, Bush has been getting positive marks from members of the media on his first 11 days in office. Much of the good press could be a consequence of his more mannerly style of running the White House -- formal and on time -- which gladdens reporters who got fed up with the consistently off-schedule Clinton crew. Once the novelty of promptness wears off, however, the honeymoon could end. -- Alicia Montgomery [6 a.m. PST, Jan. 31, 2001]