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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Clinton Plans Strategy To Improve His Image

WASHINGTON -- Frustrated by low approval ratings and the likelihood of a more combative Congress next year, President Bill Clinton is now grappling for a strategy that will revive and refocus his presidency for the next two years of his term.


In a series of free-ranging discussions with top aides and others, the president has said almost ruefully that the first two years of his presidency have been tied up with political wrangling over an ambitious legislative agenda that he hopes will be capped by passage of a bill on crime, now under intense and difficult negotiation.


For the next two years, he has told them, he wants to disconnect his fortunes from that of Congress, change some of his staff, devise a new communications strategy, use the bully pulpit to better effect and find his presidential "voice."


"It's becoming more and more evident that he hasn't compensated as he ought to have (to cope) with having a 43 percent win'" in the three-way 1992 election, said Charles O. Jones, president of the American Political Science Association and the author of a new book, "The Presidency in a Separated System." "This is a president who hasn't yet become a presidency.'"


Even though the economy continues to be relatively healthy, the president's approval ratings have plummeted.


In a CNN-USA Today Gallup Poll conducted Tuesday, only 39 percent of those surveyed said they approved of the job he was doing, the first time in more than a year that he has slipped below 40 percent. For the first time in his presidency, a majority of those polled, 52 percent, said they disapproved. What's more, the White House is braced for the possibility Congress this year will fail to enact a comprehensive health-care bill, Clinton's pre-eminent domestic initiative.


Next year, the only major piece of legislation they give a good chance of passing is a revision of the welfare system, which commands significant Republican support.


Clinton has blamed some of his problems on others -- Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole of Kansas and House Republican Whip Newt Gingrich of Georgia, for instance -- for taking a harder partisan line than he had expected. Reporters have been negative in covering his administration, he says.


Clinton also has complained that he has not received the credit he is due for tackling tough problems such as health care and powerful special interests such as the National Rifle Association.


But he also has blamed himself for not adjusting his campaign style of communicating. He wants to act more like a president leading the nation and less like the political leader of Democratic congressional ranks, he says.


Clinton has sought advice from aides and strategists. At one Oval Office session, Al From, president of the moderate Democratic Leadership Council, told him the electorate wanted big problems addressed, but don't trust government to do the job right.


Breaking that cynicism, Clinton has told associates, may be the biggest challenge of all.