By TOM RAUM
WASHINGTON – President-elect Bush greeted the man he will succeed today, saying as he met with President Clinton “I’m here to listen.” The outgoing Democratic chief executive said his only advice to the Republican was “to get a good team and do what you think is right.”
Although Bush had pledged in campaign speeches to restore “honor and dignity” to the White House – a reference to Clinton scandals – the two spoke congenially as they met for the first time since the election.
Bush called his visit with Clinton “a high energy moment.” He was to meet later in the day with his former rival, Vice President Al Gore.
Bush and Clinton were to meet for about 90 minutes in the Oval Office with their respective aides in what has become a White House tradition.
Clinton came out to greet Bush as the Texas governor stepped from his black limousine, one nearly identical to the one used by the president. The two then walked along the colonnade alongside the Rose Garden, then ducked into the Oval Office.
“I’m grateful. And I’m looking forward to the discussion. I’m here to listen, and if the president is kind enough to offer some advice … I will take it in,” Bush told reporters.
Bush has been warning lately of an economic downturn, saying that a softening economy was all the more reason for Congress to embrace his proposal for a $1.3 trillion, 10-year tax cut.
But, asked if he thought he would be inheriting a recession from Clinton, Bush said: “I really don’t have any comments.”
For his part, Clinton cited the traditional definition of a recession – two quarters, or six months in a row, of negative growth.
“I don’t think we’re going to have that,” Clinton said. At the same time, Clinton said that recent robust growth in the economy could not be sustained forever. “We couldn’t keep up 5 percent growth a year, you know, forever.”
He noted that most forecasters believe growth of the economy will stabilize at about 2.5 percent “or better next year. And that’ll keep unemployment low.”
“But I think there will be things to be managed. He’ll have economic challenges and we ought to give him a chance to meet them, not try to figure it all out in advance,” Clinton said.
“I just told him, my only advice to anybody in this is get a good team and do what you think is right,” Clinton said.
Clinton seemed more relaxed than Bush. Clinton sat back in his chair, elbow propped on one arm, his legs crossed and gesturing smoothly with his hands. Bush sat very straight, both feet planted firmly on the floor, his hands in his lap, looking straight ahead rather than at Clinton.
Clinton, in response to another question, said that no decision had yet been made on whether he will make a trip to North Korea in the closing days of his presidency.
“This is something that I want to consult with the president-elect and his team about, and we’ll see what the facts are. And I’ll try to do what’s best for the country.”
Clinton said he still sees North Korea’s missile program as the biggest current threat.
“We may have a chance to put an end to it. And if we can, I think we should,” Clinton said.
The two met with staff members present, but were also to have a one-on-one session. During that private meeting, White House chief of staff John Podesta was to meet with incoming chief of staff Andrew Card.
On the menu for their lunch: squash soup, Greek salad, filet mignon steak and upside down apple tart.
Bush’s first visit to Washington since the election has been met by overtures of cooperation and expressions of good will from both parties.
“We can come together to heal whatever wounds may exist, whatever residuals there may be,” Bush said Monday as he stood with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders.
Bush also was meeting with Cabinet prospects during his 2-day visit.
Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, the front-runner for secretary of Health and Human Services, was meeting today with Bush to discuss the job, advisers said.
Bush had private meetings on Monday with former Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., the current front-runner for defense secretary; Paul O’Neill, chairman of aluminum maker Alcoa, a prospect for treasury secretary; and Ann Veneman, former California agriculture director, a candidate for secretary of agriculture.
New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman also was in town. She has been mentioned for U.S. trade representative or director of the Environmental Protection Agency.
After returning to Austin on Wednesday, Bush was expected to make more announcement about filling jobs in his administration.
Bush also planned Wednesday to huddle with about 20 religious leaders to discuss how religious groups can help the government solve social issues, a theme he focused on during the campaign.
The meeting will include Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders, about one-third of whom will be black, said Bush transition spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Fleischer said Bush called the meeting because “he views this as the next step to welfare reform.”
Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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