Trent Lott, the Senate majority leader, continued a weekend of political attacks on President Clinton by complaining it's hard for Congress to work with a president who is constantly out of the country.
Lott, R-Miss., said in a radio address Saturday that Clinton had become a political "bystander" ignoring the nation's business as Richard Nixon did in the months before his resignation. He tempered such criticism on television Sunday with some faint praise for the president."When he has been here, and when they have gotten engaged on the issues that people really do care about, we've made some progress," Lott said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Clinton and Lott worked closely last year in crafting the balanced-budget agreement but have been adversaries often this year as Congress and the White House blamed each other for lack of legislative accomplishments.
In the past week Clinton has accused Republicans of leading a "do-nothing Congress" that has refused to act on campaign finance and anti-tobacco legislation and is now stalling on managed health-care reform.
Lott defended Congress' record, pointing to major highway funding and education bills passed, and noted that Republicans running Congress worked well with the White House in passing IRS reform and NATO expansion bills.
"Now look, presidents do have to go overseas, but this president has already been out of the country over 70 days this year," Lott said. "It's hard to know exactly when he's going to be here and how we can work with him." The president has just returned from an extended trip to China and is planning a visit to Russia.
White House adviser Rahm Emanuel, appearing later on the same program, said he was "not going to make an apology for this president representing America overseas and America's interests."
He said Clinton has pushed actively for his priorities on fighting drugs, keeping guns out of the hands of children, improving schools and protecting health care and Social Security, but Republicans "have chosen partisanship over progress."
Another senior Republican, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, also faulted the president for not taking a more active role in the failed effort to pass tough legislation to curb teenage smoking.
But he added: "I think anybody who writes the president off too prematurely, they're making a mistake." Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told NBC's "Meet the Press" that Clinton was "a personable guy, he has a lot of ability, and that office is highly respected regardless of who owns it."