Published Online: February 4, 1998

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Business as Usual

In a position becoming increasingly familiar for many close friends of President Clinton, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley found himself called upon to defend his boss last week against charges of sexual impropriety and alleged efforts to conceal the truth about it.

But at the Department of Education, it was business as usual.

Richard W. Riley

Mr. Riley declined to discuss the latest and potentially most damaging allegations against Mr. Clinton with reporters last week.

Instead, he said he planned to follow Mr. Clinton's requests to focus entirely on the education initiatives announced in the State of the Union Address.

In a press conference held shortly before the annual address, Mr. Riley said he and other Cabinet members had had a "very substantive" meeting with Mr. Clinton and Vice President Al Gore on Jan. 23 that focused in part on the school proposals.

Following that meeting, Mr. Riley appeared before the TV cameras with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and other Cabinet members in a show of support for the president.

Many observers speculate that Mr. Clinton will be sidetracked--at least temporarily--from the education agenda and other initiatives he had hoped would be the focus of media attention following the State of the Union speech.

Instead, news reports focused on the chief executive's efforts to deal with the accusations involving former White House intern Monica Lewinsky that emerged from the ongoing sexual-harassment case filed by Paula Corbin Jones.

Asked by reporters whether the Education Department's basketful of school initiatives would be overshadowed by the new allegations, Secretary Riley did not mention Ms. Lewinsky's reported claims.

"The president told us that what is best for this country was for us to focus on our job, and that's what he's going to do," Mr. Riley said.

"I do know that the president is very much focused on what he thinks the country should be looking at."

Mr. Clinton "is more interested in the classroom than he is in the courtroom," Mr. Riley added.

--JOETTA L. SACK jsack@epe.org

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