Riley Says He's Forgiven Clinton; Sees Hope for President's Agenda
Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley reiterated his strong support for President Clinton last week and dismissed speculation that the administration's school agenda will be hurt by the scandal involving the chief executive.
Mr. Riley made his remarks during a luncheon speech at the National Press Club amid rising debate over Mr. Clinton's relationship with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky and alleged related misconduct involving his efforts to conceal it.
While many of the president's supporters condemned his behavior and kept their distance, Mr. Riley, a longtime friend of Mr. Clinton's, was one of the first top officials to publicly stand up for him after the release of an independent counsel's report on the matter.
"For my part, I have forgiven him and want to give him a chance to move forward," said Mr. Riley, who earlier this year announced that he believed his boss's then-denial of the affair. "I know the president and his family are paying dearly for his behavior."
Mr. Riley used the National Press Club forum to promote new teacher training and recruitment initiatives that the administration hopes to make part of next year's reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
And while many observers are certain the Clinton administration's proposals for new initiatives on school construction, class-size reduction, and hiring 100,000 new teachers are doomed on Capitol Hill, Mr. Riley is refusing to sound the death knell.
In recent weeks, however, he has begun referring to the administration's education initiatives as "America's Agenda" rather than the Clinton agenda. ("Schools Offer 'Haven' For Beleaguered Clinton," Sept. 16, 1998.)
"I certainly hope the very important agenda we have will not be affected negatively at all, and I don't think it will be," he said. "Those issues are what I call America's Agenda, and I think Congress will be well aware of that."
Others point out that while administration officials and congressional Republicans agree that education is a top priority, their philosophies differ greatly.
Much will depend on "the administration's bargaining power at the end of the day," said Jay Diskey, a spokesman for the Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
"We don't know what it will be like in three or four weeks." Mr. Diskey added.
That bargaining power will be essential for the administration in upcoming negotiations on the education spending bill for fiscal 1999. Just last Friday, the House approved the gop-backed Dollars to the Classroom Act, which would block-grant funding for 31 federal education programs, on a 212-198 vote.
Mr. Riley also gave his advice for answering children's questions on the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, a topic that was widely discussed in schools last week.
"First thing, tell them the president did wrong. Second, he denied it. He came forth and talked about his wrongdoing and asked for forgiveness," Mr. Riley said.
"It's important to say that your personal behavior is something you have to pay for," the secretary added.
Vol. 18, Issue 3, Page 23