Polls Show Bill Is Hot Prez's Approval Rating At Its Highest As White House Gets Back On Its Feet

Posted: January 31, 1998

WASHINGTON — Ten days after allegations of sexual infidelity rocked the White House, public approval of President Clinton's job performance hit an all-time high this week as Americans appear to be gossiping, rather than worrying, about the accusations.

The White House strategy to remain mum and allow Clinton to go about his business appears to be working - so far. Republicans, however, have begun to break their silence and go on the attack.

Clinton has denied having sexual relations with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky and asking her to lie about it, but has declined to speak in detail about the accusations. Independent counsel Kenneth Starr is investigating the president over allegations of perjury, false statements and obstruction of justice.

A CNN/Time magazine poll released yesterday showed Clinton's job approval rating at 68 percent, an all-time high that tied him with former President Ronald Reagan at the peak of his popularity.

A CBS News poll released Thursday night found the highest approval ratings ever for Clinton at 73 percent, a 16-point jump from Monday, the day before Clinton gave his State of the Union address.

``They [Americans] want to talk about it, but they don't see the imminent downfall of the republic,'' said Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Millersville University. Madonna said White House aides ``have figured out if you can keep focused on the job and on the performance and the high ratings he has on that, that's the best argument you can make.''

After several days of near-despair and paralysis after the accusations, the White House has regained its footing with a three-part strategy.

The key ingredients: Refuse to answer specific charges, keep Clinton in a presidential setting and attack Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr and his allies.

Rebuffing questions from reporters, White House press secretary Mike McCurry said yesterday, ``Most of the time I feel like I'm double-parked in the `no comment' zone.''

After vigorously denying the allegations and saying there were a lot of legitimate questions that needed answers, Clinton has refused to discuss the matter publicly. A significant turning point in the controversy was Hillary Rodham Clinton's vigorous defense of her husband in television interviews. She said she believed her husband's denials and accused Starr of being part of a ``vast right-wing conspiracy'' determined to destroy the president.

The first lady's offensive ``was as powerful and effective as the State of the Union address'' was for the president, said Clinton adviser Paul Begala. ``It encouraged the country to stop and think: What's going on here?''

The CNN/Time magazine survey found 57 percent of those polled said Starr should stop his investigation. And 79 percent, the highest number in 24 years, said they believed things were going well in the country.

The CBS poll also found public support for Clinton's defense of her husband, as 52 percent said they approved of her actions and 43 percent agreed that a ``right-wing conspiracy'' was working to oust the president.

Amid this good news for the White House, Republicans who had been refusing to comment on the revelations addressed the subject in speeches before the Conservative Political Action Committee.

Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., who is considering a bid for the presidency, said: ``It is time for us to say that which we know to be right. To say, Mr. President, if these allegations are true, you have disgraced yourself, you have disgraced your office and the office of the presidency and you should leave.''

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., told the same group, ``Ladies and gentlemen, honesty, credibility, integrity, decency, trust do make a difference.''

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