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Fueling growth is top priority, Clinton asserts President-elect also to overturn abortion 'gag rule'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Laying the groundwork for his administration while trying to keep expectations in check, President-elect Bill Clinton said yesterday that fueling the economy was his first order of business but warned that there would be no "overnight miracles."

In his first news conference since his Election Day victory, Mr. Clinton strayed little from the themes and pledges of his campaign, honing his message of job creation and priming the economic pump.

"We cannot balance this budget -- ever -- unless we can get more economic growth than we've got," he told a large roomful of reporters at the Old Statehouse here. "So I'm going to pursue my course, which is increased investment, gradual but disciplined reduction of the deficit -- and we'll see if it works."

In providing the first sketches for the emerging portrait of his administration, Mr. Clinton also touched on foreign policy and social issues, saying he would overturn the "gag rule" that restricts abortion counseling and modify the U.S. ban on the entry of Haitian refugees.

He appeared relaxed and supremely confident, remarking with a smile that he's "having a wonderful time," when asked if he was feeling overwhelmed.

"It is an enormous responsibility," he said. "But I asked for it, and it's an indulgence to feel overwhelmed by it."

Vice President-elect Al Gore stood behind him during the 40-minute news conference, saying nothing but often nodding in agreement. Mr. Clinton called their partnership, in which Mr. Gore is playing a highly active role, "unprecedented, but quite good for the country."

Mr. Clinton broke no major new ground yesterday, but his office announced a roster of transition team officials that afforded a window on the style and ideology of the nascent administration.

Many of them, such as George Stephanopoulos, the communications director, are keeping titles they held during the campaign. Others, such as Harvard economist and Clinton friend Robert B. Reich, who was named economic policy director for the transition, were involved in crafting the policies on which Mr. Clinton ran and won.

Heading his domestic policy group is Al From, president of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, while Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, a Washington lawyer and deputy director of policy planning in the State Department under President Jimmy Carter, was named to head national security.

One focus of the national security group is expected to be on integrating economic and foreign policy.

Mr. Berger is on leave from his partnership at Hogan & Hartson, a major law firm with offices in five European capitals. He heads the firm's international practice group and represents U.S. and multinational clients before federal agencies.

He is one of three top campaign foreign policy advisers, was co-founder and a board member of Democrats for the '80s, the political action committee founded by Pamela Harriman, and wrote the national security section of the group's 1986 "Democratic Fact Book."

Judith Feder, who directed the Pepper Commission study of the nation's medical-care system, will oversee policy on health care.

In noting at the news conference that Abraham Lincoln was elected with under 40 percent of the vote, the president-elect tried to make the case that his election was, indeed, a mandate to end politics as usual and "finger pointing and blame."

Aware that the attention of the nation -- and the world -- was on him, the 46-year-old president-elect tried to make it clear he was solidly in control.

With fiercely squinted eyes and a pointed finger, he lambasted the State Department official who directed a probe of his background near the end of the campaign.

"The State Department of this country is not going to be fooling with Bill Clinton's politics, and if I catch anybody doing it, I will fire them the next day," he exclaimed. He added, "It is too important to me that the rest of the world see us as having a coherent and, as much as possible, non-political foreign policy."

Trying to defuse criticism that he has moved too slowly since the election in assembling his team and his agenda, he said the new appointments would put his transition into "high gear" both in Little Rock and in Washington. But he also said he thought too often in the past, "president-elects have been in a rush to fill the Cabinet positions before they decided whether they wanted these departments to pursue a different mission than had been pursued in the past."

He promised to build an administration that would "look more like America than previous administrations," even including Republicans in the mix of high-level appointees.

When questioned about the appearance of conflict of interest on the part of Vernon Jordan, the transition chairman who sits on a number of corporate boards, Mr. Clinton again assumed his bold new posture. "Nobody on this board is going to be making these decisions. I'm going to make them," he asserted.

In honing the message of his new administration, Mr. Clinton reiterated his plan for creating jobs in the first year of his presidency, saying he would ask Congress for an investment tax credit for businesses that, he said, would create 500,000 new jobs in the first year. He also will seek more spending for highways and other public works projects.

He said such spending should take precedence over dramatic deficit reduction. "We'll test it. We'll see if I'm right," he said. "That's what the election was about."

On foreign policy matters, Mr. Clinton listed as his top priorities a plan to reduce the defense budget while keeping this country "the strongest in the world," continued efforts at reducing nuclear arsenals and keeping the Middle East peace process "on track."

In describing what he'll be looking for in a secretary of state and a national security adviser, the next commander in chief said he wanted people who shared his belief in these pillars of foreign policy: "a different but still very strong defense, a commitment to global growth . . . and the fulfilling of our responsibility as the world's sole superpower, to try to promote democracy and freedom and restrain the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

In filling in some of the details of his first 100 days in office, Mr. Clinton said he would issue an executive order to overturn the "gag rule" that bans abortion counseling by staff members at federally funded clinics. "I don't believe in the gag rule, and I think it should be repealed," he said flatly.

He also said he would implement a process to give Haitian refugees who flee here a chance to "make their case," discontinuing the blanket ban on Haitian exiles imposed by President Bush in May. There are already predictions that the policy change could unleash a massive influx of boat people over the next year.

Mr. Clinton repeated a pronouncement he made Wednesday that he intends to lift the 50-year ban on gays in the military. But he would go no further in describing how or when he would take this controversial action, except to say that he wanted "to do it in a way that is most appropriate for the management of the whole national security and military interest of the country."

Among the transition team members named yesterday, Clinton campaign manager David Wilhelm stays on as director of political affairs, and Eli Segal, chief of staff for the Clinton campaign, was named chief financial officer.

Added to the transition board were Doris Matsui, a Californi activist and wife of Democratic Rep. Robert T. Matsui, and Anne Cohn Donnally, executive director of the National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse.

Ronald H. Brown, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, along with TV producers and Clinton friends Harry and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason will put together the presidential inaugural.

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