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First lady, successor find common ground Avoid the media, Mrs. Bush advises


WASHINGTON -- When the two women finally met -- the career woman and the grandmother, the baby boomer and the Cold Warrior, the fashionable scarf and the triple-strand pearls -- they held out their arms for each other like long-lost friends.

But worlds of difference and a nasty campaign separate Hillary Clinton and Barbara Bush. And yesterday, as the outgoing first lady took her successor on the ritual tour of the White House, Mrs. Bush found an icebreaker -- and a rare common denominator -- in some good-natured media-bashing.

"Avoid this crowd like the plague," Mrs. Bush said, referring to the media throng assembled on the South Lawn, where the two women met. "And if they quote you, make damn sure they heard you."

Mrs. Clinton who has had heavy attention focused on her by the media, responded with a laugh: "That's right. I know that feeling already."

The two women clasped hands for a moment, walked arm in arm for a split second and then proceeded into the mansion with White House dogs Millie and Ranger at their heels.

Just before Mrs. Clinton's arrival, Mrs. Bush told reporters, "We're going to talk about our cats and dogs." But both were close-mouthed after the meeting, which lasted less than an hour.

"Both women would like to keep the meeting private," said Mrs. Clinton's press secretary, Lisa Caputo. The same message came from Mrs. Bush's press office.

Mrs. Clinton spent most of yesterday in private meetings at the Hay-Adams Hotel, where she, her husband and their entourage stayed on their two-day visit here, "talking to friends and other people she knows here to get a sense of what Washington is like and what it's like to live here," Ms. Caputo said.

Last night, before flying back to Little Rock, the Clintons attended a private dinner at the Georgetown home of Pamela Harriman, the grand dame of Democratic Party fund raising.

Mrs. Bush, who chatted briefly with reporters as she waited outside for Mrs. Clinton yesterday, said that after house-hunting in Houston Wednesday and looking at 21 houses, the couple had decided to build a house on a small lot they already own.

"We're building it on the lot that you have all rudely said we can't," she said, referring to reports that the lot was too small for a home that would require Secret Service protection.

Nearly all of Mrs. Bush's comments yesterday were barbed with the hostility she and her husband have expressed toward the news media in the belief that campaign coverage was biased in favor of the Democrat.

Asked what advice she would give the incoming first lady, Mrs. Bush said, "Stonewall them." She meant the news media.

Although Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Clinton have met briefly several times, they have known each other more by reputation than anything else. And during the campaign, they made indirect references to one another -- usually drawing a contrast.

Mrs. Bush first denounced attacks on Mrs. Clinton by Republican Party Chairman Richard N. Bond but later rescinded her criticism of Mr. Bond and said she believed his remarks were justified.

During an interview over the summer, she said that if a political wife is "clever," she should realize that voters don't want the first lady acting like a president. "I think [voters] think they're electing either the man or the woman -- not the spouse," she said.

Mrs. Clinton said during the campaign that as first lady, she would be more involved in policy-making than Mrs. Bush has been.

"I think we need a more comprehensive approach," she said. "I think you have to match your voice with your actions. It's not enough just to say, 'My gosh, we have these terrible problems.' We need changes that will solve these problems."

During yesterday's White House tour, an exercise that has become a sort of ritual of presidential transitions, the 67-year-old Mrs. Bush took her 45-year-old successor through the second-floor living quarters. That floor that includes such historic rooms as the Lincoln Bedroom and Treaty room, as well as private bedrooms, studies, sitting rooms, and a dining room and kitchen.

A president's family is free to redecorate all but the historic rooms in the private quarters, but Mrs. Bush said yesterday that she had done no redecorating during her four years there. Nancy Reagan, in contrast, immediately redid the place from east side to west side.

The first lady's White House walk-through has been a tradition for incoming and outgoing wives since 1909, when Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt presented the executive mansion to Mrs. William Howard Taft, who remarked, "I would have put that table over there."

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