WASHINGTON -- President Clinton, on Day 2 of his adjustment to the new political order, trumpeted yesterday the better times to come from expanded world trade as a solution to the insecurity that voters conveyed in Tuesday's elections.
He challenged Congress, as an early test of cooperation after the sweeping Republican gains, to approve a 123-nation pact to slash trade barriers, when it returns for a lame-duck session after Thanksgiving.
In a speech at Georgetown University, Mr. Clinton tried anew to explain the voters' pummeling of his fellow Democrats, without conceding that it represented a repudiation of him and his priorities.
A key reason for the Democrats' midterm defeat, Mr. Clinton suggested, is that Americans are so worried about their future and stagnant incomes as to be blind to the improving domestic economy.
"Here at home, people feel genuine insecurities . . . an uncertainty about their personal future," he said. "Yesterday, there were several stories about people saying, 'Well, yeah, there has been a recovery, but I don't think it's going to last.' "
The voters, Mr. Clinton suggested, also "reflected their frustration with the pace of change and the messy and often, to them, almost revolting process by which it was done."
In a plea for bipartisan cooperation, he said, "With all my strength, I will work to pursue the New Democrat agenda I outlined here at Georgetown in 1991, and I hope the Republicans will move beyond the rancor of the campaign rhetoric to be New Republicans as well."
The transition to a global economy is difficult for Americans, he said, but also irreversible. While government can help workers adjust, as with his own proposal for job retraining to replace unemployment compensation, "the fact that workers must be willing to upgrade their education and their skills throughout a lifetime is absolute," he said.
But the eventual payoff will be great, he said. "Our ultimate goal has to be to both spur the growth and provide the skills and create the package of high-wage jobs that will reverse the trend and increase the ability of our people to feel secure in the face of all this change," he said.
"Of course, I believe very strongly that the only way we can do it is to keep breaking down barriers and keep expanding our exports," he said.
He compared the vote on the world trade accord, called GATT (for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), to two world-changing choices that Congress confronted earlier this century: the League of Nations and the Marshall Plan.
By rejecting the League, Congress ushered in two decades of isolationism. By approving the Marshall Plan, Congress rebuilt the European democracies and cemented the Atlantic Alliance.
"I believe that if we continue to work together on this trade issue -- Democrats, Republicans and independents -- as Americans, we can agree on ways to help all our people make their way in the new economy," he said.
But after this week's election, the GATT accord faces an even greater struggle, with some Republicans seeking to postpone it until after the new Congress opens next year under Republican leadership.
Moreover, the accord is unpopular among some Democrats, particularly Sen. Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina, whose textile industry would be hurt by low-wage competition overseas.
Robert Rubin, who heads the president's National Economic Council, told reporters yesterday that GATT is "far from a sure thing."
Mr. Clinton's failure so far to win congressional approval casts a pall over the Pacific leaders' summit, which will begin Monday in Indonesia. Mr. Clinton will leave today for Asia, where he will join other leaders for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference.
Nevertheless, officials hope the summit will be the first phase of an economic triple-header that will pave the way for long-term growth and a boost in Mr. Clinton's political fortunes.
The APEC meeting is intended to set the pace for a total removal of Pacific trade tariffs by the year 2020. It will be followed by the lame-duck congressional GATT vote and then, in early December, by a gathering in Miami of leaders from all 33 Western Hemisphere democracies.
"The next six weeks literally could shape the world -- I'm not overstating it," Anthony Lake, Mr. Clinton's national security adviser, said yesterday.
So important are the U.S. economic stakes in the rapidly expanding Asian market, in the administration's view, that officials are playing down a key point of friction with Indonesia: President Suharto's widely deplored human rights record.
Mr. Clinton vowed to frankly discuss human rights with both Indonesia and China on the trip. But Mr. Lake was unapologetic about conducting a formal state visit in Indonesia, noting that it is the world's largest Muslim nation and has a 6 percent annual economic growth rate.