Hillary Clinton takes some responsibility for 'botching' health care reform

By CALVIN WOODWARD and SIOBHAN McDONOUGH, Associated Press Writers

WASHINGTON (AP) - Hillary Rodham Clinton shows her softer side in her new book, taking some responsibility for "botching" health care reform and not being sensitive enough to people who thought she should be a traditional first lady.

But the New York senator does not apologize for the causes she felt passionate about.

"I cared about the food I served our guests, and I also wanted to improve the delivery of health care for all Americans," she writes. "To me, there was nothing incongruous about my interests and activities."

In "Living History," Clinton says she contributed to some of the conflicting perceptions about her. "It took me a while to figure out that what might not be important to me might seem very important to many men and women across America."

People were deeply ambivalent about women in positions of leadership, she says, and in an era of changing roles for the sexes, "I was America's Exhibit A. The scrutiny was overwhelming."

The book comes out Monday. The Associated Press got an early copy.

The former first lady says she threw herself into her duties partly to escape all the troubles of her eight years with President Clinton in the White House.

"Eleanor Roosevelt once said, 'If I feel depressed, I go to work,'" she writes. "That sounded like good advice to me."

In the 562-page volume, she also offers a blistering indictment of her husband's behavior with Monica Lewinsky and his lying about the affair. Even so, she says she still loved him and did not feel he betrayed his country.

Hillary Clinton's former press secretary, Lisa Caputo, said on NBC's Today show Thursday that the senator couldn't have written a memoir without discussing Lewinsky.

"To not address this issue really would have been a credibility issue for her," Caputo said.

"Honest to God, she didn't know," Caputo said. "The president unfortunately misled everybody, including his wife and daughter."

There were many other persistent, if less sensational, burdens. She says she got through them with hard work, religious faith, trusted friends and travel. Ireland was her favorite foreign destination.

She recounts the six "brutal" months after Inauguration Day in 1993: Her father died. White House aide and friend Vincent Foster killed himself. Her mother-in-law was dying. Critics were making hay with the missteps of a new administration.

"I did what I often do when faced with adversity," she says. "I threw myself into a schedule so hectic that there was no time for brooding."

Asked Wednesday about her book's account of the Lewinsky episode, the senator said, "I hope people will read the book. This book is about many things."

Lewinsky declined through a spokeswoman to say anything immediately about the book.

Early in Clinton's presidency, he asked his wife to lead an effort to expand affordable health care to all Americans. Opposing interests in the health care industry mobilized, Congress was resistant and the initiative famously collapsed.

The senator writes that, "on bad days, I faulted myself for botching health care, coming on too strong and galvanizing our opponents."

The administration gave critics too long to mobilize, she now says, and a working group of some 600 health policy experts became unwieldy and ineffective. Republicans took control of Congress in the midterm elections that followed.

"I knew people were saying, 'This is Hillary's fault. She blew it with health care and lost us the election,'" she writes.

Also in the book:

  • Clinton says that after her husband finally confessed to a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, after denying it, "I didn't know whether our marriage could -- or should -- survive such a stinging betrayal. ... This was the most devastating, shocking and hurtful experience of my life."
  • She wrestles with the question of why Foster killed himself when he did not seem out of sorts. She says that as she learned more about clinical depression, "I began to understand that Vince may have appeared happy because the idea of dying gave him a sense of peace."
  • Of her description of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" dogging her and her husband, she says she might have phrased her point more artfully. But she stands by its essence, as it related to independent counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation. "I do believe there was, and still is, an interlocking network of groups and individuals who want to turn the clock back on many of the advances our country has made," she says.

Anticipating keen interest, Simon & Schuster ordered a huge first printing of 1 million copies and Clinton was paid a $2.85 million advance toward the $8 million deal. The book's list price is $28.

Simon & Schuster, in a letter to the AP on Tuesday, objected to the AP's report on the book, claiming that it amounted to copyright infringement.

David Tomlin, assistant to the AP president, said: "Representatives of Simon & Schuster have been in touch with us. We disagree completely with their legal conclusions concerning our story."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)