Clinton scandal: President who can even charm enemies

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Some of the qualities that explain why so many Americans are prepared to give the US President the benefit of the doubt in the Paula Jones case - or even forgive him if necessary - were fully on display yesterday, when Mr Clinton went to College Station in Texas to inaugurate the presidential library of his predecessor at the White House, George Bush.

Bill Clinton's personal charm and political savvy are second to none and have recently elicited grudging respect even from Mr Bush - who dismissed his rival during the 1992 election campaign as a "bozo".

His lightning trip to Texas allowed him not only to mend fences gracefully with his predecessor but also to earn political capital for his bid to obtain what is known as "fast track' authority from Congress. The Senate is expected to vote today on whether it will restore "fast track" authority to the President to negotiate international trade agreements - a power that would allow Congress to approve or reject an agreement, but not to amend it.

Inaugurating the Bush library yesterday, Mr Clinton paid elegant and generous tribute to his predecessor at the White House, recalling his war record, his long and loyal public service and the positive aspects of his single-term presidency. Beforehand, however, he shamelessly exploited the presence at the ceremony of four previous presidents - all of whom had enjoyed fast-track authority in their time - to press his own political campaign of the moment.

Mingling easily with his predecessors, Mr Clinton extracted from Mr Bush a statement of "great respect for what the President is trying to do in getting fast track through this Congress", and from Jimmy Carter the view that failure would be "a slap in the face for our friends and allies in Latin America".

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