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Hillary Now Partnering With Many Republicans Who “Tried To Remove Her Husband From Office”...

ANNE E. KORNBLUT / NY Times | April 30 2006

Only eight years have passed since Lindsey Graham, then an ambitious Republican member of the House, paraded over to the Senate each day to argue the impeachment case against President Bill Clinton.

How things have changed. Mr. Graham, of South Carolina, is now a senator. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the wife of his adversary, is now a colleague with ambitions of her own.

And the two are — to the amusement of their peers and the distress of liberal activists — increasingly close allies and friends, working together on high-profile issues from military benefits to manufacturing, traveling together on extended trips overseas, even publicly praising each other.

Mr. Graham recently wrote a glowing tribute to Mrs. Clinton for Time magazine's coming 100 Most Influential People issue, in which he calls her a "smart, prepared, serious senator" who "has managed to build unusual political alliances on a variety of issues with Republicans."

"I don't want her to be president," Mr. Graham said in an interview. "We're polar opposites on many issues. But we have been able to find common ground."

The pairing may be odd, but it is not unique or, from Mrs. Clinton's perspective, accidental.

One by one over the last five years, to team up on specific projects, she has sought out the most conservative of Republicans — many of whom tried to remove her husband from office just two years before she won her seat and derided her candidacy when she stepped into electoral politics. They, in turn, have sought her out.

Her across-the-aisle alliances aside, she remains a loyal party-line voter, and all the joint news conferences with Republicans are unlikely to diminish the intensity of the conservative attacks on her as an angry, out-of-the-mainstream liberal.

And forging working friendships with former enemies risks feeding into the longstanding criticism that she and her husband place political calculation above all else.

"Her biggest electoral liability is a sense of unease that's even more related to values than her voting record," said Ari Fleischer, who is a former press secretary of President Bush's and is a constituent of Senator Clinton's in New York.

"She is doing her best to tack to the center, at least on the outside," he said.

Her tactical alliances with Republicans, although fodder for political analysis as she runs for re-election in New York and prepares for a presidential bid, also provide a window into how she operates in the Senate.

With Senator Trent Lott, she worked on improving the Federal Emergency Management Agency. With Representative Tom DeLay it was foster children. Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, jumped in with her on a health care initiative, and the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, was a partner on legislation concerning computerized medical records.

The list goes on: Senator Robert Bennett on flag-burning; Senator Rick Santorum on children's exposure to graphic images; Senator John Sununu on S.U.V. taillights; Senator Mike DeWine on asthma.

And virtually every Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, whose Republican chairman, John Warner, speaks admiringly of Mrs. Clinton's "remarkable core of inner strength."

For the most part, she avoids sharply ideological issues in her work with Republicans, which she promotes through a steady stream of photo-ops and press releases from her office.

Her advisers say the cooperation can also bolster the argument that she is above the political fray, and interested merely in trying to "get things done" in a divided Senate. "She went to the Senate saying, 'O.K., what do I need to do to get things done? How can I be effective?' " said Ann Lewis, the communications director for Friends of Hillary. "And that is how you get things done."

Mrs. Clinton declined to be interviewed on the topic.

An aide to her husband responded to questions with a statement saying, "President Clinton always worked hard to find common ground with people in both parties regardless of ideology because he knew it was the only way to get real and meaningful results in Washington, and Senator Clinton has delivered for New York by taking the same approach as a senator."

Her seeming eagerness to cross party lines — and in particular to work with once-determined enemies of her husband — stands in sharp contrast to the animosity Mrs. Clinton displayed toward the conservative movement at points in her husband's tenure, like the time she identified a "vast, right-wing conspiracy" as the driving force against the Clinton administration.

Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, said that Mrs. Clinton's alliances with Republicans like Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Lott and Mr. DeLay — all driving forces behind impeachment — "seem a little odd."

"Maybe she's in a mood to forget and forgive," Mr. Harkin said in an interview in the Capitol. "Everyone's got their own thing around here."

At a minimum, her bridge-building is viewed with suspicion and even disdain among the most liberal members of her party — voters who are already irate with Democrats for not being more aggressive in confronting the Bush administration and Congressional Republicans on the war in Iraq and other matters.

"My feeling is, in general, too many Democratic politicians these days fear being associated with their own party, and that that is both a tragedy and pathetic," said David Sirota, who is a liberal political strategist.

"Now I want to be clear: I am not necessarily saying Hillary Clinton is that," Mr. Sirota said. "But the moves raise questions about what kind of image she's trying to create for herself." Working so frequently with conservative Republicans, he said, "legitimizes right-wing Republican politics."

For all that she is eager to draw attention to them, Mrs. Clinton's alliances with Republicans appear to be more tactical than evidence of any fundamental ideological shift.

She has voted with Democrats more than 95 percent of the time since taking office, according to Congressional Quarterly.

That makes her slightly more faithful to the party line than Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, a critic of the war in Iraq, who is sometimes mentioned as a Democrat who could run as a liberal alternative to Mrs. Clinton if she seeks the presidency in 2008.

If the alliances are strange coming from Mrs. Clinton, they are perhaps stranger for some Republicans whose constituents are considered to be among the "anti-Hillary" base.

When Mrs. Clinton first won office, Mr. Lott, the Mississippi Republican, welcomed her to town by warning: "I'll tell you one thing: when this Hillary gets to the Senate, if she does — maybe lightning will strike and she won't — she will be one of 100, and we won't let her forget it."

Now, he is an occasional Clinton ally. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when his state was devastated by the storm, Mr. Lott teamed up with Mrs. Clinton (and other Democrats) in arguing that FEMA should be taken out of the Department of Homeland Security and restored as an independent agency. He conceded that the alliance was unexpected.

"This is a weird place," said a laughing Mr. Lott, who was the Republican majority leader in the Senate during the impeachment trial.

No less weird is Mrs. Clinton's alliance with Mr. Gingrich, who a decade ago made undermining the Clintons a chief priority. When Mrs. Clinton ran in 2000, she used Mr. Gingrich as her whipping boy, accusing her rival, Rick A. Lazio, of having been a Gingrich ally.

Appearing at the National Press Club with Mr. Gingrich last summer on one of their joint projects, Mrs. Clinton acknowledged that it might come as "a little bit of a shock" to some witnesses who remembered their history.

Her pairing with Mr. Graham was also awkward at first. It began three years ago when Mr. Graham invited a large group of senators, including Mrs. Clinton, to join him at a news conference to demand broader health benefits for National Guard members and reservists.

"She was the only one to show up," Mr. Graham recalled. "I felt weird, and I think she did too. The history is what it is. So I felt uncomfortable. But once we got into the news conference it flowed well, and I think we complemented each other, and we chose at that moment not to let history define us."

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