No Controversy Brews, Just Tea, as Mrs. Clinton Pours


Maybe it was just coincidence. Maybe it was some strange urging of the subconscious. But whatever the cause, Hillary Rodham Clinton served tea Tuesday.

For those who lack a memory for campaign trivia, Tuesday marked the precise one-year anniversary of an infamous remark about tea and cookies that nearly sank Mrs. Clinton as a campaigner and led to weeks of anxiety within her husband's campaign about her role.

At the time, the event was, as a senior White House aide put it Tuesday, "a painful education." Now, however, the memory may seem a little less painful--at least when viewed from the security of the White House East Room, where the First Lady hosted the tea for wives of a dozen Western Hemisphere heads of state who are here for a meeting of the Organization of American States.

Last year's incident began with a televised debate between Bill Clinton and former Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. During the debate, Brown suggested that Clinton had improperly funneled state business to Hillary Clinton's law firm.

The next morning, March 16, 1992, the two Clintons campaigned together at the Busy Bee coffee shop on Chicago's north side. When reporters asked Mrs. Clinton if her work did not inevitably create a conflict of interest, she shot back:

"No," she said. "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do is fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life."

Mrs. Clinton insisted later that day and for weeks after that her remark was merely a reference to the traditional, rather decorative, role of gubernatorial spouses. She had never meant to imply criticism of women who stayed at home, she said.

Nonetheless, the remark dogged her for months. Only in August, when Republican attacks on her backfired, did Democratic strategists relax once more about Mrs. Clinton's political role.

Aides insisted the timing of Tuesday's tea had nothing to do with that event. "I don't think she even knows today is the anniversary," said spokeswoman Lisa Caputo. "There's no relation between the two at all."

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