WASHINGTON INSIGHT

From the Times Washington Bureau

STIRRED, NOT SHAKEN: One more note on the famous White House shake-up that wasn't. White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta last Friday announced his plan for reorganizing White House staff, emphasizing that it would limit the unimpeded access to the Oval Office of such aides as all-purpose presidential adviser George Stephanopoulos. Henceforth, Panetta declared, Stephanopoulos would be "executive assistant to the chief of staff," reporting directly to Panetta. . . . Yet after that pronouncement was duly reported in The Times and elsewhere, Stephanopoulos called the newspaper with one small correction. He was retaining his old title of "senior adviser to the President," with direct access to President Clinton.

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STRIKING OUT: If the summer of '94 was bad for baseball fans, it was worse for Sen. Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Me.). After announcing in March that he would retire, Mitchell passed up a Supreme Court appointment so that he could stay in office this year to help win approval of Clinton's health care reform plan. Today, the plan is in the morgue. Stephen G. Breyer is easing onto the high court bench. And, just for good measure, a Republican is leading the race to replace Mitchell in the Senate. "It was lose, lose, lose," one insider noted. . . . But it could have been worse. Mitchell could have been appointed to one other job for which he was a leading candidate last spring: baseball commissioner.

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PALS AGAIN: Presidential Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers and State Department spokesman Michael McCurry, recent rivals for the best mouthpiece job in Washington--hers--went to lengths to show goodwill in their first public appearance together since the troubles. During a press briefing the night before Clinton's speech at the United Nations, McCurry and Myers were smiles and giggles in a tete-a-tete; they ended up leaning back-to-back against each other. . . . The show wasn't lost on their audience, or on U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright, who interrupted her briefing to shoot a quizzical glance toward stage right, where they stood.

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SWIFT JUSTICE: The Supreme Court these days is proving to be very decisive, but not so deliberate. The justices met Monday morning to review 1,788 appeals that arrived over the summer. This used to be a weeklong endeavor as the justices, divided among liberals and conservatives, debated which cases deserved review. But no more. With conservative Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist in charge, the meeting broke up that afternoon, and only eight cases were granted full review. Most of them strike a distinctly conservative chord: Should federal affirmative action be ended? Can California cut back its welfare benefits? Can the state retroactively limit parole hearings for inmates?

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IN STITCHES: Vice President Al Gore, who has a repertoire of humor about the lowly status of his office, has found new material in his recent leg injury. At a State Department luncheon Tuesday for Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, Gore told guests that while his Achilles tendon was being repaired by surgeons, his official duties were handed over to House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.), who is next in the line of succession. After regaining consciousness, Gore resumed his duties--which he said elevated Foley back to his customary position of authority. . . . While the joke drew gales of laughter from Americans, something was lost in translation. Most Russians responded with blank stares.

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