President Clinton on Saturday hailed the life prison sentence given to the first man convicted under the federal government's "three strikes" law and prodded Congress to approve his languishing anti-terrorism bill.
Speaking from the mountain resort where he is vacationing with his family, Clinton said that last week's sentencing of Thomas Farmer proves the value of the year-old federal crime bill. The law mandates life sentences without parole for anyone convicted of a serious violent felony after two previous convictions on similar state or federal charges.
The President argued that Congress should summon the same bipartisan spirit responsible for passage of last year's crime bill to enact this year's anti-terrorism measure, welfare reform and other legislation backed by the White House.
Clinton said Farmer had been a "textbook case of what's wrong with our criminal justice system." The 43-year-old Iowa man had been imprisoned twice for murder and armed robbery but each time received early parole. Last year, he went on a crime rampage in which he robbed two supermarkets and threatened to kill a supermarket employee, leading to his third conviction.
"No wonder law-abiding Americans are fed up with a system that lets too many career criminals get out of jail free," Clinton said. But he said the "three strikes, you're out" provision had now "slammed the door shut" on Farmer.
Clinton took credit for other anti-crime initiatives enacted during his term. Combined with local police efforts, he said, the measures had contributed to a decline in violent crime rates in several major cities. He said a ban on some assault weapons and a law delaying handgun purchases have "stopped thousands of criminals from getting their hands on deadly weapons."
Clinton portrayed the crime bill as a signal example of bipartisanship.
"Just a year ago this week we ended six years of partisan stalemate in Washington by pushing a tough, sweeping crime bill through the Congress. Narrow interest groups on the left and the right didn't want the bill to pass, and you can be sure the criminals didn't either," Clinton said. Law enforcement officials supported the measure, he said, "and so did I, because it puts the government firmly on the side of the people who abide by the law, not the criminals who break it."
Clinton asserted that the crime bill's benefits could be duplicated in other areas if Congress would set aside partisan differences.
"It's time for members of Congress . . . to put aside demands for ideological purity and give the American people the reforms they want," Clinton said.
He bashed Congress again for slow action on the anti-terrorism bill drafted after the Oklahoma City bombing, saying: "It's hard to imagine what more must happen to convince Congress to pass that bill."
Despite Clinton's denunciation of partisan politics, the anti-terrorism bill is opposed by members of both parties. Critics contend it would infringe on constitutional rights.
Clinton delivered his radio address from the Jackson Hole home of Sen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-W. Va.), where he was beginning the fifth day of a 17-day vacation.
Clinton said he is entering a new phase of the vacation, in which he plans to explore the national parks with his daughter, Chelsea, who arrived Friday from Alaska.
"Most of the rest of the time, we're going to be in the parks," Clinton said.
On Friday, the family made its first joint outing, stopping for a family-style dinner at a rustic restaurant in the shadow of the Grand Tetons.
Clinton served himself two platefuls from a buffet that featured beef short ribs, sliced beef and barbecued beef stew, and sat with Chelsea and Hillary Rodham Clinton at an outdoor picnic table.
Some patrons at the restaurant sang "Happy Birthday" to Clinton, who celebrated his 49th birthday Saturday night at the Jackson Hole home of World Bank President James Wolfensohn.
But much of Saturday was taken up talking to officials about the vehicle crash outside Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, that killed three American officials.