Bill Clinton in 1996: GOP Opposed Commerce Department Because It Was Run By “A Black Democrat”

Clinton also joked that the Republicans “need a rabies shot.”

President Bill Clinton working on his 1996 State of the Union address.White House/AP

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During a January 1996 staff session, while then-President Bill Clinton and his staff were working on his upcoming State of the Union speech, Clinton let loose in a long rant about a Republican proposal to gut the Commerce Department. One reason for the GOP opposition to the government agency was race, he noted. Republicans in Congress, Clinton said, only began to dislike the Commerce Department after he appointed an African-American to head the department.

“The reason they want to get rid of the Department of Commerce,” Clinton said, “is they are foaming at the mouth that Ron Brown is better than all of those Republican corporate executives who got those cheeky jobs because they gave big money to Republican presidential candidates. And here is this black guy who is a better Secretary of Commerce than anybody since Herbert Hoover, which he was a success at.”

Notes from this meeting were released by the Clinton Library as part of a larger document dump on Friday. Throughout the spring, the library has released batches of internal documents from the Clinton White House.

Clinton’s diatribe immediately followed a discussion of how he should pitch the successful outcomes of the administration’s crime policy, which dovetailed into a larger discussion of Republican opposition to Clinton’s administration. “I mean, they’ve taken a laundry list, and everything we did, if it’s really working, they really want to get rid of it,” Clinton said. That’s when the president began griping about the Republicans targeting the Commerce Department for possible elimination, indicating that race was a factor. “They will get rid of the Department of Commerce so they’ll never have to remember that Ron Brown, a black Democrat, was better than all their big, corporate muckety-mucks that make American jobs. I mean, it’s crazy. It’s unbelievable.”

An unnamed aide asked Clinton if that sentence should go into the State of the Union address. There was laughter in the room. “No,” Clinton responded, “but I mean, they need a rabies shot.”

Clinton appointed Brown, the first African-American to lead the Commerce Department, in 1993. But in April 1996, while Brown was on an official trip in Croatia, Brown’s plane crashed, killing the commerce secretary and 34 others.

Bill Clinton on Republican Opposition to Ron Brown

Bill Clinton on Republican Opposition to Ron Brown Clinton Library

 

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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