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Nothing Funny About Clinton's Reply to Critics

EVEN when he's supposed to be funny, President Clinton can't help but defend his record during the first 100 days in office. At the 79th annual dinner of the White House Correspondents Association on Saturday night, for example, he offered a retort to critics who say he's off to a slow start.

The president reported that campaign chief James Carville had leaned across the head table to share some Southern folk wisdom. "He told me, `If you never want to stumble, stand still,' " Mr. Clinton said. And then addressing himself to the reporters who cover his administration, he said: "You tell them when I stumble. But always tell them I'm not standing still."

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At the dinner, Clinton also tossed a few quips at budget director Leon Panetta, who made news last week with a gloomy assessment of the administration's progress.

Saith the president: "My daughter Chelsea came to me and said that since she had been in Washington she no longer believed in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, or even the tooth fairy."

"I said, `Did you learn all this at your fancy new school?' "

"She said, `No, I had a long talk with Leon Panetta.' "

Mr. Panetta, seated at a table nearby, burst into laughter and Clinton said: "He's a good Catholic, but he just can't keep it straight when he's supposed to go to confession." New civil rights policy

The Clinton administration may be continuing the policies of its predecessors in many areas, but in the legal arena, the differences between former President Bush and Clinton are crystal clear.

Mr. Bush's attorneys had argued that the 1991 Civil Rights Act doesn't apply to thousands of job-discrimination cases pending when the law was passed. The Clinton Justice Department, by contrast, filed a brief with the Supreme Court on Friday arguing that Bush's position was "both incorrect and contrary to the longstanding position of the government" on questions of retroactivity.

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Six federal appeals courts have rejected retroactive use of the law. But the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, has said it should be applied to pending cases. The Supreme Court has agreed to use two job-bias cases to decide whether the law applies to cases that were pending when it took effect on Nov. 21, 1991. A decision is expected in 1994.

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