Bill Clinton's advice to Obama: Have fun during final two years

Former President Bill Clinton speaks at a Democratic political rally at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Ark., Monday, Oct. 6, 2014.
Former President Bill Clinton speaks at a Democratic political rally at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, Ark., Monday, Oct. 6, 2014.

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas -- Former President Bill Clinton on Saturday urged President Obama to have fun and cut deals with Republicans now that the GOP controls both chambers of Congress. Clinton also said Obama's decision to delay executive action on immigration until after the election likely depressed Latino turnout.

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“I never bought this whole lame duck deal. I just didn’t,” the former president told Politico's Mike Allen at an event here. “That’s my only real advice. It needs to be fun. It’s a great honor to go to work in the White House. It’s crazy to say you’re a lame duck and waste a single day of that precious time.”

Still, the former president -- who himself faced a Republican-controlled Congress in his final two years in office -- had more substantive suggestions as well. “I think that he should minimize the chances of being a lame duck, which he can do by continuing to have an agenda, and using the budget process to make deals with the Republicans, because now that they have both houses, they have a much more vested interest in actually governing,” 

Clinton noted that his administration was working “right up until noon” on the day of his successor’s inauguration, and suggested that Obama needs to try harder to advance his agenda. There are still “five or six” big things he thinks Obama can get done, including immigration reform. 

“There's nothing sadder than seeing anybody whose term-limited, like a great athlete, get out of playing whatever you play and then you can’t do what you really love to do any more, so you just sort of let go,” Clinton said.

Pointing to a former staffer in the room, and perhaps referencing the troubles of the closing years of his own presidency, Clinton joked: “A lot of them wish I had been a little lamer than I was.” 

Clinton and hundreds of friends and supporters gathered here in his home state to mark the 10th anniversary of the Clinton presidential library. It was a weekend for reflection – and also some looking forward to the likely presidential campaign of his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The former president, ever the political junkie, also gave his diagnosis for what went wrong for Democrats in this year’s midterm elections. Clinton pointed to the “collapse of the youth vote,” an inability of Democrats to get their message out “through the din” of negative ads and the lack of a better strategy for winning voters who remained undecided until late in the campaign.

Clinton credited a drop off in Latino voters to the fact that “the president didn't issue the immigration order.” But the former president continued: “But it was a tough call for him, because had he done so, a lot of others might have lost by even more.” 

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Clinton also said the Ebola scare played a role, which he deemed “crazy.” “It almost certainly determined the Maine governor race,” he explained.

Polling showed Senate and gubernatorial races much closer than some of them ultimately proved to be, and Clinton said he was genuinely surprised by the results. He gave a lengthy explanation of why the thought survey methodology might have been wrong. “So what that shows you is that the people who were against us felt more strongly than the people who were for us."