New York Times
January 13, 2000


Late Show With Hillary and David


By ADAM NAGOURNEY

For more than a month, David Letterman has begged -- or "badgered" as he put it -- Hillary Rodham Clinton to appear on his show.

And for more than a month, the first lady and candidate for senator from New York has resisted, sending her spokesman to put off Mr. Letterman and his executive producer, to the growing and public irritation of the host of "The Late Show With David Letterman."

Last night, Mrs. Clinton finally sat down on the CBS set at the Ed Sullivan Theater in Midtown.

And 20 breezy minutes later, after she left to cheers from the audience and a hug and a kiss from Mr. Letterman -- not to mention a gift of a tractor-mower -- it was difficult to see why she had ever demurred in the first place.

"Are you nervous?" Mr. Letterman inquired softly as Mrs. Clinton sat down in her chair for the taping.

"Just a little," she responded.

"Me, too," Mr. Letterman said, apparently in earnest.

From there, the host and the first lady traded chatter, jokes and, inevitably, Top 10 Lists.

Mr. Letterman may have made something of a career of making jokes at the expense of Mrs. Clinton and her husband, but that would have been hard to tell last night.

Instead, he poked cordially through her political and family life, asking her about life in Chappaqua, N.Y., her views of Alan Greenspan, the state of relations between the Clintons' dog and cat (they fight like -- well, you can guess). Most of all, though, Mr. Letterman seemed concerned about what President Clinton thought of Mr. Letterman.

"Does your husband know you're here?" Mr. Letterman inquired.

Yes, Mrs. Clinton responded.

Mr. Letterman than recounted meeting Mr. Clinton some years ago and sensing that the president might have less than fond feelings for him. "Your husband was a little stand-offish," he said. "I had the sense that I might remind him of a boob."

"I don't think it was that at all," Mrs. Clinton responded. "I think it was just that he was curious why you have never made a joke about him."

There were some of what might have seemed to the uninformed viewer to be challenging moments for Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Letterman presented her with a pop quiz about New York arcana, asking whether she could name the state bird (the red-breasted blue bird), the state tree (the sugar maple) and which Great Lakes bounded on New York (Erie and Ontario). She answered all the questions correctly.

Mr. Letterman's staff members said the quiz had been a surprise. Mrs. Clinton's spokesman, Howard Wolfson, allowed that Mrs. Clinton might, in fact, have been given a sneak peek at the questions before she went on.

When Mr. Letterman asked about how her move to Chappaqua went, she responded, "The only real problem that we had is when the satellite truck ran over the Welcome Wagon."

Mr. Letterman leaned across his desk. "Somebody has been writing material for you, haven't they?"

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