From NBC's Ken Strickland
When former President Bill Clinton walked into the Capitol this afternoon for luncheon with Senate Democrats, he pushed a healthcare proposal championed by Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe. But based on the context of his comments he was probably more joking and courteous, than serious.
"I'm gonna tell them Olympia [Snowe] is right. They ought to follow Olympia," he said with a big grin as he walked away. Snowe's proposal would allow a public option to be "triggered" in states only if private companies failed to offer affordable insurance plans.
As was written in First Thoughts this morning, Clinton has strong ties to the Senate centrists who could very well decide the fate of the health-care bill in the Senate. Clinton was governor when Ben Nelson served as governor of Nebraska; Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor just happen to represent Clinton's home state of Arkansas; and Clinton and Joe Lieberman used to be very close personally and ideologically -- before the Lewinsky scandal. During the 2008 campaign, Clinton seemed to find his stride campaigning in red America -- in places that are similar politically to Arkansas, Nebraska, Indiana, etc. Clinton's at his best when he's giving others political advice, and he excels at framing an argument better than just about anyone on the political stage.
Clinton had just passed the metal detector at what's called the Senate's "carriage entrance." After Clinton's staff told him he didn't have to walk through the metal detector, he spotted Snowe.
Snowe and Clinton have a long history both inside and outside of Washington. Snowe is the wife of former Maine Gov. John McKernan. Clinton and McKernan crossed paths during their tenures as governors. Snowe and Hillary Clinton crossed paths as governor's wives and later as senators.
Clinton shook Snowe's hand, and there was some faint talk of healthcare as well as his upcoming meeting with Democrats. But after a minute or so, I asked Clinton what his message would be for the Democratic caucus. With his classic smile and laugh, he said simply, "Ask them, 'When I get finished?' "
Before he walked away, he shook Snowe's hand a final time.
"I'm gonna tell them Olympia is right," he said. "They ought to follow Olympia."