WASHINGTON -- Republicans who tried to strip Bill Clinton of his presidency have eagerly embraced the Democrat, taking his words on taxes and decisions on Bosnia and using them to pound another Democratic president, Barack Obama.
In conflict with the Obama White House, Clinton said this week that broad tax cuts that expire in January should be temporarily renewed, including for the wealthiest Americans, to give lawmakers time to reach a deal on a longer-term extension that should exclude the rich. House Republicans pounced on the election-year gift on Wednesday, highlighting the former president's comments and urging Obama to follow his advice.
The next day, in a Senate speech criticizing the Obama administration's response to the violence in Syria, Republican Sen. John McCain recalled Clinton's moves to end the civil strife in the Balkans in the 1990s.
"I pray that President Obama will finally realize what President Clinton came to understand during the Balkans wars," said McCain. "President Clinton – who took military action to stop ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, and who did so in Kosovo without a U.N. Security Council mandate – ultimately understood that, when regimes are willing to commit any atrocity to stay in power, diplomacy cannot succeed until the military balance of power changes on the ground."
Added McCain: "How many more people have to die in Syria before the United States will assume its responsibility of leadership?"
Pursuing any political advantage, Republicans gleefully are tossing Clinton's record and rhetoric at Obama, highlighting what they see as a split between the two Democrats and using it to advance their arguments.
That was certainly the case this week on whether to extend the reductions in income tax rates and other levies first enacted under President George W. Bush. Clinton was at odds with Obama, the candidate he backs for re-election and the man he raised millions for at New York events earlier in the week. Republicans reveled in the divide.
"Republicans have always liked Democrats who are no longer eligible for election," Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said in an interview.
Democrats do it, too, most recently quoting Republican President Ronald Reagan on raising the nation's borrowing authority. The difference is these are Republicans who tried to run Clinton out of Washington in 1998, voting for his impeachment and conviction over whether he committed perjury and obstructed justice in trying to hide his sexual relationship with a White House intern. Now his words resonate on taxes and even GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's business career.
"Republicans are going to use anything they can," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.
On taxes, Obama opposes renewing the reductions for people earning more than $250,000 a year, arguing that they should do their part to rein in the deficit.
Clinton, in an interview this week on CNBC's "Closing Bell," said, "What I think we need to do is to find some way to avoid the fiscal cliff, to avoid doing anything that would contract the economy now, and then deal with what's necessary in the long-term debt reduction plan as soon as they can, which presumably will be after the election."
Asked whether that meant extending the tax cuts, Clinton said: "They will probably have to put everything off until early next year. That's probably the best thing to do right now."
After the interview, Clinton spokesman Matt McKenna issued a statement saying the former president has said before that he favored extending all the tax cuts as part of a compromise tax and jobless benefits bill in 2010 "but does not believe the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans should be extended again."
On Wednesday morning, Republicans were out in force, quoting Clinton on extending the tax cuts.
"Even Bill Clinton came out for it before he was against it," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who voted to impeach Clinton in December 1998.
"Obviously, President Bill Clinton gets it. He knows you should not be raising taxes on anybody," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, who was elected to the House years after impeachment.
Frank said he didn't think Clinton thought it through before he spoke.
"When you're the ex-president, you have no casual conversation," the congressman said. "You can't say, `Yeah, maybe this, maybe that.'"
Nadler suggested Republicans are filling a rhetorical void as the administration and the Obama campaign struggle to make their case on the economy.
"I hope the administration will tell the real story. I hope the campaign will tell the real story. I don't see them telling the story right now," he said. "I see them doing pieces. Here's the story they ought to tell and it's not that complicated: Romney wants to inaugurate exactly the same policies that Bush did that caused the depression, that caused the catastrophe."
In his challenge, McCain has pushed for the Obama administration to provide weapons to the Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar Assad to end months of bloodshed and violence. The Arizona Republican often has cited Clinton's actions in the Balkans as he has accused Obama of "a feckless foreign policy which abandons American leadership."
McCain, in January 1999, voted guilty on the two charges against Clinton – perjury and obstruction of justice.