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President Clinton to Skip Arkansas Free Clinic, Blames Olbermann for Politicizing Event

phclintonBill Clinton told FDL’s Eve Gittelson that it would be problematic for him to attend a free medical clinic being held in Little Rock, Arkansas tomorrow because MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann had “politicized” the event.” He indicated that some were turning the event into a primary kickoff against Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

Eve ran into Clinton Thursday in the gift shop of the Clinton Library.  She’s in Arkansas covering the Keith Olbermann’s free clinic event, organized by the National Association of Free Clinics.  The former President is in town for the 5th anniversary of the Clinton Library.

Eve had met Clinton before, most recently at the Clinton Global Initiatives event in September, and  President Clinton remembered her.

Eve told Clinton that she was in town for the clinic, which at least 1,500 patients are expected to attend. Clinton said that he had heard about it.

“I really wanted him to come,” she said.  “So I made my pitch.”

She also said she planned to meet with Arkansas Lt. Governor Bill Halter, who had been instrumental in finding a venue for the event.

Clinton responded that  Olbermann was politicizing the clinic, and that it wasn’t helpful for Olbermann to do that.  He said he did not feel he could show up now, because the event had turned political.

Eve said that Halter had been very helpful, and that the event was not political. She said that Halter’s intercession had been key in getting the Convention center to give the clinics space.

Clinton replied that the event was becoming political, and that it was clear what was happening:  a primary of Blanche Lincoln.

Olbermann, who has invited his viewers to contribute to the National Association of Free Clinics in advance of the event, has said on his show that “I want Sens. (Blanche) Lincoln and (Mark) Pryor to see what health care poverty is really like in Little Rock.”  Lincoln has met recently with Joe Biden and President Obama, but has yet to agree to vote for debate on health care to proceed in the Senate.

Earlier this week, Bill Halter appeared on Countdown, with guest host Lawrence O’Donnell, who asked if he was planning a primary challenge of Lincoln.  Halter did not foreclose the option, but said he “didn’t want to focus on politics or my political future” at the expense of the free medical clinic event.

Halter served in the Clinton White House and was appointed to the Social Security Administration.

Clinton told Eve that Lincoln has done a great job as Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. He felt that the most important thing for Lincoln’s reelection, was for President Obama to be able to go into the State of the Union address with a “win” on health care behind him and to focus on jobs and the economy.

“I think he was saying that job growth is critical to the survival of endangered incumbents, and that blocking health care won’t put the wind at the backs of the administration, so they can get on to jobs and the economy. If we can get through health care, I think he was saying, then Blanche Lincoln’s political futures will improve. That’s what will get her re-elected,” said Eve.

In a statement provided to the Associated Press, Sen. Lincoln commented on the free clinic, saying that “this one-day clinic is a blessing, but it is not a sustainable way to deliver health care for the thousands of uninsured and underinsured Arkansans.”

Eve Gittelson will be covering the clinics this Saturday for FDL, which run from noon until 7 p.m. at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock. Over 1,000 volunteers have signed up to help, and as many as 80 physicians will be on hand, according to Arkansas Matters.

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David Dayen

David Dayen