Clinton Says Goodbye To '98 Without A Word About Impeachment

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. - President Clinton closed the door quietly on a rocky 1998, with a round of golf yesterday and a wide-ranging gabfest with young adults.

Topics raised by the young questioners included Social Security, voter turnout and how to increase it, the prospects for peace in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, the new Euro currency, global warming and climate change and efforts to deal with the Year 2000 computer bug.

But White House officials said none of the 125 or so young people, ages 13 to 25, raised Clinton's status as an impeached president or the trial he faces in the Senate.

"It didn't come up at all," said Amy Weiss, a White House spokeswoman of the invitation-only event.

A final question: What have you learned about life?

"He said he's more optimistic than when he took office in 1993 about the capacity of the American people to make changes and the ability of the government to help people improve their lives," Weiss said.

The New Year's Eve chat was arranged at the president's request, the White House said. The young men and women and their parents were guests at the annual Renaissance Weekend retreat, two days of seminars and discussions aimed at enabling high-achieving guests and their families to "stretch their minds, share their views and their perspectives."

Earlier, Clinton bounced his ball off the first tee at the Arthur Hills Golf Club and asked to take another. Then a third. Then a fourth.

The president, his wife, Hillary, and their daughter, Chelsea, were on a 48-hour holiday, making their traditional New Year's celebration at the elite, invitation-only Renaissance Weekend retreat.

Clinton hit the golf course after breakfast. It was an all-male outing, including diet doctor Dean Ornish, businessman Dennis Bakke and former Democratic National Committee finance chairman Alan Solomon.

Completing 18 holes by midafternoon, the president returned to his borrowed seafront villa and phoned the parents of the Houston octuplets, offering best wishes to them and their seven surviving infants. Clinton spoke with Kkem Chukwu and her husband, Iyke Louis Udobi, and the children's grandmother.

Hillary and Chelsea Clinton hung back at their borrowed beachfront home, owned by Tony Brown, who locals describe as an international commodities trader from Atlanta.

The women later planned to attend some of the Renaissance Weekend seminars before being joined by the president for the annual New Year's Eve dinner and countdown to midnight, the first lady's spokeswoman said.

Reporters were barred from the off-the-record Renaissance Weekend programs. Among those attending was South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford, who voted for Clinton's impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Sanford, a Republican, said he planned to avoid any discussion of the matter with Clinton. "They'd probably be fairly unproductive conversations, to say the least," he said.

The congressman said that if he did run into Clinton over these two days, his message would be: "There's one way, Mr. President, you can have a legacy, and that's Social Security, rather than the Monica-Bill story."