Charlayne Hunter Gault talks to retiring Rep. Pat Schroeder, Sen. John Breaux, and the president of Emily's List about Hillary Clinton and her impact on this hometown Convention.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: We get three perspectives on the First Lady and the upcoming campaign. They come from Rep. Pat Schroeder from Colorado--she's retiring from the House this year after 12 terms in office; Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana, part of the Democratic leadership team in the Senate, and Ellen Malcom, president of Emily's List, a fund-raising organization for Democratic women candidates who support abortion rights. And starting with you, why do you think Hillary Clinton's negatives are so high, the highest of any First Lady in modern times?
ELLEN MALCOM, President, EMILY's List: Well, you know, I think a lot of people aren't used to seeing such an active professional, hard working First Lady, and they're uncomfortable with it. I think we see a lot of that, though, generating a lot of support from women across the country. We had a rally here last night, a woman's rally. It was like an aerobic exercise. Every time they mentioned the First Lady's name everybody stood up and started cheering. So she's a very positive energizer for women on the Democratic side.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But, Sen. Breaux, as you heard Andy Kohut's report, the enthusiasm that was just described and the reaction that we heard from the delegates is different than that out in the country. Isn't that--
SEN. JOHN BREAUX, Louisiana: Well, we have seen, Charlayne, a concerted attack by the Republican Party on the First Lady, and where I come from in the South, people don't like politicians attacking women. But it does have an effect. And that's what you're seeing in these poll numbers. I think a lot of people realize they cannot compete with Bill Clinton on the ideas, and so they're going to go after the First Lady and make it a personal, vicious attack.
I think things are starting to change. When people see Hillary as a real person, a real mother, working with her husband, helping him, my wife's been an adviser to me for the 25 years I've been in Congress, and that's--and I want her there, and I think most women certainly have the capacity to be involved in these things today. I think that's what Hillary has done.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But is it just the Republican attacks on Hillary Clinton that, that make the negatives so high, that sort of thing?
REP. PATRICIA SCHROEDER, Colorado: First, I want to say we're all very grateful that Sen. Breaux's wife's helped him, because she's brought him a long way. I couldn't wait.
SEN. BREAUX: I'm a happy white male.
REP. SCHROEDER: Umm, you know what I really think, Charlayne, I think that she's been a woman who's been able to do both well. No one, not even the strongest conservative in America, criticizes the way that they have brought up Chelsea. It's very difficult to bring up a teen in America, try it in the White House. And I think everyone stands in awe that they've done so well. She's had a very strong family with tough times, good times, but she's really held that together and she's been at the top of her profession.
Now to have a woman at the top of her game and also hauling the family together makes some people crazy because they really want to be retro and roll all the progress women have made in this century back. Secondly, hate radio has never stopped on this woman. And if you're a lady, if you're the First Lady, you're not allowed to fight back. What do you do? She doesn't have a radio station. And thirdly, in the House and Senate, all they've done is use public funds to go out and try and find anything they could to keep hammering her with.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But what about the issues, Ms. Malcom, of the health policy failure, which was an enormous negative for both Mrs. Clinton and the President, Whitewater, to name a few, I mean, aren't some of those problems that have created the negatives real?
MS. MALCOM: Well, they created the positives and the negatives. I remember when she went up to the Hill to brief everybody at the beginning of the health care debate and clearly everyone, including the Republicans, were blown away by her knowledge, her expertise, her ability to handle those issues. So, again, as Congresswoman Schroeder said, it's sort of a mixed bag. People that don't like women in those strong, positive roles get very uncomfortable and nervous, and a lot of other people think, wow, she's very impressive.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Sen. Breaux, how hard is it going to be to overcome these negatives, do you think, especially in the area where you come from, where there are a lot of conservatives?
SEN. BREAUX: I think people seeing Hillary in a role she's going to speak to tonight as a mother and a partner with her husband, I think the more they get to know her and the more they get to listen to her talk about her family and her concerns--we talked about the failure of health care under Hillary, but let us remember, we have a health care bill that was signed into law about two weeks ago.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: A much--much more moderate--
SEN. BREAUX: Yeah, but because of the start that she gave it and the push that she gave it, and we have a welfare bill. And these are things talking about family, and things that the President has been taking a leadership role in. I think when people see in my part of the country and others her role and her concern about families and health care, they're going to say this is a real person, and it doesn't threaten me.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. But you have just described a Hillary Clinton who will present herself as a wife and a mother. Are you saying that she has to kind of remake and reshape her image in order to be acceptable?
SEN. BREAUX: Oh, no, not at all. I mean--I think that--I mean, she is a professional woman, one of the top lawyers in this country. She has had a different role than perhaps some of the First Ladies in the past. But we have different women out there today who are professionals and top peoples in their field. And they can be involved, and they should be involved.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What do you think about that, Pat Schroeder? I mean, is she going to have to change her image a little bit, pull in her public policy interests a little bit, be more for children, be more the wife and mother?
REP. SCHROEDER: No. First of all, Sen. Breaux's absolutely right. Look, she is what she is. She's always been very pro-family and been out there working for children and all of those issues. They just don't want to listen to that. They don't want to hear that, and they want to just beat up on her. Those who really want to beat up on her aren't going to stop, no matter what she does.
And I think she knows that. But I think the very interesting thing was what they said. Even when Mrs. Bush's ratings were so very high, it didn't help. People vote for the President and not for the First Lady. So I think it's going to start turning around, but I think this whole constant trying to destroy her isn't going to get ‘em anywhere.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What about the way the Republicans are going after her now? You've heard candidate Dole take on her idea of it takes a village to raise a child and they're now painting her as the symbol of big, activist government. Is that--how is that going to be counted, or should it be counted?
MS. MALCOM: You know, it kind of seems to me, sometimes they throw out everything they can just to see what's going to work. It was an extraordinary statement coming from Bob Dole, whose village so backed him when he was in need. I think that a lot of people see that as politics, and it's just silliness. But, you know, I want to add another point.
It's a real tribute to Hillary Clinton that we are up here tonight discussing her as the First Lady because usually you come to these conventions, and it's all discussions about the presidential candidates. But her leadership in this country has said, hey, maybe there's another role for women.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Very quickly, what does she have to do tonight, and does Elizabeth Dole's performance at the Republican convention raise the bar very high, Senator?
SEN. BREAUX: Well, Elizabeth Dole did a good job, but I think Hillary just has to be Hillary. She has to be herself. She has to be real. She has to talk about what she's interested in. She has to talk about the future and not the past.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Very quickly.
REP. SCHROEDER: And I'm not worried about her at all. She'll get out there and--you know, she really knows her stuff. She'll convince people, and she'll be fine.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Briefly.
MS. MALCOM: She's going to be a big hit tonight. I'm looking forward to seeing her.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you.
SEN. BREAUX: Thank you.