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Hillary Clinton talks ‘Hard Choices’ and battle scars

June 25, 2014 at 5:50 PM EDT
Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, senator and first lady, joins Gwen Ifill for an extended conversation on international concerns like the crisis in Iraq and upheaval in Ukraine, as well as the state of economic recovery in the United States, why Democrats should be embracing health care reform and the reason she's waiting to decide whether she'll run for president in 2016.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Secretary Clinton, thank you for joining us.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, Author, “Hard Choices”: Thank you, Gwen, it’s wonderful to see you.

GWEN IFILL: I want to start by talking about Iraq. There’s much debate now about what the would-haves and the could-haves and the should-haves. If we had left a residual force on the ground as some critics are now saying, do you think we’d be seeing the collapse we’re seeing today?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I think it’s impossible to answer that question. Certainly when President Obama had to make the decision about what to do, he was deciding based on what the Bush administration had already determined, because they were the ones who said troops have to be out by the end of 2011. And I was part of the discussions where we were putting together proposals for the Iraqi government to consider about a residual force that would be there to help train, to provide intelligence and generally support services.

Unfortunately as we all know now, the Maliki government was not willing to do what was necessary for us to be able to do that. So the problems that we’re seeing in Iraq, I would argue are primarily political, but they are of course manifest in this very dangerous extremist group being able to gain ground and hold it. That is only possible in my opinion because the Sunnis, who had partnered with the United States and even with Maliki to drive out Al Qaeda in Iraq, feel as though they have been isolated and excluded. So I think it’s, it’s difficult to say if we had kept a residual force even for a year or two, or three, that we would have had the ability to control what Maliki did, and I think his behavior, his sectarianism, his purging of Sunni leaders, the way he stopped paying the Sunni awakening soldiers and so much else contributed to where we are today.

GWEN IFILL: So Maliki has to go for this to work itself out?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, I think it’s highly unlikely that he will embrace the kind of inclusivity that is required, but it’s up to the Iraqis to decide who they want to lead them, but of course their decision affects whether, and to what extent, we should be involved  to trying to help them.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about Ukraine , in your book you write about how skeptical you were, consistently, of Vladimir Putin’s intentions. Can you see a scenario right now in which he would step back from the border at all? In a way that you can trust?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, I think you’ve asked exactly the right question, as you often do Gwen, because I can see a scenario, and I see him playing around the edges of it right now, where he is sending public messages that, the other day he said to the upper house in the Russian parliament, that perhaps we should withdraw the authority to go into eastern and southern Ukraine, he’s talking about perhaps observing a cease fire, so the rhetorical positions he’s taking look as though he is at least pausing. However, on the ground there are still worrying developments, the movement of Russian troops continues to be a quite troubling development, and the failure to close their side of the border, so even if one were to believe that the individuals coming over the border from Russia are acting independently, which I think is highly improbably, but even if one were to believe that then Putin could do a lot more to close his side of the border to prevent that.

GWEN IFILL: You’re in Denver for the Clinton Global Initiative conference here, and your husband was forced to defend you at his own conference. He was asked about this idea, that you are now, that there’s a caricature forming of you because of a few things you’ve said, that you are wealthy and out of touch, and President Clinton said “she’s not out of touch.”  Is it your fault that the conversation has turned to that?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, I shouldn’t have said the five or so words that I said, but my inartful use of those few words doesn’t change who I am, what I’ve stood for my entire life, what I stand for today. Bill and I have had terrific opportunities, both of us, you know, have worked hard, but we’ve been grateful for everything that we’ve been able to achieve, and sadly that’s just not true for most Americans today.

So many Americans are feeling, you know, shut out, shut down, the great recession hasn’t ended for too many Americans, wages are flat, families are struggling, not enough new jobs, or new businesses are being created, and it’s important that we all try to figure out what we’re going to do, and that’s what I’ve done my entire life, fighting for a higher minimum wage, or family leave, now paid family leave which I believe in, equal pay for equal work, I have a very long record so, you know, my attitude about this, Gwen, is that if others want to, you know, take things out of context or try to create some caricature…

GWEN IFILL: But it sticks, sometimes. Ask Mitt Romney

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: That’s a false equivalency. People can judge me for what I’ve done. And I think when somebody’s out in the public eye, that’s what they do. So I’m fully comfortable with who I am, what I stand for and what I’ve always stood for.

GWEN IFILL: What I meant by Mitt Romney is there’s a bubble problem sometimes where you can be cut off from people in a regular way. George H.W. Bush you remember had that with the gallon of milk. How do you avoid that?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I think if you come from where I came from and where I have always been, I’ve always been reaching out and whether it’s talking with our neighbors or going shopping or standing, talking to people in these bookstores and hearing what’s on their minds, or even the work I did for eight years as a senator to bring new jobs to New York and stand up for the people I represented. And frankly as I travelled around as Secretary of State, as I write in the book, part of what I was trying to do was to figure out ways to create more jobs at home, by standing up against the unfair competition and the barriers to American businesses, that hurt American workers. I don’t, my husband was very sweet today, but I don’t need anybody to defend my record, I think my record speaks for itself.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about domestic politics a little bit. Because one of the things that President Obama has faced is the dilemma of trying to bring the economy back and by some measures it’s coming back. But individuals don’t seem to feel it. How do you feel that disconnect?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I believe that if the President had not intervened in the way that he did, we’d be even further back than we should be. It takes time to recover fully from such a dramatic break in our economic fortunes. And so we’re back to, dug ourselves out of the hill, out of the hole, we’ve got our chin up there looking around. There is still a lot to be done. The President’s the first to say that.

GWEN IFILL: And he’s facing a midterm election dilemma.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Yes it’s, midterms are always hard. And the midterm in a two-term president’s second term is especially hard. But I think it’s important for people to say look, what does each party and each candidate have to offer for you. If you want a better future that is going to be reliant on making smart economic policies, compare my husband’s eight years with Ronald Reagan’s eight years. 23 million new jobs, more than seven million people lifted out of poverty. We know that we have to have the right combinations of government policies and private sector energy and dynamism. Getting that balance right is what I know President Obama has tried to do, and at every turn he’s been stopped. And I want people who are making these consequential decisions about voting in November to think hard about what’s at stake for them, their families, their futures.

GWEN IFILL: Your husband actually said to me, when we talked at an interview at the Peterson Foundation earlier this year, that he thought the Democrats should not be running away from healthcare…

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Right.

GWEN IFILL: Obamacare, that they should be running toward it.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Right.

GWEN IFILL: Can you elaborate on that?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Absolutely. First of all, there’s a lot of good news in what’s been done. There are so many examples that people can point to, and we’re now getting enough evidence so it’s not your anecdote against my anecdote, it’s the number of people who now are insured, the number of people who are on Medicaid who are getting care for the first time, the number of people with pre-existing conditions who now have healthcare for what they actually need it for, the number of young people on their parent’s policies who are now being taken care of, we could go down a very long list, and I think Bill’s advice, and it would be my advice as well, if I were a democrat running for reelection in 2014, I would be posing a very stark choice to the voters of my district, or my state, if you want us to go back to the time when your sister with diabetes, or your husband with his heart condition, couldn’t get insurance at an affordable rate, then don’t vote for me, because I think it’s great that your sister and your husband now have insurance.

GWEN IFILL: Why aren’t Democrats making that precise argument, then? They’re not.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, they need to, and you know, it’s only toward the end of June, people will kind of get organized and get out there, but I’m just saying what I would say, because I believe, and this is the point Bill was making, and maybe it’s because we’re both so battle scarred because we have fought so many battles, over so many years, on things like economic opportunity, and fighting against economic inequality, and healthcare which, you know, I certainly have scars from, that when you pass something as consequential as this, get out and defend it, and you can say, and I think people should say, look, we’re going to learn more about how it’s working, and if there are adjustments that need to be made as we go forward, wouldn’t you rather have somebody who wants to keep the good, and fix what’s not working, than somebody who wants to undermine it, and maybe throw it out. These are very stark choices.

GWEN IFILL: You talk about your battle scars, some people would call it, more charitably, experience. You have more experience at this point in your life than George W Bush had as president, that Barak Obama had when he became president, what Bill Clinton had when he became president. Given all that, why wouldn’t you run for president?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, you know, obviously I’m flattered and I’m honored that so many people are asking me what you just asked me…

GWEN IFILL: Okay, you’re flattered, your honored, let’s move on…

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Yes, I know, and I take seriously the passion that a lot of people approach me in book lines, and events, talking to me about this. I am not going to make a decision until I have a chance to really sit down and take stock of what I want to do for the rest of my life, and what I think I could uniquely bring to a presidential race, and I have this new exciting event, I want to wait to be a grandmother, I have wanted to do this for a long time, obviously…

GWEN IFILL: But it took your daughter…

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, yes, it took my daughter to make the decision, along with her wonderful husband, so I want to feel and be present in that experience. I know what high stakes politics demands, it is a twenty-four seven, totally consuming experience, and I write in the book about what it was like to end my campaign, begin talking to, then, Senator Obama, endorse him, and so forth. I have no illusions, I probably have a better idea of what it takes both to win, and to govern, than many people who might choose to seek the job, and I also know that when you make that decision, if it’s a go decision, there’s nothing else. That is what you have to do full speed. I don’t want to be looking over my new grandchild’s shoulder, wondering what’s happening in state X or Y, I want to be fully engaged, and then as I’ve said many times, you know, toward the end of the year I will sit down and try to make sense of my conflicted feelings.

GWEN IFILL: Your husband used to say all the time, during the campaign in 1992 that I covered, he used to say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result, so put it a different way, would it be insane of you to run for office again?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, I well remember that saying, because it happens to be one of our favorites. Well, you have to be a little bit crazy to run for president, let me just put it like that, because you have to be so totally immersed, and so convinced that you can bring something to that office, that your vision about what you can do to help Americans, and I see them, I’ve had people come through the line who tell me their stories about losing their job, about what’s happened since they got health care that has helped them, and I hear this, so I know that my life of service is the biggest reason why I would consider doing this, because I would want to continue serving, but I also know that it’s a very hard job, and it’s a job that, you know, you have to be totally consumed by, and that’s kind of the definition of being a little bit crazy, I think.

GWEN IFILL: Secretary of State, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, thank you very much.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Thanks Gwen, great to be with you.