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Clinton Addresses Health Care, Braces for Biographies

May 25, 2007 at 6:20 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: This week, Hillary Clinton delivered her first major policy address of the campaign on health care, denied reports that she ever considered skipping the Iowa caucuses, and awaited the release of two new biographies focused heavily on both her personal life and political ambitions. For a report on how Senator Clinton is handling all of this, we turn to Chris Cillizza of WashingtonPost.com.

Chris, the two biographies. First, a report out today in your newspaper, the Washington Post, what’s in the book?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, The Washington Post: Well, I would describe it as there are a lot of pebbles hitting the Clinton campaign. There is no boulder falling on it in these two books.

There are some revelations that we didn’t know about, and some more information about things that we did know about. Bill Clinton’s infidelities in the ’80s while he was governor of Arkansas are more detailed. We find out that he was in love with a woman, contemplated leaving his wife, Senator Clinton, for that woman.

We find out some more, that she contemplated running for governor. This was something I had never heard of, contemplated for running governor, because she was so angry and hurt that she thought about running for governor in Arkansas. Dick Morris, not usually the voice of reason, the Clinton’s pollster, came, conducted a few polls, said, “This doesn’t make sense.”

So there are things like that. Again, there is no silver bullet. These are small things that we didn’t know as much about, a little bit more revelation. But when you see two big biographies coming out, you think there might be more in them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So some new things, but, what, the thinking is not enough to do damage or what?

CHRIS CILLIZZA: You know, I hesitate to make predictions until they hit the newsstands. The Post got some pre-published copies of these things, so I don’t want to — until they hit the newsstands in June — say, no, there’s nothing here, and then people react in a major way.

But, no, again, there’s not a silver bullet. There’s not something that jumped out at me that said this is going to be something that’s really going to be a problem for him going forward. The Clinton campaign, as they have done before with books written about Senator Clinton, sought to diffuse it, largely saying, “Old news. Nothing new in here. These three people spent, you know, a decade writing a book, and they didn’t come up with anything new.”

That’s been their strategy. They’re trying to act as though they’re not at all concerned. Of course they’re a little bit concerned. When you have Carl Bernstein, half of the Bernstein and Woodward pair at our newspaper, and you have two investigative reporters at the New York Times on this…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta…

CHRIS CILLIZZA: Right, these are not insignificant reporters. These are not people rabid, zealous partisans of one side or the other with an agenda. These are reporters with a long record and standing. So if they do come out with things that are damaging to the Clintons, it’s much harder to dismiss.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about just the renewed focus on President Clinton, his life, their personal relationship? What does that do to her campaign?

CHRIS CILLIZZA: What’s happened with President Clinton thus far is he’s been, I believe, almost entirely for the good for her. Who’s paying attention right now in these races? The base of the party. The base loves Bill Clinton. He’s a hero among the base.

I think what this will do is it may broaden out the number of people paying attention to, “Oh, wait a minute, if we elect Senator Clinton, we also get the former president with the package.” I think that may broaden it out a bit and create a little bit more problem for her.

To the moment, he’s really been almost entirely effective. There’s going to be some controversy; not everyone feels as positive toward him as the base does.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But for now, you’re saying the campaign is, what, relieved? They’re waiting to see…

CHRIS CILLIZZA: They would never say they’re relieved but, yes, they’re relieved.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s turn to the speech. She gave a major speech on health care costs. This is just one piece of what she’s going to be talking about. What was the idea behind her doing that?

CHRIS CILLIZZA: Well, look, Senator Clinton recognizes she is a pragmatic politician. She knows that she went through a very difficult period in the early 1990s when she tried to wholesale reform health care, Hillarycare, call it what you will.

In her speech that she gave, she mentioned that. She said, “I still have the scars to prove trying to reform health care.” What you’re seeing here, I think, is a series of — I don’t want to say small bore, but not sweeping proposals.

What Senator Clinton has focused on, in health care, in the war in Iraq, in a number of these major issues, is she is the pragmatist in this race. John Edwards, for example, a former senator from North Carolina, has proposed universal coverage by 2012. And how is he going to do that? Roll back the tax breaks given to the wealthy.

Senator Clinton is not doing things like that. She’s focusing on governing, not political pronouncements, and we saw that again with health care.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The thinking being, you start out with the easier — not that any of it’s easy, but not as controversial?

CHRIS CILLIZZA: Right, exactly. You start out and show, I think — I think she’s willing to take a hit here or there to show that she’s the one most ready to hit the ground running, that she’s not just throwing rhetorical bombs during the campaign, that she understands what it’s like to govern. She’s been in the Senate. She’s been in the White House. She’s not new to this. Issues aren’t black and white when they’re as complex as Iraq or health care.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, the memo. A couple of days ago, memos surfaced written by her deputy campaign manager saying, in essence, “Skip Iowa.” This is the first in the nation caucuses. It caused a big stir in the political community. Is this something the campaign was seriously considering?

CHRIS CILLIZZA: They insist not, but, frankly, the fact that Mike Henry, as you mentioned, the deputy campaign manager, put pen to paper or keyboard to fingers and wrote this memo up says something about what we’re looking at, in terms of the next year in this race.

Everyone has talked about February 5th with these big states moving up, California, Texas, New York. What’s the impact going to be? I think that this idea that they might skip Iowa is a direct result of that February 5th.

These are big, expensive states. And even a candidate like Senator Clinton, who clearly is going to raise the money to run a Rolls-Royce campaign, is making a calculation, or at least considering that she may not have enough money to run in all these places and that skipping Iowa may make some sense to her.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Even with the millions and millions…

CHRIS CILLIZZA: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: … that she’s raising. So the effect on her campaign, she’s already in Iowa this weekend saying, “I’m not skipping.”

CHRIS CILLIZZA: I think it’s a short-term effect. They were lucky in one way, is that she’s spending part of the next three weekends, including this weekend, in Iowa.

Now, she’s going to get questions on it. It was widely covered by the Des Moines Register, the big newspaper in Iowa. It was widely covered by Iowa television stations. So people are going to be aware of it.

I think she’s going to get questions about it, and she’s going to have to find a way to say, “No, absolutely, I’m committed to this.” She’ll do that. I think this is probably a shorter term rather than a longer-term story, but it’s certainly not something the Clinton campaign wanted to deal with this week.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you’re saying it’s part of a bigger picture question here about the calendar and what it means?

CHRIS CILLIZZA: Absolutely right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, Chris Cillizza, WashingtonPost.com, thanks very much.

CHRIS CILLIZZA: Thanks, Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jim?

Issues of Clinton's character

JIM LEHRER: Thank you, Judy.

And back now with Mark Shields and David Brooks.

And speaking of the bigger picture here, David, how do you see the big picture of the Clinton campaign, and her prospects at this point, and whether they've changed any in just these last few days?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: Well, as Chris said, there's no scandal in these books, but there is a sense, which is the underlying sense with a lot of people have about her, that she's overly manipulative, overly secretive, demands total loyalty, decisions are made in a small circle. I doubt we're going to want a president who makes decisions in a small circle again.

So I think it's those character issues. And then the second thing -- and this is the big issue -- the percentage of Americans who think the country is headed in the wrong direction has not gone up. It's gone down. We're at incredible historic lows, with the Democratic Congress with the Republican White House, so people want something new. And Hillary Clinton is not exactly something new, and that's why Barack Obama is hanging around there.

Electing polarizing candidates

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, that -- if somebody is looking over her shoulder now, who is it? Is it Barack Obama? Is he the number-one threat to her winning the Democratic nomination, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: As of today, yes. I mean, Barack Obama has the greatest potential for growth.

I was at a focus group on Monday in Towson, Maryland, 12 voters, two hours of work, conducted by Peter Hart. And it was fascinating the number of people who said they liked Hillary Clinton. Her positions, for example -- one voter said, "I agree with her virtually every issue, but there's no way I could vote for her. I just find her cold and calculating."

These are all personality problems. We have elected polarizing candidates before. I mean, Richard Nixon was a polarizing candidate. Ronald Reagan was a polarizing candidate. George Bush was a polarizing candidate. I mean, we've re-elected polarizing candidates.

So that's not the problem. The problem I think she has -- and I agree with David, the book didn't hurt her in this sense, because it's not a killer -- it reinforces the negatives. But there isn't anything new. It's not like the Swift Boats' attack upon John Kerry went right at his character and went at his heroism. It raised questions about what had been the central biography.

It's not a pretty picture. I think the most potentially damaging thing to her is that whole psychodrama of Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, and do you want to go back to it again?

Stereotypes for the candidates

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree that's a factor, going to become a factor, if it hasn't already?

DAVID BROOKS: We've now got a stereotype for each candidate and a weakness, which every media story plays into. For Clinton, it's coldly ambitious. For Obama, it's lightweight, inexperienced. For Edwards, it's overly ambitious and superficial. And every time there's a hair flip or anything that plays into one of those three stereotypes, it's tremendously damaging for that particular candidate.

MARK SHIELDS: Are there stereotypes for Republicans, too?

DAVID BROOKS: No, they defy all stereotypes.

MARK SHIELDS: I think Rudy is even...

DAVID BROOKS: No, but each candidate -- and Walter Lippman wrote about this 70 years ago.

JIM LEHRER: Well, also, before we go, everybody should know this is Mark Shields' birthday, and David and I had planned to join and sing "Happy Birthday" to you, but we're out of time. And thank you both very much.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.