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Vital Voices is a non-profit aimed at promoting women in leadership roles. Judy Woodruff recently spoke with the group's president Alyse Nelson, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the war in Ukraine, women's reproductive rights and the leaked Supreme Court documents. The conversation took place at the opening of the Vital Voices global headquarters.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Washington this week for the opening of the Vital Voices global headquarters.
Vital Voices is a nonprofit she started with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright aimed at promoting women in leadership roles. Alyse Nelson is the organization's president and CEO.
I spoke with the two of them in a wide-ranging discussion about the significance of female leaders, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and the recently leaked Supreme Court draft decision that could overturn Roe v. Wade.
Secretary Clinton, Alyse Nelson, very good to have you both with us.
Secretary, we are here in the new offices of this building you're calling the Global Embassy for Women.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, Former U.S. Secretary of State: Right.
What does that mean?
Hillary Rodham Clinton:
Well, thank you for being with us, Judy, because I do remember you were in Beijing in 1995 covering that conference, and you can trace a line from there to this day.
We really started Vital Voices 25 years ago to carry on the work that came from the Beijing conference about women's rights being human rights and a whole platform for action to empower women. And this building is a tangible symbol of that work, the network of women leaders that has been created, the financial and mentoring support that has been provided.
And we wanted to have a building right here in Washington, D.C., like an embassy that would attract women leaders, women activists from all over the world.
And, Alyse, you have been involved with this for a long time.
What do you see happening here in this place?
Alyse Nelson, President and CEO, Vital Voices Global Partnership: Oh, goodness.
Honestly, Judy, I don't even think I can imagine what all is going to happen here. We created this space because what we knew is, the 20,000 women leaders that we work with around the globe are truly making change. But not enough people are hearing their voices.
And one of our hopes of creating this space is really to have a platform to amplify them, right? There are, I think, less than 10 percent of statues and memorials in the names of women. But we all know that women have had far more than 10 percent of the impact on our nation and certainly around the world.
And so what we hope is that this will be a beacon, a signal to know that women's issues are not women's issues. They're everyone's issues, right?
Secretary Clinton, as we sit here this morning, there's so much going on in the world. So I do want to ask you about a few things.
And one is — that has to do with the reproductive rights of women here in the United States.
That draft — early draft opinion from the Supreme Court, if the final opinion looks anything like this, what does it mean for American women? And what do you believe the options are for those who believe women should have a choice?
Well, I think, if this opinion actually is finally published as representing the majority of the court, it is a direct assault on the dignity, rights and even lives of American women.
And it is heartbreaking to see this court dominated by extremists who do not represent the majority of Americans, men and women, who believe that this is a right that women should have doing all they can to set the clock back. This is the first time, perhaps, that I'm aware of that a right will be actually taken away.
So, what can be done? There has to be a recognition that, as horrible assault as this is on women's rights, it is perhaps only the beginning of this court trying to undo so much of the progress of the last 50 years.
You know, as a recovering lawyer, I'm aware that that's a problem that this court is focused on is — by saying that there is no real right to privacy, that Roe was decided wrongly, well, Roe followed a case called Griswold, which struck down a law prohibiting married heterosexual couples from having access to contraception.
It served as the basis of decriminalizing consenting sexual behavior between gay people who were adults and able to express their own feelings toward one another. It certainly underpins gay marriage. So, this is a real threat, Judy, to our democracy, not just to the rights of women.
And yet the options, given the political realities of Congress, are very few, aren't they?
And what do you see — do you see this energizing Democrats more or Republicans going into these crucial midterms?
Well, I hope it generates I hope it energizes all Americans who care about our democracy, who care about the women in their lives, who care about an extreme minority dictating the decisions that all of us are going to have to make, because they're the ones who are trying to determine that for everyone else.
So, even if you're not a woman, even if you're not gay, if you're not in an interracial marriage, even if you don't use contraception, whatever your position is, you should be worried about this.
And the real answer is to elect people who will respect the rights and dignity of Americans, women and men alike.
I think there's a consensus that, whatever the public views are out there about Roe v. Wade, that the pro-life forces politically have been more effective at translating their support at the ballot box into legislative wins, wins in the judicial — among — with judgeships.
Why do you think that is? Why do you think, if more Americans favor a woman's right to choose, they, the other side, has been more successful…
I think a lot of Americans just took for granted that, despite opposition to reproductive choice, it would not go away. There was a complacency, an acceptance.
I remember, during the 2016 campaign, I gave speeches about this. I talked about the dangers that would be posed to this right and other rights if my opponent were elected, because of the promises that he'd made to the extreme factions within the Republican Party.
And, honestly, Judy, people didn't believe me. They — their attitude was, oh, that sounds really farfetched. That will never happen.
So, oftentimes, in politics, the entrenched status quo position is just not as vigorously defended as the opposition position. And so those who wanted to overturn Roe, those who wanted to turn the clock back were very motivated. And those who said, oh, well, that's settled law, including people sitting on the court who are going to vote on this decision, when asked in their confirmation hearings, gave every reason to reassure the American public.
Oh, no there's such a thing called stare decisis or, yes, I follow precedent.
Either they have had some kind of brain change, or they were deliberately misleading the American people. So, yes, the energy was on the side to overturn. Now I hope that energy will shift to the side of those of us who want to protect the progress we have made.
And I wanted to ask you about that, because you talk to most Americans right now, they're worried about inflation, they're worried about the economy, other things going on in their lives.
Is this going to be something that motivates them?
I think it will motivate a considerable number of voters.
But, of course, the case has to be made. And that's not to say you shouldn't worry about the economy and inflation. Of course, people are very much aware of that. They're living with it. But let's not forget that making decisions about who gets to choose how your body is going to be treated is also a truly life-or-death opinion that they have to be also taking into account in their voting.
You know, there's been a lot of research around the world. When governments crack down on abortion, it does not stop abortion. What it does is make it more dangerous and causes more damage to many more women.
And I would also just add, if these Supreme Court justices and the very extreme Republicans who support them really cared about children, why don't they support health care for every pregnant woman in our country? Why do they let a big state like Texas deny health care, because they won't expand Medicaid, to mothers who want to have their children? And they therefore have the highest rate of maternal mortality in America.
Why don't they support child care, so that, if a mother is going to be forced to give birth to a child, that mother will be able to support herself and her child because she will be able to go out and work. And the list goes on.
This is not, at really the end of the analysis, about anything other than controlling women with some kind of patriarchal view of society that they want to impose on the rest of us.
Just quickly, before I leave, the midterms.
Conventional wisdom is not a good year for the Democrats. As you know, when your husband was president, President Clinton, under President Obama, huge losses in the House races in the middle of the first term. Do you have any reason to believe it's going to be different this year?
Well, I know the history, so I'm aware of the challenges, but I'm not about to throw in the towel or give up.
I mean, I think it depends upon, number one, whether Democrats are willing to point out the extremism that has captured the Republican Party and to make it clear this is not about special interest groups. This is not about one group of Americans vs. another. This is about the rise of authoritarianism within our own country.
This is a direct attack on our democracy. So, if Democrats are willing not only to address the issues that are kitchen table issues, which we do pretty well, but also to raise some of the concerns about what kind of country we're going to have, I think we could do better than is predicted.
A few questions quickly about Ukraine.
For all the extraordinary resistance and determination of the Ukrainian military, the Ukrainian people, and for all the setbacks the Russians have experienced, they are still pounding away every day on Ukraine.
How confident are you that the Ukrainians can actually win this?
I am very confident in the Ukrainians' determination to win. And I am very sure that, if we continue to provide them with the military assistance they need, they can continue to block Russia's ambitions.
Even now, with all that Russia is pounding South and Eastern Ukraine with, they have made relatively little progress. And Putin's original idea that, within three days, he'd be in Kyiv, he'd assassinate, imprison the leadership of Ukraine, he would take it over. he'd install a puppet regime, that has not happened. And I don't believe that can happen.
The real challenge now is, how do we best equip and support the Ukrainian government, the Ukrainian military, the Ukrainian people in their courageous resistance to this unjustified, brutal war?
And the Russians haven't even taken over the steel plant yet in Mariupol. They have done everything they could to destroy that bastion of resistance. And, there, Ukrainians are still fighting, literally inch by inch.
So the Russians have bitten off a lot more than they can chew. They're going to look for some kind of graceful exit. But I don't think anybody should ever tell the Ukrainians what they should negotiate. This is up to them, and we should support them.
You have dealt with Vladimir Putin. If he faces humiliation in Ukraine, do you think he — what makes you think he wouldn't turn to weapons of mass destruction, tactical nuclear weapons? And if he did, what should the response of the U.S. and NATO be?
I don't know what he will eventually decide to do.
He's already been humiliated. He did not get what he told the Russian people he was going to achieve. He's now into the third month of a war he thought would be done in three days.
One of the reasons why the sanctions are so important is because they send a message to everybody around him that the cost is going to be more than you can bear. So, I don't want to speculate about what the U.S. or NATO should do if some hypothetical action is taken.
But I think we need to be very clear in sending a message to Putin that we're going to do everything we can to make sure he does not succeed in Ukraine. And, at some point, given the losses in his military, given the losses of his military leadership, given the turmoil within his intelligence and security forces, because they told him what he wanted to hear, and it didn't work out, I think that there's more to be seen about what happens inside the Kremlin as this unfolds.
Do you think he could actually fall as a leader?
I have no idea.
But I think he could certainly be influenced by those who are paying a price because of his messianic and violent attack on Ukraine.
Last question I want to ask both of you, and that is, we know the leadership in the White House, in the Congress, among Democrats senior, older, in most cases.
Can you identify a few younger Democratic women who you see as maybe the future of the party?
Well, I will just start off by saying, Vital Voices, as a nonprofit, is bipartisan.
So we can't get behind political candidates.
But we certainly support more women political leaders and, certainly, I think more women who want to, as Secretary Clinton has done and the late Secretary Albright did, is use their position and their power to really push forward and advance issues that are important to women and their families.
Yes, and I certainly subscribe to that.
And what's exciting about the Vital Voices network is that we have women who are running for office all over the world.
Secretary Clinton, Alyse Nelson, thank you both very much.
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Broadcast journalist Judy Woodruff is the anchor and managing editor of the PBS NewsHour. She has covered politics and other news for five decades at NBC, CNN and PBS.
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