Sen. Clinton on Texas Monthly Talks

The full transcript of Evan Smith’s 25-minute TEXAS MONTHLY TALKS interview with presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, taped on February 22, 2008.

March 2008By Comments

Evan Smith: Senator Clinton, good morning.

Hillary Rodham Clinton: Good morning.

ES: Thank you very much for being here.

HRC: I’m happy to be here.

ES: Let me begin by asking you something about last night’s debate and the very eloquent and emotional comments you made at the end when you said, no matter what happens we’re going to be fine, and the American people will be fine. After the debate the pundits seemed to gravitate to that comment. And many of them characterize it as a valedictory. They thought that you were trying to telegraph something about how you saw the rest of this campaign going, that maybe you saw an end coming. I wonder if you would talk a bit about that.

HRC: Well, what I was saying had nothing to do with the campaign so much as the future of our country. Obviously, for me as I’ve said many times before, politics isn’t a game, it’s not about who’s up or who’s down or the horse race. It’s what’s going to happen to the people who are really looking to those of us who are leaders as to whether or not they’re going to have better lives, whether they’re going to feel like they have a president again who’s listening to them and seeing them. And what I was really referring to is that people with the education and the, you know, affluence that Barack and I have are doing this because we love our country. But it’s fair to say that elections end and we’re still going to have our law degrees from Harvard and Yale, and we’re still going to have families and friends that support us. And that’s not the case for everybody in this country right now, that feel somehow as though the deck is stacked against them. That they’re not being given the chances that you’re supposed to have as part of the American birthright. And that bothers me.

ES: So when people took this as somehow about you, in fact it was about the American people.

HRC: Well yes, it wasn’t about me at all. It was a reference to the ways that we can get very, you know, in a sense divided in what the future looks like. Some people feel like they don’t need a president; they’re doing fine. They don’t worry about losing their healthcare or sending their kid to college. That sure is not what I’m hearing as I travel across the country. And you know, running for president is such an intimate experience on one level. I mean, the public sees all of the trappings and interviews and appearances and big crowds. But what stays with me are those sort of personal moments where I’m talking to somebody about her losing her home and she bursts into tears, or, you know, a little kid is kind of thrust forward to me and a mother says he has a congenital heart defect and I don’t know where I’m going to get the healthcare he needs. I mean, I see this as operating on two levels simultaneously. And very often the press covers the public side of it. And that’s not what gets me up in the morning. It’s really these stories, these very personal encounters that I have. And I feel a sense of responsibility that I’m out here, I’m asking people for their votes. You know, what am I going to do for them? That’s really what it comes down to.

ES: You’ve traveled around Texas a lot over these last couple of days and weeks as you’ve prepared for the primary.

HRC: Yeah. Yeah.

ES: And you’ve met a lot of new people but also reconnected with people because you have roots that go back 35 or more years in the state.

HRC: Right.

ES: Would you talk about your original time in this state? It was during the McGovern Campaign, was it not?

HRC: It was. It was. You know Evan, it was my very first job in politics. I was hired by the Democratic National Committee to come down to Texas starting in August to register voters.

ES: Right.

HRC: And I traveled all through south Texas. I lived for the first, you know, about two months or so in Austin, spent a lot of time in San Antonio, ended up living in San Antonio. And I just had the greatest time. I made friends that have been my friends for a lifetime.

ES: Right.

HRC: A lot of people supporting me. You know, Raul Yzaguirre who started up La Raza, is somebody who’s been a friend of mine going back all of those years. Obviously Roy Spence and Gary Mauro became close, close friends. And I just felt such a sense of, you know, coming back to a place that meant a lot to me when I was young and being here these last weeks.

ES: When you think about the conversations you’ve had with people around the state . . .

HRC: Right.

ES: . . . tell me the two or three big issues on the minds of Texans specifically. They may be the same issues on the minds of Americans, but tell us what you’re hearing from Texans as the things that matter.

HRC: Well, you know I was in San Antonio going door-to-door with some friends from back in 1972 and I met a soldier who was about to go on his fifth deployment.

ES: Right.

HRC: And he had a medical challenge that was being worked out. And he said look, I’m a soldier, I’m a professional. But going over five times? I mean, this has got to end. I hear a lot about Iraq. I was down in Brownsville the other night and, a big rally we had down there, and a woman grabbed me and said, my husband is over there, please bring him home. Probably since I’ve been here in the last week or two I’ve heard that from so many people. Bring my husband home. Bring my son home. And a couple of people in the service who are between deployments who have come to my events. I hear about healthcare, I hear about that everywhere. But Texas has one of the highest rates of uninsured people in the country.

ES: That’s right.

HRC: Twenty-five percent of the population doesn’t have health insurance. So you’re going to run into it even more than you would in other states where I’ve spent a lot of time. And, and I don’t understand why there are so many people here. And I looked at the numbers. You know, Texas is I guess now our second most populated state. You have 350,000 children on the children’s health insurance program, which I helped to start ten years ago. California has a million. So I mean the effort and the commitment from the state in taking care of people just isn’t there in the way that it is in other states. And that’s surprising. So it’s understandable that I would run into people who don’t have healthcare and it’s one of the big differences between Senator Obama and me because I think everybody should be covered and there should be shared responsibility. I hear about the home foreclosures. You know, somebody told me you have about 85,000, it’s a big state.

ES: Right.

HRC: That may not sound like a lot, but it’s, it’s going to get worse if we don’t stop it. Again, something that I have been really adamant about, you know, coming up with a strategy that I think would work. And of course immigration. In every place I go, as one would expect. Because of the makeup of the population and the border. All along the border, lots of questions about the wall, you know. What are we doing? What sense does this make? As I said in the debate, I was at UT Brownsville, you know, the way the Bush administration has it planned, the wall would go right through the campus.

ES: By the campus.

HRC: I mean that’s ridiculous. And I’ve said over and over again, we have to protect our borders. We’ve got to have smarter border security. It’s imperative we know who’s coming into our country, but there is a smart way of doing it and a dumb way of doing it. And once again, I just feel like the Bush administration is taking a sledgehammer to kill a gnat. We’ve got a problem, let’s be smart about how we deal with it.

ES: Let’s take a couple of those issues . . .

HRC: Yeah.

ES: . . . one at a time. The Iraq war is obviously very important to Texans. We have the second highest number of casualties of any state in the country and have sent over maybe the second or third highest number of soldiers. So understandably people are going to have questions about the war, and very possibly about your vote to authorize the war. Senator Obama has made a lot of this. Said again last night, a war we shouldn’t have authorized and shouldn’t have waged. You seemed not to respond to that last night. You’ve responded in the past. I wonder if you would talk a little bit, now that you’ve been through this campaign, heard it so many times, is it a fair criticism for him to say, you shouldn’t have authorized the war Senator Clinton?

HRC: Well, you know, obviously if I had known then what I know now I would not have given President Bush the authority. But I think we’re doing a lot of second-guessing and revisionist history here. And Senator Obama did not have to take a vote. And you know he’s never held accountable for the fact that he said he wasn’t sure how he would have voted and in 2004 he basically agreed with President Bush’s conduct of the war. And when he came to the Senate he and I voted exactly the same way. So you know, I have a little bit of trouble kind of sorting that out.

ES: Right.

HRC: Because, clearly, putting inspectors back in was an acceptable policy. They’ve been thrown out, putting them back in, figuring out what Saddam was up to, I thought, was a diplomatic effort going to the United Nations that made sense. And since Saddam had never done anything that he wasn’t forced to do, having the backup of a threat of military force also was more likely to result in getting those inspectors in and finding out what was going on. I think anyone who says, well, we knew exactly what George Bush would do, go back and look what Bush was saying at the time. Look at what his administration was saying at the time. They were very much along the lines of, we’re going to put the inspectors back in. And you know, I was one of those who said, let them finish the job, let’s figure out what’s there. We can go over and over and over that.

ES: Yeah.

HRC: And you know, you compare vote and you compare, you know, what many of us believed would happen and should happen with a speech. People can draw their own conclusions. But ultimately we’re going to have to figure out what to do now going forward.

ES: Right.

HRC: And I think my service on the Senate Armed Services Committee, the very broad support I have from the retired military officers who I’ve gotten to know, who have watched me in action, suggest strongly that I am in a much better position to actually have the credibility to bring our troops home. This is not going to be easy. You know, the general election against John McCain is going to be waged on what it is that we will cause by bringing our troops home. And I think I can much better defend that position and go toe to toe with John McCain than Senator Obama.

ES: So when the comment is made that it’s harder for someone who voted to authorize the war to go against John McCain in the fall and argue about Iraq that it would be someone that opposed the war, you don’t believe . . .

HRC: I don’t buy that. Because the American people are looking to see who can be the commander in chief. They’re going to want to know that whoever is bringing those troops home really understands the sacrifice that our men and women have made. They don’t want it to be in vain and neither do I. We have lost too many lives, there are too many people injured, as I talked [about] last night. You go out to Brooke [Army Medical Center], you go to this new Intrepid Center, you shake hands with men and women who have lost legs and arms and eyes, and they look at you and they say, don’t let it be in vain. I’ve heard that, I can’t tell you how many times.

ES: Right.

HRC: They want someone with the strength and experience, and frankly the credibility to do whatever we have to do in a way that honors their service. And I think I can do that.

ES: You were asked last night by Jorge Ramos if you felt you were prepared to be commander in chief and if you felt Senator Obama was. You answered the first part but you didn’t say directly whether you thought Senator Obama was prepared to be commander in chief. Would you say so today?

HRC: I think I am. And I will let others draw the conclusion. I do . . .

ES: So you don’t want to comment on whether you think he’s qualified to be commander in chief?

HRC: Well you know, obviously I think I am, and I think that my experience for many years representing our country around the world, my understanding of a lot of the strategic imperatives that the United States faces, you know, withdrawing our troops from Iraq is not a pain-free option.

ES: Right.

HRC: Anybody who thinks it is, I don’t believe understands the complexity and the interconnectedness of that region and the implications for the rest of the world.

ES: Right.

HRC: We will take hits for leaving. John McCain is right about that. He is wrong that that is a reason to stay. But this is, this is going to have to be navigated very carefully. And I believe that my work over now fifteen years, better positions me to understand how to unwind our commitment in Iraq.

ES: Okay, how to unwind our commitment in Iraq.

HRC: Mm-hmm.

ES: Tell us what you would do on day one.

HRC: Well on day one I would have to ask our Secretary of Defense and our Joint Chiefs of Staff and security advisers to immediately put together a plan because I have no confidence that planning under President Bush has gone on the way it should. In fact, I am the only one who has been pushing to make sure that the Pentagon is focused on redeployment. You know, going back to last spring now nearly a year when I started asking a lot of tough questions.

ES: Right.

HRC: You know, have you or have you not done the planning with the operational details necessary? You know, withdrawing troops is dangerous. You know, they have to come out on those same roads that they came in, with all that’s going on, with, you know, the Turks and the Kurds, it’s unlikely we’re going to be able to move easily north, that means we have to move south again. This is the kind of consideration that a President has to make with the military advisors and the civilian leadership in the Pentagon.

ES: Right. Okay. Let’s move over to immigration . . .

HRC: Mm-hmm.

ES: . . . which you mentioned. And it was pointed out last night, both you and Senator Obama voted for the piece of legislation that authorized the border fence. Is that a vote you’d like to have back now?

HRC: Well the idea of a physical barrier in some places as part of an overall strategy to secure our borders is something that I think has to be considered.

ES: Right.

HRC: And that’s why I voted for it. But once again we find the Bush administration with its unfortunate tendency to mess up a two-car parade making this a complicated and divisive issue. What I’ve said is we should review what has gone on. Bring in the people along the border who actually have a better understanding than the Department of Homeland Security, one of the most dysfunctional government agencies ever created.

ES: Right.

HRC: And figure out how we’re going to use the authority in a smart way. And I would do that. And I don’t think that this administration has.

ES: But if you go to El Paso and talk to those people, the people you referred to last night and just now, whose lives would be impacted directly by this wall, if you talk to Sylvester Reyes who is a supporter of yours, Congressman from El Paso, a former border patrol sector chief.

HRC: Right.

ES: They’ll tell you no wall.

HRC: Well . . .

ES: They’ll tell you we don’t want a wall. It would impact the economy . . .

HRC: Right.

ES: . . . our relationship with Juarez . . .

HRC: Mm-hmm.

ES: . . . it would impact the free flow of families back and forth across the border, so why not listen to Sylvester Reyes and come out against the wall completely?

HRC: Well, in Texas and along the border that might be the conclusion after careful review. That might not be in other parts of the border. So I don’t think . . .

ES: Not one policy then . . .

HRC: That’s the whole point. I mean, we provide a lot of different assets to be used. You know, more border patrol. I’m a very strong proponent of smart fencing with the kind of technology that requires the placement of our border patrols strategically to be able to respond to the technology’s information about what’s happening on the border. It shouldn’t be a blunt instrument. And you know Congressman Reyes is right about that. We’ve got to listen to what people who actually have firsthand experience have to say. I have talked to the Department of Homeland Security and the secretary about the northern border because New York shares that.

ES: . . . with Canada.

HRC: . . . with Canada. So I can speak from experience, it is impossible to get them to listen. I have said over and over again, your passport requirements are onerous. We have Indian reservations along the border that straddle the border. Families live on both sides. We have the same kind of challenges with our crossings like at Buffalo. We will backup traffic, we will have so many problems. And I’ve been fighting this battle. So, again, let’s be intelligent enough to actually listen and learn from what people who have firsthand knowledge can tell us. And the Bush administration is not noted for listening. And this is yet one more example.

ES: Okay. Let me ask you about lobbying.

HRC: Mm-hmm.

ES: Something that you didn’t mention but has been mentioned a lot on the campaign trail. Senator Obama has said, referring to you Senator Clinton, that we have a candidate who has taken more money from lobbyists and special interests than any candidate in either party. And he says, but I Senator Obama have not taken a dime from lobbyists. Is that characterization of you fair, and is that a characterization of him that’s fair?

HRC: Not at all. [Laughs] Not at all. I mean it makes for a good sound bite but it’s not rooted in the evidence. If he’s talking about the narrow issue of registered lobbyists he says he doesn’t. Well he did until he started running for president. Maybe that’s a distinction. It may not have much of a difference however. But if you’re talking about the corporate executives who employ the lobbyists for whom they get registered, there is no distinction whatsoever. If you’re talking about the firms that are federal lobbying firms there are maybe a couple of people who are “registered” and everybody else backs them up. He’s taken money from all of them. He’s taken money from the brothers, the husbands, the wives, the fathers. I mean it’s a great sound bite; it is rooted in an artificial distinction. We know we’ve got to change the way we finance presidential and federal elections. I have been a strong supporter of that. I am on the strongest piece of legislation that would bring about those changes. But, if you took money from lobbyists until you started running for president, if you continued to take money from lobbyists for your pact, your leadership pact so that you could donate money to candidates and super delegates, if you had lobbyists running your campaigns, if you had lobbyists that put together the money to bundle and held the events but didn’t give themselves, come on. What’s the difference?

ES: So what would you say to people who would ask you to assure them that the lobby money that you’ve taken so far, however you define it, is not going to impact the policy decisions that you make in the White House?

HRC: Look at what I’ve done.

ES: Yeah.

HRC: It wasn’t I who voted for Dick Cheney’s energy bill, which was larded with giveaways to special interests, it was Senator Obama. It wasn’t I who took a bill supposedly to protect people from radioactive waste being discharged from nuclear power plants and watered it down at the behest of one of his biggest contributors, namely one of the largest nuclear power companies. It wasn’t I who voted with the credit card companies not to cap interest rates at thirty percent, and it wasn’t I who voted with the biggest lobbying effort that I’ve seen since I’ve been there, which was to close the courts to people who are injured by corporations. I voted against the lobbying interests, the powerful corporations, he voted for them on every one of those bills. So, I find it a little bit bemusing, I guess, to hear this kind of mantra when the facts don’t bare it out. And when you look at who’s actually taken the hits from the organized lobbying interests, it’s me. I’ve been on the front lines of trying to get to universal healthcare; he doesn’t even try to do that. So you know, I sometimes have a difficult time taking some of these charges seriously. And, I know it’s hard for people to sort out, but hopefully they’ll look at the record.

ES: Okay. We have a couple of minutes left. I want to ask you about the campaign. It has not gone, it is said, as you expected it to. The thought was that you would have this wrapped up by now. And I wonder as you look back, do you have any regrets about how it’s gone? Decisions that have been made, things that you would like to have done differently, knowing what you know now?

HRC: Well actually that’s not an accurate description of what I thought. Last spring I said, we’d better start thinking about Texas. And talked to my good friends, Gary Mauro and others about that.

ES: Right.

HRC: Because when I looked at the numbers of people who were in the race who had extraordinary claims for the nomination, a governor with great experience, a former vice presidential nominee, two of my colleagues whom I admire so much and others. I knew that this would be a very contested race. I don’t control the press coverage or the expectations game.

ES: Right.

HRC: But in looking at the makeup of the field I hoped I would be one of those who emerged.

ES: Right.

HRC: But I knew somebody else would as well. I didn’t know who it would be. So I was thinking about being right here in Texas months and months ago.

ES: Right. So it’s we who had those expectations for you that sort of wrapped up.

HRC: Well maybe it’s because I always sort of run scared and run as though I’m way behind. But that certainly is how I felt about it.

ES: Well then let’s go to the second part which is to say, do you have anything you want to say, I wish we had not done this, or going back I have a regret the way this piece of the campaign went.

HRC: Well you always can go back and improve on what you’ve done.

ES: Right.

HRC: You know, I could give you a long list of well, maybe this, maybe that. But, my campaign has been vigorous and focused and extremely effective. I mean, look at the close race we’re in.

ES: Right.

HRC: Obviously Senator Obama has had a run the last two weeks, but I’ve won a lot of the big primaries. We’re very close in terms of delegates. So this is a race for 2025 delegates. And I certainly know that I could have done better, my campaign could have done better. But, I’m very proud of where we are and I feel good about the campaign in Texas and the one in Ohio.

ES: Has there been too much focus on the role of former President Clinton in your campaign?

HRC: [Laughs] Well you know, he’s a pretty big figure.

ES: He is.

HRC: He’s somebody that . . .

ES: He says things, people listen.

HRC: . . . I pay attention. I’m so personally just touched and grateful for the extraordinary effort he’s made on my behalf. And obviously, he’s doing it because of our relationship and how much he cares about me personally. But he’s also doing it because he thinks I’d be a really good president. And he thinks he understands the job, which I believe he does. And what a tough job it is. And what it requires in a person. There is a difference between talk and action. And doggone it, experience does count. I mean I know that there has been an effort to discount that experience in this campaign. But you get those calls in the White House at three o’clock in the morning. The Embassy in Belgrade is on fire. You know, something has happened in the northwest territories in Pakistan. The advisors are not there. If they are, they are not going to make the decision, you’re going to make the decision.

ES: Right.

HRC: And I think what Bill knows, like to the core of his being, is that when that call comes at 3 a.m. the country can count on me. I can sort it out, I can make a decision that I believe would be best for America, not just now but for the time to come. And he feels very passionately about that, and I’m very proud of his support.

ES: When he said the other day that Texas would be do or die for Senator Clinton, people took that to mean that if you didn’t win Texas that that would be the effective end of your campaign. You want to talk about that a little bit?

HRC: Well I hope to win Texas. I’m working very hard to win Texas.

And I feel good about our campaign here. Obviously I have a long relationship here, particularly in South Texas, with people. I don’t make predictions, but we’re working very, very hard to do well and, yes, I want to win Texas. It would mean a lot to me.

ES: But you don’t look at it as do or die the way President Clinton said?

HRC: Well, I wouldn’t characterize it that way. But it would make a big difference.

ES: Right. Very quickly at the end here, the super delegate question which you were asked last night, you seemed to indicate that you would not support the idea of the super delegates helping a candidate who was behind in pledged delegates go over the top. Did we all interpret your answer correctly?

HRC: What I really was referring to is that I think this will get sorted out.

ES: Right.

HRC: I think all of the attention, you know, on the super delegates is kind of missing the point. Super delegates have always been expected to exercise independent judgment.

ES: Right.

HRC: And I would expect them to continue to do so. They can vote for whoever they want based on anything they want. I find the Obama campaign’s efforts to push people into supporting who won their state or who won their district somewhat disingenuous because that would mean Senator Kennedy would be here right now endorsing me since I carried Massachusetts overwhelmingly. I don’t think that’s what the Obama campaign is actually talking about. The super delegates are expected to exercise independent judgment. Delegates that are chosen by caucuses and primaries are expected to follow the results. And when you look at it, caucuses have a relatively few number of people.

ES: Right.

HRC: You know, look at what happened in Washington State where I made very little effort. I was overwhelmingly defeated in the caucuses. I had a very close outcome in their primary. Primaries bring more people into the process. I think they represent more accurately the electorate. So people get chosen by caucuses that may have a few hundred or a few thousand people, primaries that may have thousands and millions and super delegates. And that’s the way it’s always been and I expect that’s the way it will be.

ES: Okay. Finally the Michigan and Florida delegation, speaking of primaries.

HRC: Mm-hmm, right.

ES: There’s been a lot of talk about what your campaign would do should it get to the convention. Would you commit today to honoring the agreement made earlier not to seek the Michigan and Florida delegations in the way that had been discussed?

HRC: Well let’s talk about the agreement.

ES: Yes.

HRC: The only agreement I entered into was not to campaign in Michigan and Florida. It had nothing to do with not seating the delegates. And I think that’s an important distinction. I did not campaign in either.

ES: Because the press seems to have missed that distinction if that’s the case.

HRC: It, they have.

ES: Because the talk is you agreed not to seek the delegations.

HRC: That is not the case at all.

ES: Yeah.

HRC: I signed an agreement not to campaign in Michigan and Florida. Now the DNC made the determination that they would not seek the delegates. But I was not party to that. And I think it is important for the DNC to ask itself, is this really in the best interest of our eventual nominee? We do not want to be disenfranchising Michigan and Florida. We have to try to carry both of those states. You know, I’d love to carry Texas, but it’s usually not in the electoral calculation for the Democratic nominee.

ES: Right.

HRC: Florida and Michigan are. And therefore the people of those two states disregarded adamantly the DNC’s decision that they would not seek the delegates. They came out and voted. Now if they had been influenced by the DNC despite the fact there was very little campaigning if any, they would have stayed home. But they wanted their voices heard. More than two million people came out. I mean it was record turnout for a primary. And Florida in particular is sensitive to being disenfranchised because of what’s happened to them in the last elections.

ES: Right.

HRC: I have said that I would ask my delegates to vote to seat Michigan and Florida.

ES: So your intention is to press this issue at the convention?

HRC: Yes it is. Yes it is. And, and you know, it’s in large measure because both the voters and the elected officials in Michigan and Florida feel so strongly about this, and you know, Senator Bill Nelson in Florida early on in the process actually sued because he thinks this is absurd on its face that 1.7 million Democrats who eventually voted would be just basically disregarded. And I agree with him about that.

ES: Okay. Well Senator Clinton, it’s going to be a long campaign, still . . .

HRC: [Laughs]

ES: We wish you luck on the trail.

HRC: Thank you.

ES: And I know we’ll see you back in Texas.

HRC: Thanks very much Evan.

ES: Thanks very much.

HRC: Good to talk to you.

ES: You too. Thank you.

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