Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton told ABC's Diane Sawyer on June 9 that when she and her family left the White House in 2001, they were “dead broke.” The reaction to that remark took an interesting turn on Tuesday, when her husband and former president Bill Clinton leaped into the fray by asserting that his wife's comment “is factually true” and the potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate is “not out of touch.”
The former Democratic occupant of the White House made his remarks during an interview with David Gregory, host of NBC's Meet the Press Sunday morning program, as part of an event for the Clinton Global Initiative in Denver.
“It is factually true that we were several million dollars in debt,” Clinton said as his wife and daughter Chelsea looked on. He then stated that reporters “making an issue of his family’s rise to wealth” are pursuing “the wrong debate.” The public should be talking about how to address the “demise of the American dream.”
He said his wife had in the past offered legal assistance for poor people and fought for paid leave for pregnant mothers in the 1970s. In addition, he said that he and the former secretary of state go to their local grocery store on the weekends and talk to regular people.
Nevertheless, Clinton acknowledged that his wife didn’t exactly “give the most adept answer” to ABC anchor Diane Sawyer's questions about the family's finances.
During that interview, Sawyer pressed: "It has been reported you've made $5 million making speeches. The president's made more than $100 million. ... Do you think Americans are going to understand five times the median income in this country for one speech?"
Hillary Clinton responded:
Well, if you -- you have no reason to remember, but we came out of White House not only dead broke but in debt. We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages for houses.
We had to pay off all our debts which was, you know, you had to make double the money because of obviously taxes, and then pay off the debts, and get us houses.
After being hammered for stating her family sought to buy “houses” in addition to their homes in Washington, D.C., and Chappaqua, New York, the former U.S. senator added fuel to the fire over the weekend, when she said during an interview for the Guardian newspaper that people “don't see me as part of the problem” because she and her family pay “ordinary income tax,” and their wealth only came through the “dint of hard work,” unlike a lot of people who are “truly well off.”
As NewsBusters previously reported, the “hard work” she was referring to was an $8 million book advance as well as six-figure speaking fees, which she and her husband regularly receive.
During her speech at the Tuesday conference, Hillary Clinton drew from her past to portray herself as a lifelong advocate for poor children, pushing back against critics who say she’s lost touch with the concerns of middle- and lower-income Americans.
According to Amie Parnes of The Hill, her comments opened Clinton up to attacks from Republicans and unnerved some Democrats, who see Clinton as the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, but they worry she might repeat mistakes made in 2008 that led to then-Sen. Barack Obama winning the election.
At least one Democrat stands to benefit from Hillary Clinton's mistakes: vice president Joe Biden, who may run against her for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Explaining the difference between them, Biden -- who has always described himself as “an up-from-the-bootstraps blue-collar Democrat” -- declared on Monday that he doesn’t “own a single stock or bond."
“No one around Clinton apparently has the nerve to tell her that she is sounding more like Marie Antoinette than a future Democratic nominee,” Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote on the newspaper’s website on Monday.
Returning to Tuesday, Gregory asked Bill Clinton if Americans resent “politicians of means in general,” and he replied: “I don't think most Americans resent somebody else doing well. They resent that they're not getting a fair deal. They want the bottom to grow. They want the middle to grow.
“You just have to be transparent and tell people the truth,” he added. Bill Clinton, big on telling the truth?
The Meet the Press host then asked the former president if the debate on his family's wealth is unfair.
“No,” Clinton replied, adding: “Someone is always trying to change the subject.”