Clinton looked and sounded like a presidential candidate in the hour-long town hall hosted by CNN and Tumblr at the Newseum in Washington on Tuesday. She answered some of the hard questions delivered by Christiane Amanpour and a roomful of generally supportive questioners.
If anything, the town hall functioned as Clinton’s reset button—a chance for the former Secretary of State to get the rollout for her book, Hard Choices, back on a smoother path after a few media missteps.
Five noteworthy takeaways:
1. “Clarify” Her Evolution Gay Marriage: Her recent lively exchange with NPR’s Fresh Air host Terry Gross made waves, with Gross pressing in what she called an effort to “clarify” just when Secretary Clinton decided to drop her opposition to same sex marriage. This time, Clinton hoped a more succinct answer would settle the question. “Like most Americans I know, my views have changed over time,” she said. “I think evolved is the word that a lot of people have used.” She still didn’t precisely answer the when and the how her views changed.
2. Some Tough Love on Immigration: Clinton--who spent her morning at a Smithsonian ceremony celebrating 15 of America’s most recently naturalized citizens--vowed to continue speaking out for comprehensive immigration reform, arguing that those who are contributing to the U.S. deserve a path to citizenship. “We needed to reform our immigration system,” she said, “and we need to do it yesterday.” Arguing that our current system runs contrary to America’s core values, Clinton said, “I mean the horror of a father or a mother going to work and being picked up and immediately whisked away and children coming home from school to an empty house and nobody can say where their mother or father is, that is just not who we are as Americans.” But when addressing the recent crisis of young immigrants trying to cross the border illegally, she drew a much harder line likely to disappoint some usual liberal allies. “We have to send a clear message,” she said, “just because your child gets across the border, doesn’t mean that they can stay.”
3. Clear Distance from the Boss on Syria: Syria is what the former Secretary of State now commonly refers to as, “a wicked problem.” Politely but firmly she used the town hall to expand on a point she makes in Hard Choices – that President Obama rejected her early advice to support the moderate Syrian opposition and help them to better organize. She defended her position, saying, “Because I believed at the time that they would be overwhelmed by Assad's military force and that they would open up the door to extremists coming in.” Working alongside General Petraeus and Secretary Panetta, Clinton said she had “hoped to tip the balance.”
4. Walked the Line on Iraq: Clinton insisted it was the Bush Administration’s decision to set 2011 as the end of the United States’ combat mission in Iraq. And she said critics who say President Obama should have done more to leave a residual U.S. force were ignoring the opposition of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. She left no doubt she is skeptical of Maliki’s ability – or will – to reach a political solution to the current crisis. Clinton said it is imperative “the government of Iraq, currently led by Malaki, be much more inclusive, much more willing to share power, involve all the different segments of Iraq. … I believe strongly that if Malaki is not the kind of leader who can do that, then the Iraqi people need to think seriously about the kind of leader [they want].”
5. She Can Run for President…If She Wants To: The soon-to-be grandmother kept the obvious answer to the obvious question on the table, but added a little twist when asked if she wouldn’t rather enjoy life as a grandmother and not add in the stress of a return to politics. “I will make this decision (on whether to run) based on how I feel about it and what I believe I can do. But I won’t be rushed to make a decision,” she said. Then, with a smile, this: “There have been a lot of grandfathers who’ve done it.”
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