Reporters Press Clinton on $25M Speaker Fees, Emails

Reporters Press Clinton on $25M Speaker Fees, Emails
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Democrats and officials in Cedar Falls, Iowa, told Hillary Clinton Tuesday they were pleased to hear she wanted regulatory relief for small banks to boost lending to small businesses. And they listened attentively when she answered a panelist’s question about a pending trade pact, trying to straddle a policy chasm that divides her party in Washington. 

But the national media crammed into a campaign event in a bicycle shop because they wanted to pressure the leading Democratic candidate to answer questions, something she’s largely avoided for more than a month. And when she trudged to a thicket of cameras and microphones, her economic agenda tumbled out of headlines and she and her controversies became the news.

The former secretary of state is a practiced communicator. Most of what she told the scrum of national media echoed what she’s said before. Nevertheless, her words ricocheted through social media and cable television in an instant, revisiting subjects she’s strained to bury.

Clinton said she wants her State Department emails, turned over to the government in December, to become public, repeating comments she made in March before she announced her presidential bid.

She and former President Clinton earned more than $25 million in speaking fees over the last 16 months and are decidedly wealthy and “blessed,” but never forget their modest roots, she added. The American people will make “their own judgment” about foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation’s charitable projects.

Her reliance on information and support from friend and political ally (and former journalist) Sidney Blumenthal (whose nickname inside some Democratic circles has long been “grassy knoll” -- the supposed location of a second gunman in John F. Kennedy’s assassination and a reference to Blumenthal’s reported taste for conspiracy theories) will continue, she told reporters.

And, lastly, she repeated, her Senate vote to authorize the Iraq War in 2003 was “a mistake, plain and simple.” Not exactly news, since she explained her regrets in her book, “Hard Choices,” published last year, Clinton said.

But she agreed Iraq in 2015 and the ongoing battles with ISIL fighters looms as a significant concern for any presidential candidate because of the terror group’s recent assaults in Ramadi and the continued weaknesses of Iraq’s defenses. At the White House, after Clinton spoke in Iowa, President Obama’s spokesman tried to downplay the situation in Ramadi as a “setback,” rather than as a defeat or crisis. 

“What we now see is a very different and very dangerous situation,” Clinton told reporters in a firm tone of voice. “The United States is doing what it can, but ultimately this has to be a struggle that the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people are determined to win for themselves. And we can provide support, but they're going to have to do it."

Clinton also was asked by a panelist to explain her views about the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which Obama supports and many progressive Democrats oppose, including presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and many Democrats in the House.

Clinton was vague enough to appear to be in lockstep with the administration, and specific enough to make clear she’s sympathetic to some Senate Democratic criticisms of the pending deal. 

“I don’t know what the final provisions are yet,” she said. “It needs to be very strong on health and environmental rules. It needs to try to address either directly or indirectly the manipulation of currency by countries that would be trading partners … because that’s been a big source of us not being as competitive as we want to be,” she added. 

Many Democrats seek such a currency enforcement mechanism to pressure China, not among the dozen countries that would be party to the TPP. The White House favors language that would not impact the independence of the Federal Reserve to control monetary policy, and vows to veto anything the Treasury Department sees as a “poison pill.”

Clinton also said she believes the draft agreement, which has not been made public, has “a problem” because corporations could overturn the pact’s health, environment and labor safeguards more easily than consumers could influence the rules.

“There are some amendments being proposed in the process right now that would direct the administration to cover certain issues or negotiate a certain way that I think have some merit,” she said of the ongoing trade debate.

Clinton’s next campaign stop is Hampton, N.H., on Friday, as she continues organizing in early primary states. On May 27 she will be in South Carolina, a state she famously lost to Obama in 2008. Her next stops are May 28-29 in Florida, June 3-4 in Texas, and June 23 in Missouri, MSNBC reported Tuesday.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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