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Interview with Hillary Clinton

Brian Williams interviewed the presidential hopeful on Jan. 16, 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Brian Williams: I want to take you back to the last rally of the New Hampshire campaign.  An executive fitness center.

Hillary Clinton: Yes.

Brian Williams: Indoor tennis courts.

Hillary Clinton: Right.

Brian Williams: We were there. We waited for you to arrive. And—and correct me if I’m wrong. I, having covered your husband’s presidency and having become familiar with the Clinton family political dynamic.  All of us who were there sensed something in the air. One of our producers said that it looked like your daughter, Chelsea, had tears in her eyes.  It was an air of sentimentality.

Maybe a little, sadness. And I said to someone, “Maybe they’ve seen some internal. Maybe there’s word within the campaign that New Hampshire isn’t going to go well.” Is my hunch correct?  Did you think on the night before the vote that maybe it was going another way?

Hillary Clinton: You’re right, I didn’t think that. I think that you did correctly see a lot of emotion from all of us because obviously, New Hampshire is a place that we have a lot of affection for. We had been waging the most intense four-day campaign that I’ve ever seen or heard about.

I felt it moving toward me. I just didn’t know whether there’d be enough time. I was saying to people if we had another week, I think we would really be able to pull this off, even another couple of days. The crowd that turned out there in Manchester was far bigger and more enthusiastic than we had anticipated. That had been happening every day.

Brian Williams: (UNINTEL) traffic for miles.
Hillary Clinton: It was unbelievable.  And it’s one of the reasons why we were a little late because you couldn’t get in. And we had to let as many people actually come in and park and get into the facility. I felt it. I could feel the movement.

Now, it was a short night. You know, we finished that rally, shook thousands of hands it felt like, and had very little sleep. And I got up the next morning and I went to polling places—before dawn. Went to a number of them. Brought coffee to my volunteers. Met a lot of voters. You know, I’ve never been one who really paid much attention to polls because they are such snapshots.

And, you know, the methodology and all the rest of it, you’re never quite sure what’s going on behind the numbers that come out. I trust my instincts. I trust my feeling that, okay, I’m looking at somebody and they’re looking back at me. Their handshake is firm. They’re not sliding away because they’re embarrassed because you’re not supporting me, you’re not voting for me. I came back from being out there at these polling places early afternoon on that Tuesday. And I knew we were gonna do much better than anybody anticipated.

Brian Williams: What was it you felt turning in New Hampshire?  Enough with the analysis.  Let’s hear it from the candidate. What do you think happened in New Hampshire?

Hillary Clinton: I think the election in a very real way started with the New Hampshire debate. I felt like that debate really began to draw the comparisons and contrasts, among us as candidates.  As soon as I left the stage, I was walking out, a cameraman grabbed my hand and said, “That was great.”

I began to hear from people that, you know, didn’t have any stake in it one way or the other that, you know, they agreed with me on the issues. They thought that I had really put forth a strong—argument for my candidacy. I went door to door in Manchester, in and out of people’s homes. I could feel the sense that people had that this election needed to be about them.

You know, enough with the, with all due respect, the people on TV and being told what’s going to happen.  You know, New Hampshire voters are notoriously independent.  They wanted to make their own judgment.  I answered hundreds of questions.  I saw thousands of people. I think I began in a much better way than I had previously in the campaign, you know, connecting with people on all levels.

You know, as a woman, I may have gone a little overboard in the beginning of this campaign to really make my case to be commander-in-chief. Because I know at the end of the day people look at who’s running for President and they have to ask themselves, “Is this somebody who will protect and defend us?”  And I didn’t spend as much time talking about why I’m motivated to do what I do, what I’ve done for 35 years. All of that came together in New Hampshire. And I felt really good about it.

Brian Williams: You told John Meacham , the editor of Newsweek, that you thought the—the question that caused a—a brief emotional moment on your part was a moment of grace.  How did that question convert itself, in your mind, into a moment of grace?

Hillary Clinton: You know, Brian, I try to live in the moment in these campaigns. You know, if you were following me around with a little, tiny mini-cam, you’d see a lot of moments like that, where somebody, you know, says, “I need your help.”  Or they throw their arms me around and say that, “my son got an operation because of a program you did.” Or, you know, “I just want you to know I’m with you.”

Being in the moment at that time was, I thought a very touching connection. Because I’m usually asking people. I’m kind of maybe overly other directed. I’m saying, “Well, how are you? What can I do for you?  What’s going on?”

You know, whatever the reason for this woman to say, “Well, how do you get up in the morning?”  Well, how do any of us get up in the morning?  You know, we get up in the morning because we have work to do.  We have children to take care of.  We have, you know, a job to go to.  We have a, you know, a problem we have to solve.  That’s how we all get up in the morning.

And it was not, and, and the barrier between sort of me as a candidate and people fell.  It was like the veil falling for me.  And it was so moving to me because, you know, I’m in this because of people.  I don’t think politics is a game.  I mean, with, you know, the experience that I’ve had, what matters to me at the end of the day is, you know, what, if anything, have I done to try to help somebody else?  I have so many blessings in my life.

And I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given.  But I got into public service long before I ever held public office because I see what happens in people’s lives when they don’t have a champion, when they don’t have somebody there in their corner. And I just felt all that kind of rushing into me at that moment.

Brian Williams: TheNewsweek article on you says that the shell that cracked open in New Hampshire must remain open.  Is that too trite?  Or do you kind of believe that?

Hillary Clinton: I do believe that.  You know, I have a great wealth of friends and people that I have known for a lifetime.  And they’ve all, you know, they always go around telling people, “Well, if you only knew her the way we knew it knew her.” And I’m sure you’ve heard that from people.

And in today’s, you know, political environment, I think it is important for people to know more about me.  And, you know, that’s not ever been easy for me.  I was not raised to talk about myself.  I find it, you know, a little bit disconcerting to do so. But I want people to know that, you know, what motivates me are the people whose lives I get to enter.

You know, when you’re in politics, it is a blessing. You get to go in and out of people’s homes.  I was sitting in a living room of a man who just lost his job in a casino here because of a downturn in the economy.  His wife was a housekeeper as the sole support of their family with two young children.  And we sat and talked in his home about what that meant to him and how it really, you know, was very, you know, troubling to him that he needed to get a job.  He needed to get back into the workforce.  I met a construction worker who, you know, said he never thought the jobs would recede here in Las Vegas.

So I see what people are up against. And, you know, I do think that to whom much is given, much is required.  You know, that is part of how I ground my public service in my faith. I know that, you know, as I was taught, you know, faith without works is dead. But works without faith is just too hard. And I get up every day trying to figure out maybe it’s just an individual that I meet who’s had a terrible time getting the help that he or she needs.

Or maybe it’s a big problem like the economy and what we’re facing today and the distress people are telling me that they face losing their homes and losing their job.  But I think being in public office is a public trust.  And I want to try to deliver results on that trust.

Brian Williams: I have a daughter who’s a sophomore in college. And over the course of her lifetime she has only known presidents named Bush or Clinton. You’ve heard this question (laughter) before. Is that good for America?  If you’re successful, if you’re a successful two-term president, it would be 28 years of just Presidents Bush or Clinton. And couldn’t you see yourself if the tables were turned, if it wasn’t your last name, arguing that that’s too great a concentration in two American political families?

Hillary Clinton: Well, as I’ve said before, I regret that President Bush was elected.  I think that’s one of the problems. And I tried to work very hard to have a different outcome in both 2000 and 2004.  But what’s great about our political system is nobody’s guaranteed anything.

It is the roughest, toughest political gauntlet that anybody in the world has to run, you know?  You have to start from scratch. It doesn’t matter who you are. You’ve got to make your case to the American people.  You have to raise ungodly sums of money.  And I think that’s part of us being a meritocracy, you know?  We shouldn’t be advantaged or disadvantaged by our families.

We should be judged on our merits.  And what I have found in this election is that people are looking at each of us.  And look at the moment in history we have arrived at. A son of the South with John Edwards, an extraordinary African American with Barack, a woman. That wouldn’t happen anywhere else.

And it has happened because of the sacrifice and the commitment of so many who’ve come before.  And I think the American people are pretty smart about judging what they want in a President.  And, you know, they need a President now who can, you know, run the government and manage the economy, set big goals for America, and then roll up our sleeves together and realize those goals.

Brian Williams: Fascinating article a while back inAtlantic Monthly about a young rookie Senator who came to your office.  You hadn’t been in the Senate that long.  And you were—gave him all the right advice on committee assignments and press (laughter) conferences and how to get along in the U.S. Senate.  And suddenly this rookie Senator, Barack Obama, is your chief opponent.  Did your campaign not see him coming?

Hillary Clinton: Well, in America anybody can decide to run for President.  And that’s what’s so great about our system. But I campaigned for him. I raised money for him. I was thrilled when he was elected.

And when he asked me for advice about how to be an effective Senator, I certainly gave it to him.  Because what I believe is that we should all do the best job we can. And when I got to the Senate, there were a lot of people who said I wouldn’t work with Republicans and Republicans wouldn’t work with me.  They didn’t know me. You know, I rolled up my sleeves and I got to work.

And I’m proud of the record that I achieved in my first term as a Senator. But, you know, I don’t have any, you know, any reason to second guess anybody’s decision.  You know, that’s what’s so great about this country.  And look at the results.  We now have a very close contest, among those who are still contesting for the Democratic nomination.

I’m happy about that. I think that’s exactly what America needs. Obviously I think that my 35 years of experience, the results I got in a full term in the Senate, being reelected with 67 percent of the vote, being on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, understanding how you translate a vision of change into a reality of change. I think that really gives me a very strong basis for my candidacy. And I’m making that case every single day.

Brian Williams: Talk about the power of words, especially in a campaign where your chief opponent is an African American.  A lot of very smart people, a lot of columnists said, “Of course I understand what Senator Clinton was saying about MLK and LBJ.  There wouldn’t have been a Civil Rights Act of 1964 without the guidance and leadership of LBJ.  But, of course, there wouldn’t have been a civil rights movement without the towering moral authority of Dr. King, of the near death beating of people like John Lewis.”  And yet you know what happened to your comments in that issue in the days since.

Hillary Clinton: Well, and I really regretted that because it was very much, you know, off topic.  It was baseless.  And it was, personally hurtful, because obviously I know as well as anyone, I heard Dr. King speak. I mean, he began transforming my life, the night that I heard him as a young girl.

But this is a false choice.  It’s not either/or.  You have to have movements.  You have to have political—uprisings, if you will.  You’ve got to have people who put themselves on the line for change.  I am the beneficiary of the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, of the human rights movement.  So there’s not a contradiction.

And the real point is that we need to do it all in America. We need to have our nation engaged.  American people have to feel that they’re part of the change that is happening.  But we have to have leadership as Dr. King himself recognized so many times, that will respond and shape and deliver the results that the movement tees up for us to accomplishment.  So it’s like this false choice between change or experience. You’ve got to have both. You have to have, you know, the strength and experience to make the change. I obviously think I have the experience we need to make the change we want in America.

Brian Williams: Have you war gamed the possibility that if you lose this contest that it would have been because you were up against a movement or, as some have called Senator Obama, more of an ideal than a candidate—and that it wasn’t a fair fight perhaps? But that’s the way it went?

Hillary Clinton: Well, elections always come down to choices between people.  On the ballot you have individuals with our records and our qualifications.  I think I have a very strong case that if you wanna know what kind of change any of us will bring, look at the changes we’ve already brought. That’s usually the best indicator of future behavior.

And I was taken aback when Senator Obama said yesterday that he didn’t intend to try to—manage or run the government that he was going to have advisors to do that.  That is very reminiscent of what we’ve had for the last seven years. I intend to run the government.

I intend to manage the economy. I intend to take personal responsibility. And I intend to hold the government of the United States accountable to the taxpayers and the citizens of America.  I think I know what it will take to translate all of our vision and all of our ideals. I mean, I have huge goals for America that I have set forth to translate that into reality.

Now, right now I’ve got an economic stimulus package because we’ve got to take action.  We’re slipping if not already in a recession.  We’ve got to make it as shallow and short as possible.  We need a President who will step up and do what is necessary. I offer a lifetime of experience of making positive change, of setting big goals, and of knowing you’ve got to run the government and manage the economy that you’re actually gonna produce results for the American people.

Brian Williams: I guess what I’m getting at is originally when you were thinking about running you faced this race as the only historic candidate in the race.  You were up against what some people say is a more (laughter) historic candidate in this race.

Hillary Clinton: I’m thrilled by that, Brian.  You know, I was sitting there last night, you know, looking at Senator Obama and looking at Senator Edwards, and thinking about how remarkable it is that the three of us were there on that stage with you and Tim Russert.  You know, I have been involved in these struggles for so long that I am, you know, excited.

I am gratified that in my country we have this moment of opportunity.  Now, obviously I believe that I would be the better President. I wouldn’t be getting up at the crack of dawn and working past midnight.  But I recognize and I celebrate the historic moment that we have right now.

Brian Williams: Question about an issue currently on the front burner in our society. Steroids.  Performance-enhancing drugs.  Growth hormones.  I guess it was yesterday Commissioner Selig up on Capitol Hill, Senator George Mitchell says hundreds of thousands of our young people are—are using, injecting these drugs.  What about enforcement, responsibility, penalties?  Should, for example, Marion Jones be going to prison for what she did?

Hillary Clinton: I don’t think that is called for because I think that we’ve had a very blurry set of rules and standards in professional sports.  And that has, unfortunately, spilled over—to our young people.  You know, it’s a little ironic to have the baseball commissioner, you know, now talking about what should be done because it sure wasn’t done before.

The baseball owners and the unions were complicit in basically trying to cover up and deny what was going on.  So I think we’ve got to have a very clear set of rules and standards.  And we need people to speak out about, you know, the damaging effects that this has.  We know the physical effects and the mental effects and even the life-threatening effects that it can have.

But it also undermines our heroes.  I mean, it takes away that sense that, “Oh, my gosh, look at what this man is doing.  Look at what this woman can achieve with hard work and God-given ability that has just made her such a star.”  It undermines what we believe about the—about human possibility and potential.  And it’s very damaging.  It’s damaging, not only to our sports figures, it’s damaging to us as a nation.  So I am absolutely in favor of moving rapidly to do as much as we can to end this scourge of using these performance-enhancing drugs, these dangerous drugs, and making it very clear there will be penalties and strong penalties going forward.

Because we’ve got to penalize those who are selling it, who are prescribing it. We have to penalize those who stand silently by while it goes on. And, yes, we will have to move towards penalizing those who use it because this is just not acceptable.

Brian Williams: So one more point on Marion Jones.  She’s given up everything she once earned. Five medals, a huge monetary penalty, and her reputation.

Hillary Clinton: Right.
Brian Williams: She’s the mother of two young boys. TheNew York Times says it’s believed she’s still breast feeding her youngest child.  And apparently because she’s not admitted to knowingly taking these substances, six months in prison.  That’s too harsh?

Hillary Clinton: You know, I’m not going to talk about the kind of criminal penalties.  I think that she went through a tremendous ordeal and gave up her life’s work and her accomplishments.  I don’t know the facts.  And I do know this, Brian, that there are a lot of people who stood to gain.

They gained monetarily.  They gained reputations.  They gained access to world-class athletes.  I don’t know what doctors told her.  I don’t know what trainers told her.  I think that—you know, we ought to start now and say, “Look, whatever happened before, this has to end.”

And we can’t just go after the athletes. We need to go after the enablers. And that, frankly, goes way up the scale to the people who run professional sports, often to the people who are involved in the Olympics.  This is, there’s enough blame to go around here.

Brian Williams: Another topic from the news.  This, corporate foreign ownership.  We talked about it in the debate last night.  Two huge names.  Citigroup and Merrill Lynch—looking for $20 billion cash from overseas to stay afloat from the following nations:  Japan, a nation once vanquished and rebuilt by the United States; Korea, where American soldiers fought; Kuwait, where American soldiers expelled Saddam.

We are taking money from Prince Alwaleed, whose money was turned away by Rudolph Giuliani, now propping up Citigroup.  Could you blame a member of, say, the greatest generation, who felt they fought to save the world for the United States, for being upset at looking at the present state of things, where these icons of the money business in the United States are going overseas looking for money to start afloat?

Hillary Clinton: Well, Brian, I’m upset. And we brought this on ourselves both by government policies and by decisions made in boardrooms across America.  And one of the reasons I’m running for President is so we don’t break face with the greatest generation and generations before who gave us these extraordinary opportunities.

We are on the brink of squandering so many of them.  When you move from a projected $5.6 trillion surplus when George Bush became President to a $9 trillion debt and that debt is held by governments around the world, when we now have the sovereign wealth funds that are not disciplined by the market in many instances but are government controlled, when we continue our dependence on foreign oil and our President goes hat in hand to the Middle East begging the OPEC countries to lower the price, this is our fault.

And there’s enough blame to go around.  We have been spending recklessly.  We have not been investing smartly.  We have tilted the tax codes to the wealthiest of Americans.  And we now see the effects with a declining economy and unemployment and so many problems in the lives of the people that talk to me.

We’ve got to move.  And we’ve got to move quickly.  Now, I think we should do more to reign in the sovereign wealth funds, to make them more transparent.  I’ve called Citi International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and central banks including our Fed to begin to set up some rules, some ground rules.

Obviously a lot of the institutions that I’m proud to represent in New York are now in a very tight place and they have to take this action.  But they need to constrain the influence because it’s not just a global investment fund.  It is a sovereign wealth fund.  We often have differences in our security and our national goals with some of these countries.  Therefore, we’ve got to have some ground rules before we just take this money that is not disciplined by the market the way that private investment would be.

But this raises a much bigger issue. I think this election is so important because we’re really at a turning point.  We have beggared ourselves. We have failed to meet the energy demands in a responsible, clean, renewable energy way.  We have denied global warming.  We have an increase in people without insurance.

We have this home foreclosure crisis which is undermining the housing making and so much else.  We’ve got to take action now.  I’ve outlined a plan.  I hope that the President will begin working with the Congress.  But that’s just the beginning.  We need short-term, medium-term, and long-term changes in how we address the position we’re in right now as a country.

Brian Williams: A colleague of yours in the Senate, Joe Lieberman, is campaigning with Republican colleagues of yours, John McCain.  Should Joe Lieberman still be a member of the Democratic Party?  Should he be able to run a committee under the Democratic banner?

Hillary Clinton: Well, Joe is an independent Democrat.  And as an independent Democrat, you know, he certainly decides who he’s going to support. But he caucuses with us. He votes with us. And, you know, I certainly believe that’s important we continue that.

Brian Williams: Let’s talk about immigration in light of one case up in Reno.  Federal agents raided a few establishments.  Fifty-five arrests were made at some of the fast food places. They came in and found illegal workers.  Is that the kind of piecemeal approach to these raids; is that the way to go about it?

Hillary Clinton: No, it’s not. We need comprehensive immigration reform.  We need to do everything we’ve been talking about to tighten border security.  I voted for more technology, more personnel.  I have voted for physical barriers because we’ve got to get control over our borders.

We do have to crack down on employers.  People wouldn’t come here if they didn’t have a job waiting for them.  We need to provide more help to communities like Reno and others that, you know, end up paying for healthcare, education, law enforcement.  I want to do more with our neighbors to the south to see if we can’t help them create more jobs so that people can actually stay at home and have a better economic future.

And then we’ve got to deal with what is 12 to 14 million people here illegally.  And I hear the voices on the Republican side.  I hear them in the broadcast media calling for deportation, round them up.  And whenever I hear that, Brian, I say, “Fine, you tell me how we will do that.”  It will take tens of thousands of federal law enforcement officials not just with occasional raids but literally going door to door into our homes, into our businesses, looking for people who are here illegally.

It would take more than $200 billion to fund that kind of intrusive privacy shredding event that I think Americans would never stand for.  And what I wanna do is to say let’s get real here.  These people need to be brought out of the shadows and registered.  If they’ve committed a crime here or in the country they came from, they should be deported immediately, no questions asked.

If, however, the vast majority who have worked hard, their kids are in school here, if they wish to have a pass to legalization, they’ve got to meet some tough conditions.  They do have to pay a fine because they came here illegally.  They did break the law.  They have to pay back taxes.  It might take years but they’ve got to make amends there.  They have to begin to try to learn English.  And we’ve got to do more to help them to try to learn English.

I actually had a piece of legislation with the Republican Senator from Nevada Senator Ensign, where we’re trying to do more to help people in the workplace learn English.  Then they have to wait in line behind everybody who’s here and coming legally.  And over the course of ten, 12 years, they will be able to earn legalization.

But once they are registered and once they sign on to these conditions we have imposed, they will become legal so that employers will not be able to exploit them or, frankly, undercut the job market and prevent Americans who are here legally from having these jobs.  I don’t see any alternative.  And that’s what I will work for immediately upon becoming President.

Brian Williams: We have two minutes left. I guess I should ask you to look back on the campaign so far.  Akin to the question in New Hampshire, it has gotten personal quite early. How have you kept going?

Hillary Clinton: Well, I believe in what I’m doing so deeply. I see these problems. I care passionately about the people who I meet, you know, who tell me they don’t have healthcare and they don’t have a job.  And they deserve better than what they’re getting from our current government.

I know what we can do.  I know we can meet these goals.  That’s what America’s about.  Since when did we become the can’t-do nation?  Oh, we can’t provide healthcare.  We can’t deal with our energy crisis.  I don’t believe that.  I reject that, Brian.

I came of age when, you know, we had our sights on the moon.  You know, when we were breaking down barriers thanks to people like Dr. King that prevented all of our country from living up to our own God-given potential.  I want us to believe in ourselves again.  We are a good and great nation.

We can unleash the ingenuity and the power of the American innovative spirit.  And I can be the President who does that.  I see so clearly how we can make the progress that needs to be America’s birthright.  That’s our common purpose:  making this progress, living by our values, restoring our leadership around the world.

So, you know, the nights are short, the days are long.  But I’m always motivated because sometime during every day somebody tells me, like they did in Nevada yesterday, “Thanks for starting the children’s health insurance program.  It really made all the difference to my boy.”  “Thanks for, you know, being on our side when it came to standing up against the White House and the Pentagon that wanted to take the signing bonuses away from wounded soldiers.”  I really measure what I do in terms of what difference it makes in somebody else’s life.

There’s an endless opportunity to help people.  So it doesn’t matter to me how hard it gets.  I think I’m doing it for the right reason.  I think I can make a difference in my country.  So I’m gonna get up and keep going as long as it takes.