Answering the 'Why' : Previewing Hillary Clinton's Launch Speech

by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /  / Updated 

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Hillary and answering the “why”

As Hillary Clinton is set to appear at her first big campaign-style event on Saturday, it’s worth remembering that she never gave a why-I’m-running-for-president speech at the beginning of her campaign in 2007. Her launch was a video of her speaking to the camera that she wanted a conversation with American voters. "Let's talk, let's chat, let's start a dialogue about your ideas and mine.” But there was nothing about WHY she was the best person to lead the country over the next four to eight years, or even WHY she wanted the job. By contrast, Obama answered the WHY in his Feb. 10, 2007 kickoff, using Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield, IL as the backdrop:

  • By ourselves, this change will not happen. Divided, we are bound to fail. But the life of a tall, gangly, self-made Springfield lawyer tells us that a different future is possible. He tells us that there is power in words. He tells us that there is power in conviction… That's why I'm in this race. Not just to hold an office, but to gather with you to transform a nation.” Obama’s WHY: He was the only presidential candidate who could truly transform the country.
  • Here was even Mitt Romney’s WHY at his presidential announcement in June 2011: “All of these experiences -- starting and running businesses for 25 years, turning around the Olympics, governing a state -- have helped shape who I am and how I lead... Turning around a crisis takes experienced leadership and bold action.” Translation: I’m the businessman and turnaround artist this country’s economy needs!

A sneak peak at part of the “why” Hillary will lay out on Saturday

The Clinton campaign insists we’ll hear the WHY from her on Saturday. And we’re already getting some clues about what it will be. First is the location -- Roosevelt Island in New York City -- as a way to invoke both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. “Clinton chose a park honoring FDR in the state where she served as senator for eight years, a choice campaign officials say is meant to invoke Roosevelt’s legacy,” MSNBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald reports. “‘She could have chosen anywhere to make her announcement,’ said Felicia Wong, the President of the Roosevelt Institute, a progressive think tank dedicated to carrying on the legacy of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. ‘By choosing this venue, she and her team have put themselves squarely in the legacy and the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt, who re-wrote the rules of the 20th century.’” Another clue is Hillary’s expected focus on her mother. “As a child, Dorothy Rodham was abandoned by her parents and sent to live with strict relatives. Not able to bare it anymore, she ran away at 14 and worked as a housekeeper for a kind-hearted woman who took her in and showed her what parenting should look like. That trauma and resilience, Clinton has said, taught her and how to be tough and made her want to help people in difficult circumstances,” Seitz-Wald adds. So, to put Saturday another way, it’s fair to call it the first-EVER Hillary Clinton presidential announcement address

Changes of conviction? Or changes of convenience?

In her speech tomorrow, Hillary is also expected to embrace being a progressive -- more than she ever did at this point in 2007. Yet don’t forget that she has made quite a few position changes to get her: supporting gay marriage, backing immigration-reform changes beyond President Obama’s executive actions, favoring drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants, supporting normalization with Cuba. It will be interesting to see if these changes tomorrow come across as changes of conviction or changes of convenience/ One other thing to keep in mind about tomorrow: Delivering big speeches at rallies has never been one of Hillary’s strengths.

Today’s big trade showdown in the House

So Hillary’s rally in New York is the big political story tomorrow. But today’s big story is the House vote to give President Obama trade-promotion authority, or “fast track” authority. Per NBC’s Alex Moe, the votes on the various trade packages will likely take place in the 11:00 am ET hour. Yesterday afternoon, Moe adds, the rule setting up today’s votes barely passed by a 217-212 vote. It was only able to pass after eight Democrats threw their support behind the measure after it looked like it would go down to defeat. The Democrats voting yes: Earl Blumenauer (OR), Gerry Connolly (VA), Jim Cooper (TN), Henry Cuellar (TX), John Delaney (MD), Hank Johnson (GA), Ron Kind (WI), and Rick Larsen (WA). Don’t miss Luke Russert’s primer explaining this congressional showdown over trade. And NBC’s Frank Thorp reports that President Obama is meeting with House Democrats on Capitol Hill at 9:30 am ET.

Has the Democratic Party lost its mind over this trade vote?

Given that we live and breathe politics, we get disagreements over policy. But the vehemence coming from Democrats and Democratic groups over these trade votes is something we haven’t seen in the 6 ½ years of Obama’s presidency. Consider last month, when Sen. Sherrod Brown accused President Obama of being disrespectful to Elizabeth Warren by referring to her by her first name (even though he’s referred to Brown by his own first name). Consider yesterday, when anti-trade Rep. Rosa DeLauro accused House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of misreading her caucus on these votes. (Those are fighting words telling a leader that she is misreading her rank-and-file.) And now consider Howard Dean’s old Democracy for America outfit, which is threatening to primary any House Democrats who voted for the trade package. “[W]e will encourage our progressive allies to join us in leaving you to rot, and we will actively search for opportunities to primary you with a real Democrat,” DFA says. Wow. One of the backstories here is organized labor. They’re not as influential or powerful as they once were (see Wisconsin), but thanks to gerrymandering, they still have plenty of influence INSIDE the Democratic Party.

Will Pelosi back Obama on trade?

One final thing to keep an eye on: Pelosi is expected to give a floor speech today. She hasn’t said publicly if she supports the “fast track” measure, but the pro-trade Democrats are expecting (or hoping) that she will support it.

Can Jeb pull off the message that someone with the last name of Bush is a Washington outsider?

On Monday, Jeb Bush will OFFICIALLY launch his presidential bid from Miami, and Politico gets a sneak peak at Jeb’s remarks. “He plans to say that people inside D.C. can’t fix D.C. -- a swipe at the senators in the race (Rubio, Rand, Cruz, Graham).” But can someone named Bush pull off that message? Yes, we know Jeb is the former two-term governor of Florida, and we know he resides in Miami. But given his father’s and brother’s presidencies, and given the DC lobbyists who support him and are giving him money, can he sell GOP voters on that message?

Mark Kirk on Lindsey Graham: He’s a “bro with no ho”

If you’re a senator facing a tough re-election, there is one lesson you live by: do no harm. But Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) ignored that lesson when he was caught saying this about Sen. and presidential candidate Lindsey Graham at a hearing: He’s a “bro with no ho.” Graham took no offense, saying per NBC’s Frank Thorp: “Sen. Kirk said he regrets the comments. I believe that is the appropriate response."

On “Meet” this Sunday

NBC’s Chuck Todd will interview Mitt Romney and Hillary Campaign Chair John Podesta.

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