Hillary Clinton on Friday dismissed as “pathetic” a threat from a conservative lawmaker to impeach her on her first day as president if elected, a view she said must be “good politics with the most intense, extreme part of [Republican] base."
The Democratic presidential front-runner was also forced to defend her husband’s record on civil liberties issues including same sex-marriage in a wide-ranging, exclusive interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. The interview was set to air Friday evening at 9 p.m. ET on MSNBC.
Clinton laughed when Maddow confronted her with the threat from Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks to try to depose Clinton on “day one” of her hypothetical presidency.
"Isn’t that pathetic?" the former secretary of state said with a smile. "It’s just laughable, it’s so totally ridiculous." She characterized it as one of many GOP efforts to win over "the most intense, extreme part of their base."
Maddow questioned Clinton on several fronts, including Syria policy, the future of the Veterans Administration, and what Maddow described as a personal concern that the Clintons have surrounded themselves with too many old friends who would want to "fight your wars again."
Maddow’s toughest questions addressed Bill Clinton’s legacy on civil rights and civil liberties. Many of President Obama’s accomplishments on those issues, Maddow argued, involved “undoing things from the Clinton administration.” In particular, Maddow cited Clinton’s embrace of the Defense of Marriage Act and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy blocking gays from serving openly in the military.
Hillary Clinton defended her husband’s record.
The Defense of Marriage Act, legislation Bill Clinton signed that defined marriage legally as between one man and one woman, was “a defensive action” to stymie what the Clintons believed was enough political momentum to amend the constitution to effectively bar gay marriage, Hillary Clinton said.
The tough-on-crime bill that her husband signed into law was a reaction to the “horrific crime rates of the 1980s,” the former first lady added.
"There was just a consensus across every community that something had to be done,” she said.
Clinton noted that she has since disavowed the law and was committed to reforming criminal justice policies. But Clinton framed her overall governing philosophy as one based on pragmatism, a realization that sometimes it’s necessary to choose the lesser evil.
"I think that sometimes as a leader in Democracy you are confronted with two bad choices. It is not an easy position to be in, and you have to try to think what is the least bad choice, and how do I try to cabin this off from having worse consequences?” she said.
She embraced President Obama’s tenure in office, however, saying she’d like to protect it and in fact “go farther" than he has on some issues.
Clinton spoke to Maddow fresh off her marathon testimony in front of the House panel investigating Benghazi during which, pundits say, she prevailed over 11 hours of pointed Republican questioning and attacks. Clinton blamed GOP partisans, saying the most conservative wing of the party forced many lawmakers to block needed legislation.
“There is this ideological purity test that, I think, unfortunately too many Republicans who know better are being subjected to,” she said.
To move past the gridlock in Washington, Clinton said, “we’ve gotta break the stranglehold that the extremist views in the Republican Party have on too many people who are otherwise sensible.”
When asked if President Obama was “naive” to have expected to work with Republicans in office, Clinton demurred, but said the president had been “bewildered” by GOP efforts to block in on issues like the economic stimulus package early in his first term, which was then overshadowed by the financial crisis and a deep recession.
“I spent a lot of time with him in the first four years and he was absolutely sincere [in trying to compromise], and he was often just bewildered that the evidence was clear, the results were going to flow, and the Republicans would privately say, ‘Yeah, you’re right, but I can’t, or I won’t.’”
In contrast, Clinton pledged to “go anywhere, talk to anybody, any time to try to find common ground, to try to achieve our national objectives,” but she also said she’d “stand by my ground.”
“I think it’s a constant balance about where one begins and the other one ends,” she said.
Clinton acknowledged a need to have a “good, old-fashioned argument and fight about progressive values about the alternatives,” but said some things should be above disagreement, like raising the debt limit.
“It is just beyond my understanding how anybody, despite how extreme he might be, would think it would be in America’s interest to default on our debt,” she said, perhaps a veiled jab at Republican presidential contender Ben Carson and some others in the field who has suggested he’d be open to a default to teach government spenders a lesson.
Clinton also defended her and Obama’s record on Libya, which many critics from both sides of the aisle have argued was due in part to the Obama administration’s successful effort to oust Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, which created a vacuum of power that was filled by extremists.
Clinton said a fledgling democracy had sprung up in Libya following the ouster, but it didn’t have the proper resources to take root. She pledged to recommit support to the country.
"I’m not prepared to give up on Libya. I think we have to do more to invest in Libya," she said.
But on Syria, Clinton sounded less optimistic, saying the chaos there was a "different story but perhaps an even worse outcome" if mishandled.
Still, for a moment on Thursday night, after testifying on the situation in Libya for over 11 hours, Clinton said she took a momentary break from the pressures of international conflicts and the presidential race. After leaving the hearing, she said she invited the staff that helped prepare her to her home and they “sat around, eating Indian food and drinking wine and beer.”