Hillary Dances Around Tough Questions

Amanda Carpenter

10/31/2007 1:24:28 PM - Amanda Carpenter

Hillary Clinton’s reluctance to answer questions in Tuesday evening’s Democratic presidential debate earned her the worst reviews yet of her campaign.

Clinton dodged questions about her husband’s presidential library, taxes, and illegal immigration. Take a look at the post-debate transcript to see how she danced around these questions.

Clinton Library Accessibility

Background: The Clinton Presidential Library, which is taxpayer funded, has been operating for three years but Mr. Clinton made a request that all records related to Mrs. Clinton’s involvement in policy issues remain under lock and key. Clinton said it’s “not my decision” to release the records.

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RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, I'd like to follow up, because in terms of your experience as first lady, in order to give the American people an opportunity to make a judgment about your experience, would you allow the National Archives to release the documents about your communications with the president, the advice you gave? Because, as you well know, President Clinton has asked the National Archives not to do anything until 2012.

CLINTON: Well, actually, Tim, the Archives is moving as rapidly as the Archives moves. There's about 20 million pieces of paper there. And they are move, and they are releasing as they do their process. And I am fully in favor of that. Now, all of the records, as far as I know, about what we did with health care, those are already available. Others are becoming available. And I think that, you know, the Archives will continue to move as rapidly as its circumstances and processes demand.

RUSSERT: But there was a letter written by President Clinton specifically asking that any communication between you and the president not be made available to the public until 2012. Would you lift that ban?

CLINTON: Well, that's not my decision to make, and I don't believe that any president or first lady ever has. But, certainly, we're move as quickly as our circumstances and the processes of the National Archives permits.

Social Security

Background: Clinton has refused to say if she will raise taxes or cut benefits to solve the upcoming Social Security crises, although it was reported she privately told an Iowa voter she would consider raising taxes. When asked about this during the debate, she said the question was a “trap laid by Republicans.” Instead of answering the question, she said she will create a “bipartisan commission” to solve the problem.

RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, I want to clear something up which goes to the issue of credibility. You were asked at the AARP debate whether or not you would consider taxing, lifting the cap from $97,500, taxing that, raising more money for Social Security. You said, quote, It's a no. I asked you the same question in New Hampshire, and you said no. Then you went to Iowa and you went up to Ted Bowman, a teacher, and had a conversation with him saying, I would consider lifting the cap perhaps above $200,000. You were overheard by an Associated Press reporter saying that. Why do you have one public position and one private position?

CLINTON: Well, Tim, I don't. I have said consistently that my plan for Social Security is fiscal responsibility first, then to deal with any long-term challenges which I agree are ones that we are going to have to address. We would have a bipartisan commission. In the context of that, I think all of these would be considered. But, personally, I do not want to balance Social Security on the backs of our seniors and middle-class families. That's why I put fiscal responsibility first, because we have to change the Bush tax cuts, which I am committed to doing. We have to move back toward a more fair and progressive tax system, and begin once again to move toward a balanced budget with a surplus. You know, part of the idea in the '90s was not just so Bill would have a check mark next to his name in history, but so that we would have the resources to deal with a lot of these entitlement problems. George Bush understood that. The Republicans understood that. They wanted to decimate that balanced budget and a surplus because they knew that that would give them a free hand to try to privatize Social Security. I am not going to be repeating Republican talking points. So when somebody asks me, would something like this be considered, well, anything could be considered when we get to a bipartisan commission. But personally, I am not going to be advocating any specific fix until I am seriously approaching fiscal responsibility.

RUSSERT: But you did raise it as a possibility with Ted Bowman?

CLINTON: Well, but everybody knows what the possibilities are, Tim. Everybody knows that. But I do not advocate it. I do not support it. I have laid out what I do believe, and I am going to continue to emphasize that. I think, for us to act like Social Security is in crisis is a Republican trap. We're playing on the Republican field. And I don't intend to do that.

Rangel’s AMT Plan

Background: Rep. Charles Rangel (D.-N.Y.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has introduced a bill to reform the Alternative Minimum Tax, which now taxes more people than originally intended each year. Rangel has proposed repealing the AMT but retaining the revenue by imposing a four percent surtax on singles making $150,000 and couples making $200,000 per year. At a Harlem event, which both Clintons attended with Rangel, the former President endorsed the plan. Hillary refused to say if she did as well.

RUSSERT: You went to Harlem with your husband, with Charlie Rangel. And the former president said, quote, Charlie Rangel wants me to pay more taxes so you can pay less and I think that's a good idea. Is that also your view?

CLINTON: Well, I am a great admirer of Chairman Rangel. And what he's trying to do is deal with a very serious problem. You know, the Alternative Minimum Tax was never intended to hit people are in middle income, upper middle income. It was meant for people who are rich and evading taxes. Now I don't know all the details of what Charlie is recommending, but I certainly agree with the goal. We've got to do something with the Alternative Minimum Tax. There are a lot of ways of getting there. I want it to be fair and progressive. It starts in the House, it starts in the Ways and Means Committee, which he chairs. But I think my husband was expressing an opinion that a lot of people who have been very fortunate and blessed over the last six and a half years feel. You know, we've not been asked to sacrifice anything. You know, young men and women wearing the uniform of our country are dying and being maimed. We have the average American family losing a thousand dollars in income, and George Bush and his cronies can't figure out how they can give even more tax cuts to the wealthiest of Americans. Now, I never thought Bill and I would be in that category, to be honest with you. So it's kind of a new experience. But it's not one that make us very comfortable, because we should be investing in new energy, we should be investing in college affordability, universal pre-K, the kind of health care plan that I've outlined. That's what we intend to do. But we're going to have to deal with the AMT, something that the Republicans have refused to do because, very frankly, it hits people who are below their concern. They're concerned about the real top wage earners. This hits people that are, you know, the police chief. This hits people that are, you know, two income families that are doing well. So we're going to have to do something about it. I think Charlie's being very courageous in moving forward. I don't agree with all the details, but he's on the right track to say we've got to do something about the AMT.

RUSSERT: So in principle, you would be in favor of looking at a 4 percent surtax?

CLINTON: No, I didn't say that, Tim. I said that I'm in favor of doing something about the AMT. How we do it and how we put the package together everybody knows is extremely complicated. It's not going to happen while George Bush is president. Everybody knows that. I want to get to a fair and progressive tax system. The AMT has to be part of what we try to change when I'm president. And there are a lot of moving pieces here. You know, there are kinds of issues we're going to deal with as the tax cuts expire. I want to freeze the estate tax at the 2009 level of $7 million for a couple. There's a lot of moving parts. So I'm not going to get committed to a specific approach, but I applaud Chairman Rangel for beginning the conversation.

RUSSERT: But you will not campaign on the Rangel plan?

CLINTON: No, no. That's Charlie Rangel's plan. And, as I say, I support and admire his willingness to take this on.

Driver’s Licenses for Illegal Aliens

Background: When asked if she supported giving driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, Clinton said it was a “gotcha” question.

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RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, I just want to make sure of what I heard. Do you, the New York senator, Hillary Clinton, support the New York governor's plan to give illegal immigrants a driver's license? You told the New Hampshire paper that it made a lot of sense. Do you support his plan?

CLINTON: You know, Tim, this is where everybody plays gotcha. It makes a lot of sense. What is the governor supposed to do? He is dealing with a serious problem. We have failed. And George Bush has failed. Do I think this is the best thing for any governor to do? No. But do I understand the sense of real desperation, trying to get a handle on this? Remember, in New York, we want to know who's in New York. We want people to come out of the shadows. He's making an honest effort to do it. We should have passed immigration reform.