Emanuel ribs Clinton over 'dead broke' comment at book tour stop

June 11, 2014

WBEZ/Alex Keefe
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talks about her new book, “Hard Choices,” with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel during a stop on her book tour Wednesday.

In an hourlong talk that touched on foreign policy, economics and her Chicagoland upbringing, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday still did not answer the question that has generated political speculation for months: Will she run for president in 2016?

Clinton sat down to be interviewed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for her first public appearance on a nationwide tour to plug her new book, Hard Choices. Emanuel, who had served as a top adviser to her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and was the White House Chief of Staff under President Barack Obama while Clinton was secretary of state, mostly stuck to softball questions.

But he ribbed Clinton about a controversial comment she made in a recent ABC News interview, when she said she and her family were “dead broke” when they left the White House.

“‘Dead broke?’ Really?” Emanuel asked.

“Well that may have not been the most artful way of saying that,” Clinton said. “You know, Bill and I have gone through a lot of different phases in our lives. That was then, this is now. And obviously we are very fortunate.”

Some Republicans pounced on that remark to portray Clinton, who is giving big-dollar speeches across the country, as out of touch.

She also reminisced about her time growing up in Northwest suburban Park Ridge, and visiting her father’s downtown Chicago office at the Merchandise Mart; where, she said, she was cautioned about sticking her head too far out the window on hot days, lest a “giant dragon” that lived in the Chicago River snatch her up.

But the former top U.S. diplomat was not afraid to stick her neck out when it came to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Clinton said some world leaders wouldn’t be happy to read the anecdotes in her new book, then added, “I’m talking to you, Vladimir.”

Clinton later lambasted Putin for passing a law, criticized as being anti-gay, that makes it a crime to distribute “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” to children.

“What Putin’s doing in Russia, with all these laws against the LGBT community, that is just a cynical political ploy,” Clinton said. “I’ve had shouting matches with top Russian officials about this.”

Clinton also addressed Tuesday’s surprising primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the U.S. House, suggesting Cantor lost to a more conservative candidate “who basically ran against immigrants,” she said.

“The answer is not to throw out of work and deport the 11 million immigrants who are contributing already to our economy,” Clinton said. “The answer is to grow our economy to create more jobs.”

Clinton did not address whether she would make a run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, as is widely speculated. But she did focus on what she said were the qualities of a good leader: “skin as thick as the hide of a rhinoceros,” and the ability to “make sausage” in a political environment where compromise is sometimes a dirty word.

“We’ve always managed to do that,” as a country, Clinton said, pointing to the constitutional amendment that ended slavery in 1865. “Look, did it take, you know, maybe giving some people some post office jobs? It might have. But it ended slavery! That’s a pretty good trade-off when you stop to think about it.”

Alex Keefe is political reporter at WBEZ. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.