Hillary Clinton spent Monday morning talking to a friendly audience about policies that could help cities, and with unabashed pride, name checked Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), her controversial family foundation, several times.
The message? CGI is an asset, not an albatross.
Republicans and reporters look at CGI as a treasure trove of scandals, laden with foreign money from governments with questionable human rights practices and potential conflicts of interest.
But to Clinton, it’s a living laboratory of programs that work alongside government, or instead of government, and in partnerships with corporations or foreign entities that may raise eyebrows among the pesky press but do good works.
The panel discussion at the Center for American Progress on Monday wasn’t the first time she has talked up the family foundation since the news of the foreign donations broke a few weeks ago.
Clinton touted CGI in both her paid speech to the American Camp Association last week as well as at the United Nations before and after her dismal press conference about her State Department emails.
“Her long relationship with CGI is a matter of public record; she’s not going to be able to run away from it, and if it’s a good idea, I wouldn’t advise her to stay silent about it,” says Bill Galston, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution and a former policy adviser in the Clinton White House. “If she’s going to get a lot of the downside of the relationship, why shouldn’t she get the upside?”
Nick Merrill, Clinton’s spokesman, said that while he doesn’t speak for the foundation, the press scrutiny “doesn’t stop her from being proud of the very substantial work and innovative ideas that have come out of there.”
When Neera Tanden, president of Center for American Progress, and a former Clinton staffer, asked Clinton why the country should care about the success, or failure, of cities, Clinton referenced the CGI’s work as “a convener” in addressing the issue of rampant inequality in cities where a highly educated and affluent population exists alongside people trapped in generational poverty.
She then described a CGI program called “Job One,” that works with companies to place people who’ve never had jobs.
Her comments were met with approving nods.
Clinton was very much in her element on the revitalization of cities panel.
She sat in the center of a roundish table that stretched out on both sides to accommodate other panelists, including HUD Secretary Julian Castro, who the audience was sizing up as a potential running mate should Clinton make it across the finish line on her second try.
“Well, amen,” Clinton said in her closing thoughts on the panel discussion. “I love conversations like this. It’s really nice to be getting back in on evidence-based solutions,” a remark that brought knowing laughter from the invited audience.
“We need to abolish the silos,” she said, a reference to the repeated declaration by the participants that the various parts of government need to talk to each other, and finally, that what’s needed is a culture of collaboration rather than a culture of confrontation.
And then came the hint—which has also become part of every Clinton speech lately.
“Mayor,” she said, turning to the mayor of Compton, California, 32-year-old Aja Brown, citing her work in disbanding gangs, “Don’t be surprised if you get a call, not too far from here, beautiful domed building…” where help is needed to bridge gaps, Clinton said amid the laughter at her teasing acknowledgment of what lies ahead should her campaign succeed.
In the audience were Victor and Sarah Kovner, longtime Democratic activists and fundraisers in New York.
They thought Clinton did well, that she was relaxed and appears ready for the rough road ahead. They acknowledged the recent Boston Globe editorial calling on Elizabeth Warren to enter the primaries, if only to ensure Clinton is in fighting form for the general election.
“Sure, she could use a debate, but not one that’s going to tear us apart,” Sarah Kovner told The Daily Beast.
Asked what she thought of Castro as a potential running mate, Kovner said no, too young and inexperienced. Democrats did that with the current president. Clinton could be seen nodding approvingly as Castro, the 40-year-old former mayor of San Antonio, declared, “We’re falling in love with cities again,” as he recounted programs he put in place for his city’s poorest residents, including such simple things as improving bus routes.
That’s all well and good, but Kovner’s candidate is Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, former governor, old enough (57), experienced, no skeletons, no drama, and from a state Clinton would need to win.
But then that’s getting way ahead of where we are in this process, so many more stories to write, and boxes to check before we know whether the rules are truly different this time, and which ones apply to the Clintons.