OTR Interviews

Sen. Hillary Clinton Goes 'On the Record'

This is a partial transcript from "On the Record," November 17, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.: I think I know a great leader when I see one. And so does America. In 1992 and 1996, Americans chose a president who left our country in better shape than when he took office.

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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: This is a special edition of "On the Record," live from Little Rock, Arkansas, where the Clinton Presidential Center officially opens Thursday. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton also has her own alcove in the library dedicated to programs she ran as first lady.

Earlier, I met with Senator Clinton for her first sit-down interview since the election. I started by asking her when she first came to Arkansas.

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SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.: In 1974. And so I spent 18 wonderful years here, first in Fayetteville and then in Little Rock.

VAN SUSTEREN: In your wildest dreams, did you ever think it would come to this?

CLINTON: No!

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: You know, I am overwhelmed. We had an incredible reunion lunch of all of the former first ladies of Arkansas today. And we told stories about what it was like moving into the governor's mansion, because a couple of us literally showed up with U-hauls and, you know, unloaded our things in the governor's mansion. And the idea that I would have, you know, had just this extraordinary experience here, the people were so wonderful to Bill and me, and then, you know, they helped make him president. And he wanted to bring the library right back here to really show how much he cares about Arkansas.

VAN SUSTEREN: Who designed this library?

CLINTON: James Polshek and a wonderful team of his young, vigorous creative architects. But Bill Clinton had a big hand in it. He knew exactly what he wanted. He wanted a building that would be architecturally significant and environmentally advanced. And it just won an environmental award. He wanted a building that was open and light, that was a real metaphor for what he thinks government and democracy should be, which is, you know, open to the people.

And then, in working with the architects, he and they came up with this idea of a building that was representative of the metaphor of building the bridge to the 21st century. I think they've done a fabulous job. This is really, probably, I think, fair to say, the first museum of the 21st century because it's so interactive, it's so technologically advanced.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know what I think is sort of interesting, as I went through the statistics about it, there are something like 80 million documents in there. I don't know who went through those documents, who had that job. But there are 20 million e-mails. I mean, this has to be the first presidential library with e-mails.

CLINTON: That's right. Well, you know, when we were first moving into the White House in 1993, there were, I think, 50 sites on the World Wide Web and it was mostly for scientists. And by the time Bill left there were, you know, I can't remember, some huge number like 50 million.

And so this library, in part because Bill liked to, you know, respond to people and made sure that his staff was so attentive, people felt like they could write to the president. They felt connected to him. He always conveyed a sense that he cared about people, and that was a hallmark of his administration.

But the result is that it's a rather enormous archive because everything is moved from Washington to wherever the president, whoever the president is, builds his library, and we have literally millions and millions of pieces of paper. And I'm really proud of the fact that he's going to try to get as much of it open for the public, for scholars, for the press, as soon as possible because he believes in open government. He wants people to see the whole picture, see, you know, everything that he wrote on, every memo that came to him that he responded to because he worked really hard, which meant that people generated a lot for him, as the president, you know, to read, analyze and respond to.

VAN SUSTEREN: Will he be giving lectures and participating? Will it be more than sort of just an archive or a museum?

CLINTON: It will be. Obviously, the museum is the attraction for the thousands of people who are going to be coming starting today and tomorrow. The archives are there for scholars and researchers. But there's also the Clinton School of Public Policy, which will begin to grant degrees to people, primarily in, you know, mid-life, or certainly after they've had some real-world experience, who want to make a difference in the public arena. That's going to be a major part of Bill's focus.

The foundation, which is located here and in New York at his Harlem office, will continue the work he has started primarily on behalf of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in Latin America, Africa and Asia. He will continue to work on economic empowerment and helping people really get the tools that they need to make better lives for themselves economically, racial and religious reconciliation, one of the biggest issues facing us, something he started when he was president.

So it's going to be a very active post-presidency, as it already has been the last four years. And he hopes to be able to hold a lot of seminars and meetings, international meetings, as well as, you know, national and local ones, here at the library and the entire center complex.

VAN SUSTEREN: This is great for Little Rock. I mean, I've talked to people here. They're excited to have it, as well as it's going to generate money for the community.

CLINTON: Well, I was told today at the luncheon I attended at the convention center with all of our former first ladies on behalf of the governor's mansion, that it's already generated close to a billion dollars in economic development.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there a part of the building that talks about the first lady, a part of the museum?

CLINTON: There is. One of the alcoves on the main floor tries to cover the work that I did as first lady with Bill and on behalf of issues affecting women and children at home and around the world -- obviously, health care, education, adoption, many of the causes I tried to champion.

And then on the second floor of the exhibit space, there are some of the more personal features. There's my inaugural dress from 1997. There's one of the gowns that I wore at one of the state dinners. There's a wonderful table that is set up as though it were for a state dinner, using the china that I had designed for the millennium. And then there are all these really touching pictures and artifacts that are both about us, as a family in the White House, and what people sent us and the gifts that they gave us, and you know, the pictures they drew.

It's both funny and touching. And the archivists who have some experience at other presidential libraries tell me that it's likely to be the most popular part of the library because it's the human part, you know.

VAN SUSTEREN: Does it talk about you running for the Senate?

CLINTON: It does, you know, just a little slice because that did happen at the end of Bill's term. So there's a picture there of my election. But it's mostly about what Bill did and what I tried to help him do. And it's all interactive, so that you can literally touch a computer screen and you can see what happened on every day of the year of all eight years.

And there's a constant running video. There are many, many video screens, and there's interviews and statements from people like Nelson Mandela. And you just get a sense of the almost explosive energy that went into Bill's presidency, that there was so much happening. There was, you know, so many positive steps for our nation, whether it was, you know, driving the crime rate down or the welfare reform or anything else that strikes you.

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VAN SUSTEREN: As we go to break here at the library, there are fireworks in the background. We're going to be back with much more from the former first lady of the United States. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: They're shooting off fireworks in Little Rock, Arkansas, outside the president's new presidential center right here behind me. And now for more of our interview with the former first lady, Senator Hillary Clinton. I asked her what it's like when a number of U.S. presidents from different parties get together.

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CLINTON: I remember very well when Bill was president, and we went down to Texas A&M for the dedication of the first President Bush's library. And it's a tradition. So tomorrow, we'll have former president Jimmy Carter, former president Bush, and President and Mrs. Bush with us. And I think that's especially important after this election, to show unity on behalf of our nation, to show our leaders past and present there together, really focusing on the future together. And it's, to me, a very touching part of our American political tradition.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is it fun to see all of these former presidents and their wives?

CLINTON: It is fun because, you know, there are things that, no matter what party you are or what age you came into the office, that you only share with this small group of people. It's an awesome honor to be given the chance to serve the American people, and we were fortunate to have it for eight years. And there's just a kinship there. Even if you are on opposite sides of the partisan divide, there's a recognition of the sacrifice, the hard work, the real burdens that come with the office. And I enjoy, you know, seeing our predecessors, as well as President and Mrs. Bush, on occasions like this.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is the museum going to capture things in the future, as well?

(LAUGHTER)

VAN SUSTEREN: For instance, let me give you the trick question. If you run for president in 2008, have you accommodated for that?

CLINTON: Well, I have no plans whatsoever of doing that.

VAN SUSTEREN: That was a trick question.

CLINTON: That was a trick question. You're good at it! But you know, I'm really happy being a senator from New York. But this is a library about the Clinton presidency, the Bill Clinton presidency.

VAN SUSTEREN: No, I couldn't trick you into that. I couldn't trick you into that one!

(LAUGHTER)

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, I planned that one.

CLINTON: Well, you know, Greta, I just feel so blessed. I mean, you know, coming back here -- and we've seen just in the, you know, few hours already, so many people who were part of the administration, who were supporters. I met three women who drove from Flint, Michigan. I met a couple who, you know, flew in from Seattle, Washington.

I'm just so touched by the outpouring of support for the idea that we want to remember what happened in those eight years, and we maybe want to learn some lessons from it, about how we try to build on positive progress. And obviously, you know, as the senator from New York, I'm thinking a lot about that because we're going to have big decisions facing us in the Senate. And you know, I'm hoping to bring some of the lessons of the Clinton presidency to the debate about issues like the deficit and Social Security and health care and other matters that are really important to people's lives.

VAN SUSTEREN: How about the Supreme Court? That's going to be a huge issue in this next four years.

CLINTON: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: What is your expectation, in terms of any appointment that comes from the White House for the Supreme Court?

CLINTON: Well, I'm going to wait and see. I would love to be able to enthusiastically support President Bush's nominees. I have voted for the vast majority of them. I have opposed, you know, a handful of them. But the Supreme Court is such a critical institution in our balance of power and our checks and balances that I hope, if there are openings, that the president sends nominees who are, you know, really worthy of commanding broad-based bipartisan support, not only in the Senate but across the country.

VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of leadership in the Democratic Party, who do you endorse or support or who would you like to see head of the DNC?

CLINTON: You know, there's been no decision made about who the DNC chair will be, but a number of very able people have expressed an interest. What I think is important is that the energy and the ideas that I believe mark us as Democrats really get a full hearing. Obviously, we have to do a better job in communicating with people and, you know, putting out ideas that are both workable and worthy of support.

And I've been, you know, very willing to reach across the partisan divide in the Senate to work on ideas that I thought were worthy and important, and I'd like to see more of that. But at the same time, I think, as a Democrat, I also want to, you know, clearly articulate, you know, why we think it's important, for example, to deal with the deficit, you know, why we think that's good for America, as opposed to just, you know, being caricatured and kind of put in a box by people who don't agree with us.

VAN SUSTEREN: What happened? Why did the Democrats, why did Senator Kerry not win? Why did you lose four seats in the Senate?

CLINTON: Well, I think the post-mortem on that is still going on. Obviously, I hoped we would do a lot better, and I was optimistic about both the presidential election and the Senate seats that were up. Clearly, we didn't do a very good job.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, why not?

CLINTON: Well, I think that, first of all, it is hard. And it's been proven hard in history. We've never unseated an incumbent president during wartime. That's just a given. So John Kerry, who ran a really strong, vigorous campaign, had a big uphill climb. In addition to that, I think that, you know, we didn't really do as good a job as I think we can addressing the broad range of issues that concern people.

You know a lot of people think of New York as a blue state. Well, we have a lot of really blue areas. We have some really red areas too. You know, President Bush carried I think 40 counties in New York.

And what I have found in the last four years is that, you know, people may not always agree with you but you owe them the respect of listening, which is something I believe very strongly in and, you know, expressing your opinions and having a dialog with people.

So, I hope that as we pick up the pieces from this last election we'll do more listening and reaching out and we won't just do it in the places that we won but, you know, we'll go to the places like Arkansas or upstate New York, places I'm very familiar with and, you know, listen to people and talk with people because I think if we do a better job of clearly communicating what we stand for, we will do better in elections. I was struck that two groups where we lost ground were women and Hispanics.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why?

CLINTON: You know, there's no reason for that but I saw some very interesting research in one of the papers which said that, you know, about four percent of the people made up their mind in the last day and I don't think we can underestimate the impact on individuals of, you know, just the concerns about the Iraq war, the concerns about terrorism, which I understand.

I mean, you know, I was there the day after 9/11 in New York. I saw the horrors of that attack. You know, I think we have to be, you know, strong and aggressive but we have to be smart and I don't know that we did as good a job as we should have sort of drawing the contrast.

You know let's just accept that we're going to do everything we can to keep America safe. That's what I've tried to do now for three years. But I don't think we've done enough in homeland security.

I don't think that we have protected our borders or our ports or provided our first responders with the resources they need, so we can do more and we can do better.

VAN SUSTEREN: How do you protect the borders, though? I mean like it's a great idea, you know, but I mean, I mean our borders are vast.

CLINTON: They are, but there's technology now available. There are some advanced radar systems. There are biometric and other kinds of identification systems that we've been very slow to deploy and unwilling to spend money on.

With respect to our ports, which are part of our borders, we have under this administration steadfastly refused to provide the resources necessary to examine the sufficient of cargo containers coming into our ports that would serve as a deterrent.

We have done a better job with airport security but we still aren't where we need to be with cargo, either passenger or other forms of cargo. So, there's just a lot of work that we have started but we haven't had the urgency or the resources that I think every expert who has looked at homeland security who has come and said, "Here's what we need to do for borders. Here's what we need to do for ports. Here's what we need to do for chemical plants and nuclear plants. Here's what we need to do for our first responders."

We have bipartisan independent reports, which have spanned a couple of years. They all say the same thing. They all provide the same sort of recommendations and so far, even with the 9/11 Commission report, we have not put into effect what I think would make us safer going forward.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is it money?

CLINTON: I think it's money and it's will. Clearly, when you're in a deficit like we are, you know, we went from a balanced budget with a surplus when Bill left office to the biggest deficit we've ever had and...

VAN SUSTEREN: We're in a war though. We have a war. I mean we have a war.

CLINTON: We do but we also have huge tax cuts that are unaffordable that are shifting the tax burden rather dramatically away from those of us who are most able to bear it to the middle class, which I don't agree with.

And so, we have had a president who has been the first in our history to take us to war and cut taxes at the same time. That's never happened before. You know, you can't have everything in life. You know, I try to teach my daughter that. I try to preach about that to, you know, people all the time.

You've got to make choices. Life is a series of choices and, you know, ironically this administration seems to be the free lunch administration, you know, the big credit card in the sky and they have not controlled spending. They've not controlled tax cuts.

They allowed all the rules that used to balance us and having the kind of prudent approach toward budgeting that worked in the Clinton administration out the window. So, I think that it is a question of money but behind money it's a question of will and we just haven't had that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why isn't it though in light of that that the Democrats didn't win? I mean if you hear those things and talk about the money, you talk about the borders I mean that certainly interests everybody.

CLINTON: Well, Greta, I think that we did a great job. I mean let's not forget how close we came but clearly we fell short and I think we have to take a hard look and analyze what our shortcomings were.

I want to be part of a dialog, a conversation because a lot of people who voted for Democrats in the past decided not to vote for Democrats this time and I think it's important that we understand exactly why and I don't think you can do that in the immediate aftermath of an election.

I think you have to wait, give it a little time, look at the real data that comes out and then, you know, engage in this kind of conversation that I'm advocating.

VAN SUSTEREN: How come we're not checking the bellies of these airplanes?

CLINTON: Beats me, bellies of airplanes, container ships. I worry a lot. I had legislation about dirty bombs. I had legislation about chemical plants, along with Jon Corzine from New Jersey. I had legislation about better security at nuclear plants.

We have fallen short and, you know, thankfully we have been able to avoid any consequences but I believe in being as prepared as possible and then if something doesn't happen, you know, great it didn't happen but we need to be as vigilant and prepared and use the resources that are necessary to protect our country.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Humor me. Is it safe to say that you have not flatly made up your mind not to run for president in 2008?

CLINTON: You are good. You are good.

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm trying. I'm trying.

CLINTON: You are so good. You're an old trial lawyer. I can tell.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator Clinton, nice to see you and congratulations. The building looks exciting.

CLINTON: Well, I hope all the FOX viewers will come and see it, you know.

VAN SUSTEREN: I do too.

CLINTON: It will get their blood pressure going, but that's always healthy.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, nice to see you, Senator.

CLINTON: Thanks, Greta.

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