Hillary Clinton photo

Interview with Larry King

April 21, 2008

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Senator Hillary Clinton -- her eleventh hour campaign on the eve of a crucial primary...


CLINTON: I am ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work for you, but, of course, I have to win. And that really depends upon what happens on Tuesday in the Pennsylvania primary.


KING: One-on-one with the Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, right now, on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening.

We welcome to LARRY KING LIVE, from the capital of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, Senator Hillary Clinton, Democratic presidential candidate.

What a run this has been.

Lots of things to cover tonight, Senator.

We'll start, though -- we did a survey. And the number-one problem Americans say they're faced with is gas prices.

If that's true, what can a president -- you, President Bush -- do about it?

CLINTON: Well, Larry, it's great to be on your show. And thanks for giving me this chance to be with you, even though I wish I were there in the studio with you, as we have on so many occasions in the past.

KING: Me, too.

CLINTON: And everywhere I go across Pennsylvania -- I'm in Harrisburg right now. About 10 days ago, I met with some independent truckers who are going to forced out of business if these gas prices continue to rise.

Yesterday, I was in Johnstown, introduced by a man who said he didn't know what he was going to do because his truck had cost $100 to fill up. And it is becoming a huge economic crisis for most Americans.

Here's what I would do if I were president right now.

Number one, I would investigate these prices. I'm not satisfied at all that there isn't any manipulation going on or price-gouging. I still remember during the Enron scandals finding out that there were traders in energy who were deliberately manipulating the market so that consumers in California, Oregon and Washington paid higher electricity prices.

I would also release some of the oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which would help bring down the price. It usually does.

I would also consider a gas tax holiday, if we could make up the lost revenues from the Highway Trust Fund. And my suggestion would be a windfall profits tax on the oil companies. They've been making record profits in the last years.

But I would also do something else. As president, I would make it absolutely clear that the United States was not going to be over the oil barrel any longer, that we were going to get serious about energy independence.

You see, I think, Larry, if we did that, if our president said that tomorrow and really meant it and worked with Congress to pass every piece of legislation we needed, that he has so far resisted supporting, the oil companies and the oil countries would drop the price, because they would want to lull us back into a false sense of security...

KING: So...

CLINTON: ...so that maybe we wouldn't follow through. But this time, we must follow through.

KING: So all of the above?

CLINTON: Yes, sir, all of the above. And it could be done tomorrow if the president were willing.

KING: OK. You're using Osama bin Laden -- at least he's flashed on the screen -- in a new campaign ad.

Let's look at a bit of it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the toughest job in the world. You need to be ready for anything.


KING: Now, we saw bin Laden there.

Barack Obama says that you're practicing the politics of fear.

How do you respond to that?

CLINTON: Well, I am talking in that ad about the reality, that the next president will inherit some of the most dangerous and difficult decisions that any president has had to make in a very long time. And I think it's important that we have an election that asks people to consider who they would hire for the toughest job in the world.

We've got two wars. We have to end the war in Iraq and we need to win the war in Afghanistan. We've got these spiraling oil costs that are really hurting people, an economy that's in crisis. I don't think there's any doubt in anyone's mind that whoever we elect has to be ready to take on these decisions. And we don't know what else might be out there waiting.

And I want people to think seriously about leadership, because that's what I'm offering in this campaign. I think I'm ready. I have a unique set of qualifications that will prepare me to step into that Oval Office and, on day one, be the commander-in-chief we need to end the war in Iraq and to be the president to turn the economy around.

KING: How do you respond, Senator, to the complaints that the campaign -- both campaigns, in a sense -- have gotten so negative?

Robert Reich, the former Labor secretary in your husband's administration, a longtime friend of yours, is one of the people who says that he's now backing Obama.

Here's what he told CNN. I'd be interested in your comment.


ROBERT REICH, FORMER SECRETARY OF LABOR: But this crescendo of negative mudslinging from the Clinton camp, diverting attention from the big issues this country faces.

I just thought, I can't be silent any longer. I've got to take a stand and I've got to follow my conscience.


KING: Did that hurt you?

CLINTON: Well, I don't think that he's followed the campaign very closely, because, clearly, there has been a relentless series of attacks coming from the other side.

I've spent the vast majority of this campaign giving very specific speeches about the solutions that I offer on all of the important issues facing our country. And, in fact, the press that covers me on a regular basis, I think, is kind of bored, because I just talk about solutions and what we're going to do to get more jobs and get health care for everyone and make sure we have a clean, renewable energy future and all of the other concerns that voters talk to me about.

But in the last, you know, couple of weeks, Senator Obama's campaign has become increasingly negative. He says one thing on the stump and his campaign does something else.

I'd like nothing better than to stay focused on the differences between our health care plans. I have a plan that will get to universal health care and cover everyone and he doesn't.

I have a plan to end the home foreclosure crisis and I don't think his measures up.

So I would be really pleased to talk about a lot of the hard questions that are going to face the next president. But, you know, in a campaign, it does get sometimes back-and-forth. Actually, I think this has been, on balance, a pretty civil and positive campaign, compared to many that we've seen in the last years. And it is fair to compare and contrast the differences between us. And voters get to make up their own minds about, you know, who they can count on to make the very difficult decisions and bring about the positive results we need.

KING: It may be perception then.

We have an e-mail from Collins in Riverview, Florida, who says: "I've noticed you started with the negative ads once you fell behind in the nomination race. So my question is, do you think you'd be in contention at this point if you had not gone negative?"

Now, you don't think you've gone negative.

Would you agree that a lot of the public thinks you have?

CLINTON: Well, I don't know what the public thinks. But I certainly believe that any fair reading of this campaign, the kinds of things that my opponent's campaign has said, the kind of ads that they and their allies have run, the sort of phone calls and mailings -- remember in Ohio, I had to call them out on the misleading, negative mailings that they were sending out about my health care plan and about my position to change and fix NAFTA.

And I think the people of Ohio took a hard look at who was being misleading and who wasn't, and that's why I won such an overwhelming vote in Ohio.

So I can imagine the people who only, you know, follow it from, you know, some of the snippets on TV might, you know, not be sure exactly who's saying what and what the campaigns are doing.

But the people in the states where we're competing who follow it very, very closely, I think, are well aware of, you know, who is running what kind of ads and the fact that Senator Obama is outspending me three or four to one and, you know, literally just running ads around the clock. You know, that's all part of the campaign. And at the end of the day, voters get to decide who they think would be best suited to do the tough job that the next president will face.

KING: And a big part of that decision will happen tomorrow.

Senator Clinton will be here right after the break, where we are just getting...

CLINTON: That's right.

KING: ...that's a big one tomorrow.

We're just getting started.

Stick around.



CLINTON: You're electing a president to solve problems, not to give speeches. And that should be what we're focused on.


KING: The very tough Senator Hillary Clinton on the stump in Pennsylvania. The campaign -- the primary is tomorrow.

Some say, Senator -- I almost said Hillary, because I've known you such a long time.


KING: I left out the "Senator".

CLINTON: Ha-ha! We've known each other a long time, Larry. That's all right.

KING: That this campaign has been so rough that whoever wins, it's going to be a Pyhrric victory; that the winner is going to lose in November because you knocked each other around so much.

A good chance of that?

CLINTON: Oh, I don't think so at all. Again, by any historic standard, Larry, this has been a very civil and positive campaign. I know we both have very intense supporters and people take this campaign incredibly personally. But at the end of the day, we're going to have a unified Democratic Party. Whatever differences there are between my opponent and myself pale in comparison to the differences we have with Senator McCain and the Republicans.

And the important question for Democrats is who is stronger to actually go up against John McCain in the fall, because I believe that the Democratic Party, the people who have turned out and voted, will fall in behind our nominee. And then it will be up to the nominee to make the case against a very tough candidate.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Republicans are not going to give up the White House without a terrific fight. And I happen to believe that I'm better suited to go up against Senator McCain. But I've said on many occasions, I'm going to do whatever I can do to make sure we have a Democratic president in the White House next January. KING: In a recent debate -- in fact, you reiterated it "yes, yes, yes," that you thought Barack Obama could defeat McCain.

Is he better prepared than McCain?

CLINTON: Well, I think he can win, but I think I will win. I really believe that or I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you...

KING: But is he better prepared?

CLINTON: ... From Harrisburg.

Well, I think that he would be...

KING: Is he a better prepared candidate?

CLINTON: Well, that's going to be up to the voters to try to sort through. Lots of what Senator McCain is saying is just wrong for the country. So it doesn't really matter what credentials he's offering. And, obviously, he has very extraordinary credentials, with his military service and his service in the Senate.

But the bottom line is that his policies are wrong for America. I don't think we want to continue George Bush's policy in Iraq. And I sure don't think we want to follow along with what Senator McCain said, that he'd be happy if we had to have troops in Iraq for the next 100 years, if that's what it took.

And I sure don't believe that people want to continue George Bush's economic policies, which have brought us these skyrocketing gas prices and increasing costs for everything and stagnant wages for most middle-class Americans.

So Senator McCain certainly will play up his credentials and he has every right to do so. That's who he is. But at the end of the day, I want this election in the fall to be not a personality contest. It should be about what this person will do come the time when they're sworn in as the president.

Remember, a lot of people may have been taken in by George Bush back in 2000. He ran as a compassionate conservative. And I'm not sure people really understood or even knew what that meant. And many people have been sorely disappointed at the outcome.

Well, this election in the fall needs to be between the Republican and the Democratic candidate, toe-to-toe on national security, taking them to task over the economy, standing up for universal health care, talking about the issues that matter here at home and around the world. And I believe that I am the better candidate to do that.

KING: Senator McCain said, by the way, on this program, that he's a good friend of yours.

Is that true?

Are you friendly in the Senate and out of the Senate?

CLINTON: We are friends. Yes, I deeply respect Senator McCain and his service and patriotism. We've gone to Iraq and Afghanistan together. We've worked on behalf of a sensible policy to deal with global warming. So I enjoy his company.

And when I'm president, I'm going to ask him to come over to the White House quite often and take trips with me, because he has a perspective. I don't agree with it and I think that he's the wrong person to be president at this time, but we're friends and we'll remain friends.

KING: Are you saying if you're president, you would use Senator McCain?

CLINTON: Well, I'm going to reach out to Republicans, all kinds of Republicans, because I think it's important that we try to have a bipartisan foreign policy. I have very strong convictions about what we should do, but I'm going to listen and enlist Republicans, as well as Democrats -- not only elected ones, but distinguished Americans of both parties.

We have a lot of repair work to do in the world. And as president, I would ask people to, you know, really help me restore American leadership. I'd like to have a bipartisan foreign policy. I think it's been unfortunate that the president and the vice president have been so partisan in their pursuit, wrongly, of the goals that they have had in foreign policy.

So a lot of people in the Senate that I don't agree with on many issues will have -- and at different settings and on different concerns -- a lot to contribute to America.

KING: So maybe a Republican or two in the cabinet?

CLINTON: I think we should look at that. We need to try to have a bipartisan government. We've got to restore confidence and competence to the American government.

KING: During...

CLINTON: You know, the American people actually have to believe that their president can solve problems for them. That's why I've spent so much time in this campaign talking about being a problem solver and a change maker, somebody with a proven track record of experience in doing that.

KING: All right. During the campaign, Senator, you've constantly touted yourself as the candidate with experience, been through fire, knows how Washington works.

Senator Obama frames your experience this way.



OBAMA: Here is, essentially, Senator Clinton's argument. Her basic argument in this election -- and it's become clearer as time goes on -- is that you can't really change Washington. You can't really change the say anything, do anything, special interest driven game in Washington. And because you can't change it, you might as well select somebody who knows how to play the game better because they've been at the game longer.


KING: Does he have a point, that you -- can you change the system you've been a part of for 20 years?

CLINTON: Well, I think that most of our great presidents who actually produced transformational change have been involved in the political life of our country. You know, Senator Obama was in the state senate about three and a half years ago. And I was in the Senate of the United States, working on a lot of these issues.

I represent change. The fact that I am, as a woman, competing to become the president of the United States would be an extraordinary change.

But it's also more than that, Larry. I've taken on the special interests. It's easy to talk about it and to give speeches, but I was there 15 years ago fighting for universal health care. And I still am. I was there when we helped to form the Children's Health Insurance Program and took on the insurance companies and had the drug companies have to finally agree to test drugs for kids, instead of just having them prescribed.

You know, I took on the Bush White House over health care for National Guard and Reserve members. And on so many issues, I've been on the front lines of making change.

I think I know exactly what it will take, because I do have this unique experience, having been in the White House, having served a full term and then reelected with 67 percent of the vote, because I served the people of New York, who gave me the chance to go to the Senate, I think gives me a perspective that is essential.

KING: I've got to...

CLINTON: You know, I wish it were that easy, to show up in Washington and say, let's get everybody together and we're all just going to change because the president wants us to. That's not the way it's ever worked. Not the way it will work.

But I have a proven record of getting bipartisan legislation through the Senate as a first lady, as someone who understands what it's going to take.

KING: I've got to...

CLINTON: And I think that counts for a lot.

KING: We've got to get a break.

We're not finished just yet. We've got some more to ask Senator Clinton ahead on LARRY KING LIVE.


KING: We're back with Senator Clinton.

If the level of violence in Iraq, Senator, is the same or worse, say, in January of next year, would you still advocate your plan of phased redeployment?

CLINTON: I would, Larry, because I don't think anyone can predict the future. We don't know what the consequence of any of our actions will be in Iraq. One thing I'm confident of, however, is staying there is not the right decision for America. Our military is stretched thin. We have given the Iraqis the precious gift of freedom. Our young men and women have performed heroically.

The Iraqis have not stepped up and taken responsibility, as we had hoped; that they would begin to make those decisions that only they can make for themselves.

And by our staying in Iraq, we are losing ground elsewhere in the world. Our military and foreign policy experts have all said that we have lost ground in Afghanistan. The Middle East is in a much more dangerous position than it was. We have all kinds of problems, from Latin America to Africa to Asia. China and Russia are reasserting their positions in the world. We are not moving to really take the global leadership that America must take for our own security and for the stability of the rest of the world.

As we begin to withdraw our troops, I believe that will help to focus the Iraqis, unlike the blank checks that President Bush has given them. And that they will have to understand that we are not going to be there to save them, protect them, to step in for them.

And we'll also have to engage in very vigorous diplomatic efforts with the other countries in the region that have a big stake in a stable Iraq.

So, yes, I am committed to doing it responsibly...

KING: All right...

CLINTON: ...carefully. But I will begin to withdraw troops within 60 days.

KING: How are you going to do tomorrow?

CLINTON: Well, I hope I do well. I never make predictions. I've campaigned hard. We've been all over the state. I think people have worked extremely hard for me and I hope to do well. Obviously, it's important for me. But I think it's also important for my opponent. He should try to win this state, which he's been doing, because he knows he hasn't won any big state except his own. And I think that's important for Democrats -- who's won the big states, who's been there to put together the electoral map that we need to win in the fall.

KING: If you...

CLINTON: He has yet to close the deal on those big states.

KING: Senator, if you win it, say, by 5 percent or less, will that be a measuring stick?

There are those who will say, then, you should leave the race if you're that close in Pennsylvania.


KING: Or you don't look at that?

CLINTON: Well, I sure don't, Larry. A win is a win. But, again, I think this is such a close race. And neither of us has the delegates we need to get the nomination. We've got nine more contests after Pennsylvania, some very important states that are still up to bat. And I think we're going to go all the way through this process and see where we stand in June.

We also, don't forget, have to decide how we're going to seat the delegates from Florida and Michigan. 2.3 million people voted. I don't want to disenfranchise either of those states. They're also critical to an electoral victory for a Democrat.

You know, they say that the path to the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue goes through Pennsylvania. And if I'm fortunate enough to win tomorrow, that will be yet another state that I have won in, being outspent dramatically by my opponent, and have been able to put together the coalition that is really going to be the base of our campaign against John McCain in the fall.

KING: So what you're saying unequivocally tonight is that you're not prepared to lose at all? You're going right through June, you're going to Denver?

CLINTON: Well, I'm going until we get Florida and Michigan resolved. I'm going until everybody has had a chance to vote in this process. I'm going until the automatic delegates have made their judgments, based on their independent assessments, as to who of us would be better against John McCain in the fall and who would be the best president for our country.

KING: Have you enjoyed this?

CLINTON: I really have. I have really enjoyed it. It is grueling. There's no doubt about that. But every day something happens that just lifts my spirits. You know, this morning, I started in Scranton, Larry. And there was a man, a quadriplegic in a wheelchair. And the people he lived with had brought him to my event. He's been in a wheelchair for 30 years. And it's the first time he's ever registered to vote, so that he could vote for me.

And when somebody tells me that, no matter how tired I am, no matter how difficult the challenges are, I know I'm doing the right thing.

KING: Yes.

CLINTON: Because these are the people that I want to go to the White House and fight for. You know, a lot of Americans really need a fighter and a champion on their side. And that's what I'm offering and that's what I'm prepared to do.

KING: If events don't turn your way and you're not the nominee, would you and President Clinton campaign vigorously for Senator Obama?

CLINTON: Without a doubt. We're going to do everything we can to make sure a Democrat is elected president. That is the ultimate goal here, to have a Democrat sworn in next January.

We'll have a Democratic nominee. We'll have a unified Democratic Party. I'll work my heart out to make sure that we have a Democratic victory.

KING: Senator, thank you so much.

Always good seeing you.

CLINTON: It's great to talk to you.

KING: And we hope our next interview will be in person.

CLINTON: It will be, Larry.

KING: The next one together.

CLINTON: I'm looking forward to it.

Thank you so much.

Hillary Clinton, Interview with Larry King Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/277455

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