Hillary Clinton photo

Interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN's "The Situation Room"

May 14, 2008

BLITZER: And joining us now, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, the Democratic presidential candidate.

Senator Clinton, thanks very much for joining us.

CLINTON: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Congratulations on your win yesterday in West Virginia. A big win for Senator Clinton.

CLINTON: Well, it was a big win. And it was a very gratifying one because I had campaigned hard there, and I think that the issues that I've been championing on the economy and health care really resonated with the voters in West Virginia.

And as I have said many times in the last couple of weeks, no Democrat has won the White House since 1916 without winning West Virginia. So I took that as a good sign.

BLITZER: You did well there.

All right. Let me get your reaction.

The current issue of "TIME" magazine, which you've probably seen, you see a cover like this and it says, "And the Winner Is...", and a little asterisk. What do you think when you see something like this?

CLINTON: I think it's a great picture of Barack.


CLINTON: You know what I think? Is that this is the closest election we've ever had that anybody can remember. Each of us has brought millions of new people into the process. I think I've now been privileged to receive the votes of 17 million Americans.

And that's pretty much the same as Senator Obama. The delegate race remains close. We have contests yet to go. People have been trying to end it. And the voters just won't let it happen.

As a recent poll suggested, 64 percent of Democrats want to see this continue. And I think for good reason, because it's one of the most substantive, exciting, energizing political events I can remember in my lifetime.

And there is no winner yet. You have to have, now with the special election of a Democrat from Mississippi, 2,210 delegates to actually stay...

BLITZER: You're including Florida and Michigan.

CLINTON: Which we have to. We have to include them.

BLITZER: Because in -- they're going to be meeting, the Rules Committee of the DNC...


BLITZER: ... May 31st.

CLINTON: That's right.

BLITZER: They have to make a decision.


BLITZER: What do you want them to do?

CLINTON: Well, what I would want them to do is to seat the whole delegations based on the votes that were taken, because I think the voters who came out, over 2.3 million of them in both states, clearly believed that their votes would count. And they may have violated the DNC rules, but other states did as well.

BLITZER: Because right now the DNC says that the number is, what, 2,025 or 2,026?

CLINTON: That's just not a practical answer. That would mean that only 48 states would determine who the nominee of the Democratic Party is. And that's not the way the election works.

BLITZER: So you're staying in at least through May 31 and June 3...

CLINTON: That's right.

BLITZER: ... which is the last -- you're not going anywhere.

CLINTON: I'm not going anywhere, Wolf...

BLITZER: All right.

CLINTON: ... except to Kentucky and Oregon and Montana and South Dakota, and Puerto Rico.

BLITZER: In these remaining states.

Let's talk about some of the issues, the key issues, the economic issues, issue No. 1, the economy. Gas prices...


BLITZER: ... right now. You've said in recent days you want to get tough with the major oil exporting countries, OPEC, because of the huge cost per barrel, the resultant price of a gallon of gas.

But when you say get tough with OPEC, what does it mean when you have members of OPEC like Ahmadinejad of Iran or Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, or Gaddafi of Libya? How do you plan on getting tough with them?

CLINTON: Well, I actually have a four-part program that I would put into effect were I president today to deal with these rising gas prices, which are going to hit $4 soon. And it's an enormous burden on people who drive any considerable distance.

BLITZER: But what kind of leverage do you have on OPEC?

CLINTON: Well, four things, and I'll get to OPEC quickly. I would go after the energy traders and speculators. I think they are adding to the cost of a barrel of oil. I believe there is significant evidence of that.

So I would launch a Department of Justice/Federal Trade Commission investigation and really try to rein them in and close what's called the "Enron loophole." I approve and voted for what the Congress did yesterday, which is to quit filling up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and I would even release some money.

I have advocated a gas tax holiday that is paid for. That is not what Senator McCain wants. He wants one that is not paid for. And Senator Obama doesn't want one at all. But I would pay for it out of the record profits of the oil companies.

Nine countries that are members of OPEC are members of the WTO, the World Trade Organization, where they have agreed to certain rules that I believe OPEC by definition violates. Also, we have never used antitrust laws in our country to really go at the heart of what is a monopoly cartel.

There is something fundamentally wrong and outdated in having the oil-producing countries getting together a couple of times a year and saying, OK, here's how much we're going to produce and here's how much we're going to charge for it. And I think there is enough market power in the world, if we use the tools available to us, to rein that in.

BLITZER: Because Barack Obama says this...


OBAMA: You say you've been in the White House for eight years, you've had two terms as a United States senator, and haven't said a word about OPEC. And now suddenly you're going to take it right to OPEC?


CLINTON: Well, he's wrong about that. I have voted, actually, in the Senate on several occasions to try to get the president of the United States to do something about OPEC. Obviously, President Bush wasn't inclined to do so, the Republican Congress before him was not inclined to do so.

So we're going to have, I hope, a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress. That is the time when we'll be able to take on this unfinished business when it comes to energy.

BLITZER: Looking back, did the Clinton administration, during eight years of your husband in the White House, do enough toward energy independence?

CLINTON: Well, they certainly tried between both the president and the vice president. And my husband often says laughingly that tax credits and energy programs were the only things that he couldn't get the Republican Congress to even look at, because obviously they had a very different view about what we should be doing.

But now I think it's clear to everyone, even the Republican nominee, Senator McCain, who has been very eloquent in the last few days, talking about how we have to cap greenhouse gas emissions, this is not a Republican or Democratic issue.

We need a long-term strategy, like the one I've outlined on my Web site, hillaryclinton.com. You can read all about it. And we need a short-term strategy to try to provide relief to citizens right now.

BLITZER: You were recently asked about your proposal to have a holiday on the gas tax. And you would pay for it by having a windfall profit tax on ExxonMobil and some of the other big oil companies. And then when you were pressed on economists who would endorse your idea, you said you're not going to put your lot in with economists.


BLITZER: Which raised questions. Are you not going to believe in what economists say?

CLINTON: No, but I think there's that old saying. You can find an economist to say nearly anything.

Now, some of the economists were against it because they misunderstood my policy. They thought it wasn't paid for. And I would agree with those who said we can't afford a gas tax holiday that will add to the deficit, that will take money out of the highway trust fund. Others are against the mechanism of a windfall profits tax. They think that doesn't necessarily work well and that the cost will be passed on.

My attitude is I think we could design such a windfall profits tax that would work, that would be enforceable and that would not be passed on. I have been advocating a windfall profits tax on the oil companies to supplement a strategic energy fund that I have recommended for more than three years, and it's because I think that there is such a disconnect between what the oil companies have been raking in as profits and any comparable investment or effort that they've made to produce those profits.

There does seem to me to be an opportunity here both to take away the subsidies for the oil companies, which clearly don't need our tax dollars to make these huge profits, and to try to impose a windfall profits tax.

BLITZER: But you will consult with economists...

CLINTON: Of course.

BLITZER: ... you believe in economists, and if you're president of the United States you'll work with economists, because when you said, "I'm not going to put your lot in with economists..."

CLINTON: Well, not totally. Not totally. You know, sometimes economists are not right. And I think there are political...

BLITZER: But most of the economists have criticized your plan.

CLINTON: Well, again, some of them didn't understand it and some of them don't believe it could be done. But you listen to all kinds of advisers, but then you have to try to make up your mind.

Franklin Roosevelt, during the New Deal, a lot of economists said that's a terrible idea, you're going to be priming the pump, you're going to be putting people to work. That's a terrible idea, that's a betrayal of the American capitalist system. But he said, you know we've got to put people to work.

Well, I think we've got to reign in the oil companies. And there are certainly economically appropriate ways of doing that.


BLITZER: Stand by for much more of my interview with Senator Hillary Clinton. She's strongly defending Barack Obama from his critics.


CLINTON: I think that that's really, you know, just an overstatement and exaggeration of any kind of, you know, political meaning.


BLITZER: So what exaggeration about Obama is Clinton talking about? You're going to find out. That's coming up in my next installment of this interview.

Plus, the one thing in our interview that got Senator Clinton rather emotional. You'll want to see this.

And a new shocker in the battle for control of Congress. We're going to tell you why it could help Senator Obama make his case that he can win the White House.

Stay with us. You're in "The Situation Room."


BLITZER: Now back to my interview with Senator Hillary Clinton on racial divisions in the Democratic Party and on global tensions that some say could play to John McCain's strengths.


BLITZER: When it comes to the war in Iraq, another issue on the minds of Americans right now, you've criticized Senator McCain for suggesting U.S. troops could stay there perhaps for 100 years. But you yourself back in 2005 suggested, you know what? If there's a peaceful environment like along the lines of Korea or Germany or Okinawa, maybe it wouldn't be that bad for a long-term U.S. military presence in that kind of environment.

Is the criticism of Senator McCain, who's made similar comments, is it warranted?

CLINTON: Well, I think it is for this reason, that there isn't any significant milestone that the Iraqi government has met. It's a very different situation than Germany or Korea.

BLITZER: But if they were to meet those milestones and if there were a new peaceful environment?

CLINTON: But Wolf, I don't think though -- I think you're confusing kind of cause and effect. I don't believe that they will serious attempt to meet those milestones until they are absolutely convinced we are going to withdraw. I believe that is the best way to focus their attention.

Everything we've tried, including the most recent effort with the surge, has not resulted in the gains that were either hoped for or forecasted. I believe we've got to bring our troops home. There are continuing missions -- guarding our embassy, Special Forces perhaps dealing with al Qaeda -- but that's a very different scenario than what we have today. Therefore, I would begin to bring our troops home.

BLITZER: The Israelis are celebrating their 60th anniversary right now as an independent state. Here is what McCain said about Barack Obama. And I want to get your reaction.

He said, "I think" -- this is McCain -- "I think it's very clear who Hamas wants to be the next president of the United States. I think that people should understand that I will be Hamas' worst nightmare. If Senator Obama is favored by Hamas, I think people can make judgments accordingly."

McCain was referring to a statement by the North American spokesman for Hamas endorsing, in effect, Barack Obama. Is McCain right?

CLINTON: No, I think that that's really, you know, just an overstatement, an exaggeration of any kind of, you know, political meaning. And I don't think that anybody should take that seriously.

BLITZER: But you have confidence in Barack Obama as president would be a strong supporter of Israel?

CLINTON: I would -- yes, I do. I would believe that that would be the policy of the United States, and it's been our policy for 60 years.

BLITZER: Because the criticism he gets from McCain and his supporters -- McCain's supporters -- is that he would be willing to meet unconditionally with the leader of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and given the statements that Ahmadinejad has made about destroying Israel, that doesn't -- that doesn't reassure, let's say, Israel.

CLINTON: Well, I think that's a different issue. You know, I objected when that statement was made back in an early debate, because I don't believe that a United States president should commit to meet unconditionally with leaders of rogue nations. That doesn't mean you don't eventually meet with them under appropriate circumstances, but not without conditions.

BLITZER: Let's talk about an issue that's come up in this campaign. The issue of race in the campaign. You were widely quoted in that "USA Today" interview.


CLINTON: There was just an "A.P." article posted that found how Senator Obama's support among working -- hard working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how the -- you know, whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me. I have a much broader base to build a winning coalition on.


BLITZER: Now, your great friend and supporter, Congressman Charlie Rangel, said -- and I'm quoting now -- "It's the dumbest thing you could have said."

CLINTON: Well, he's probably right.

BLITZER: Oh, he is? All right. Well, explain.

CLINTON: Well, absolutely. Well, I was -- I was referencing an AP article, and, you know, obviously I have worked very hard to get the votes of everyone. And I have campaigned hard, I understand that we've got to put together a broad coalition in order to win in the fall. We've got to get to that 270 electoral vote margin. And I know Senator Obama has worked hard to reach out to every community and constituency.

So I'm going to continue to do that. That's what I think is in the best interest of our party and that's how we will win in November.

BLITZER: Well, as someone who has championed civil rights all of these years, and you see all these stories coming up, and he's getting 90 percent of the African-American vote, you're doing well with these white working class voters, as you did in West Virginia, for example, Pennsylvania, in Ohio, how does that make you feel when you see this issue all of a sudden explode out there?

CLINTON: Well, I obviously regret people exploding an issue like that because I think it's not only unfounded but, you know, it's offensive. I think people vote for me because they think I'd be the better president. I think people vote for him because they think he'd be the better president. I think people vote for me because they believe I'll fight for them. I think they vote for each of us for whatever combination of reasons that appeal to the individual voter.

That's the way it's supposed to be in America. And I've worked very hard to make it clear to people in this campaign that we need a champion back in the White House.

I am not one who believes that we're going to be able to come to Washington in 2009, hold hands with everybody, and take on the drug companies and the oil companies and the health insurance companies, and everything we have to do, and that just somehow that will all happen. I think politics is the hard boring of hard boards, as Max Weber said. And from my perspective, people who know how hard it will be to create the changes we need are attracted to my candidacy.

People who feel that maybe life hasn't been fair, the odds are stacked against them, they want somebody who is going to go to bat for them.


BLITZER: And you also got a chance to ask Senator Clinton something.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Clinton, I have a question for you. I was wondering, why do you believe that so many of your strongest Democratic supporters say that they would vote for Senator McCain over Senator Obama in the fall if you were not to win the nomination?


BLITZER: As a CNN iReporter, you posed questions like that one. Straight ahead, you're going to find out how she answered those questions.

Also, one question I asked her actually made Senator Clinton very emotional. You're going to want to hear exactly what was asked and how she responded.

Stay with us. More of the interview with Senator Clinton right after this.


BLITZER: We continue now with my interview with Senator Hillary Clinton. She's defending her decision to keep on fighting, and she's vowing her party will be united in the end.


BLITZER: At CNNPolitcs.com we invited people to submit a question through our iReporters. A couple came in that I want to play for you, get your brief response. This one was from someone named Billy Sutton (ph). He is a Clinton supporter-turned-Obama supporter. But watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Clinton, I have a question for you. I was wondering, why do you believe that so many of your strongest Democratic supporters say that they would vote for Senator McCain over Senator Obama in the fall if you were not to win the nomination?


CLINTON: Well, I've heard that from both my supporters and Senator Obama's supporters.

BLITZER: Because the exit polls showed that -- a big chunk of it.

CLINTON: Both his supporters and my supporters might stay home or not vote for the other, and I just have to say as strongly as I can, Billy (ph), that that would be a terrible mistake. Anybody that has ever voted for me or voted for Barack has much more in common in terms of what we want to see happen in our country and in the world with the other than they do with John McCain.

So I'm going to work my heart out for whoever our nominee is. Obviously, I'm still hoping to be that nominee. But I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that anyone who supported me, the 17 million people who have voted for me, understand what a grave error it would be not to vote for Senator McCain -- Senator Obama and against Senator McCain. And I know that Senator Obama has said that he will do the same to campaign for me.

So, you know, in the heat of a primary campaign people get -- their passions are high, they feel intensely. That's all understandable. But once we have a nominee, we're going to have a unified Democratic Party.

BLITZER: Because Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York, among others, says the best way to heal this Democratic Party, irrespective of who gets the nomination, is for the two of you to be on the ticket.

CLINTON: I know. I think he made a speech or wrote something to that effect. And it's premature for either of us to talk about that. I think both of us are committed to doing everything we can to win in the fall. I certainly am.

And I will do -- I mean, I will do whatever it takes, because I know what four more years of basically the same Bush policies would mean to America, even though they would be carried out by someone else. They are more of the same. And we cannot afford that.

BLITZER: We also got a variant of this question from a lot of our viewers. This was from a McCain supporter. He asked this question.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why do you continue to stay in this race for the Democratic nomination? Barack Obama is well ahead of you in the delegates and now ahead of you in the superdelegates. Many of them have switched to him after he won by a large margin over you in North Carolina primaries last week.


CLINTON: Well, I'm really touched that a McCain supporter would be so concerned about our primary.

But let me say that, after my big win last night in West Virginia, the delegate difference is extremely narrow. It is -- people have gone to conventions and fought out nominations with far fewer delegates. We have a close, close race here. And it is a matter of inches. And we're going to keep going until someone gets 2,210 delegates. That's the way our system works.

BLITZER: John Edwards has says he gives you a lot of credit for being willing to stick -- stick in there and fight it out. He, as you know, dropped out.

And I guess the question is, how do you do it every single day?

CLINTON: You know, Wolf, something happens every single day that just lifts my spirits and energizes me.

A lot of the people who have worked their hearts out for me in this primary season, they're not quitters in their own lives.

I mean, the single mom in Indianapolis who's never given money to anybody and gives me $20 a month out of her paycheck, and goes to my headquarters every lunch hour to work for me, or the little boy who sells his bicycle from Kentucky, or the 88-year-old woman dying in a hospice in South Dakota who just demands that her daughter bring her an absentee ballot, I mean, these are people who I feel like I'm representing and that I have a -- a very personal connection to.

So, you know, I don't believe in quitting. You may not win in life, but you do the best you can. You go the distance. You don't walk off the court before the buzzer sounds. You never know. You might get a three-point shot at the end.

And, so, we're going to -- we're going to finish this process. It's been a privilege and an honor to have met so many Americans, been to so many of the beautiful places in this country. And I feel like I'm doing it for the right reasons. And I still believe I would be the better president and the stronger candidate against Senator McCain.

BLITZER: We have one final question, because we're out of time, and it involves your daughter, Chelsea.

I have been watching her since she was a little girl. She came to Washington back in '93, in the '92 campaign, and now she's a grown woman. And she's out there, campaigning for you every single day. I think she's in Puerto Rico right now.

And I know you talk to her every single day.

CLINTON: Right. Right.

BLITZER: And what goes through your mind, when you have your own daughter out there, working as hard for you as she is?

CLINTON: Well, it's one of the most incredibly gratifying experiences of my life, as a person and as a mother. You're going to make me get very emotional.

She is an exceptional person, and she's worked so hard, and she's done such a good job, that I'm just filled with pride every time I look at her.

You know, obviously, we are very close. We are in communication all the time. But she is doing this because she believes I would be a good president, but also because she cares so much about our country's future. She did grow up in the White House. She knows what a difference a president makes.

If anybody ever doubted what difference a president makes, after seven years of George Bush, I think the doubts should be put to rest. So, she's doing it because she's my daughter, but she's doing it because, as she says, she's a young American who cares about our future.

BLITZER: And she's doing it because she loves you.

CLINTON: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Senator Clinton, thanks very much.

CLINTON: Thanks.

Hillary Clinton, Interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN's "The Situation Room" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/277940

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