By Anita Kumar and Lesley Clark
McClatchy Washington Bureau.
Hillary Clinton embarked on a cross-country book tour Tuesday designed to kick off a potential run for the White House, but she found herself backpedaling on remarks that critics say show she’s out of touch with average Americans.
Clinton told ABC News that she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, struggled financially after leaving the White House in 2001, though she reportedly signed an $8 million book deal around that time and later earned millions of dollars for her speeches.
“We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt,” Clinton told Diane Sawyer in an interview Monday to promote “Hard Choices,” her newest book. “We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea’s education. You know, it was not easy.”
By Tuesday, after a backlash, Clinton was forced to explain her comments.
“Let me just clarify that I fully appreciate how hard life is for so many Americans today,” Clinton told Robin Roberts on “Good Morning America.” “Bill and I were obviously blessed. We worked hard for everything we got in our lives and we continue to work hard, and we’ve been blessed in the last 14 years. So for me it’s just a reality what we faced when he got out of the White House, it meant that we just had to keep working really hard.”
But some commentators already were describing the original comment as a rare misstep. And it gave Republicans an opportunity to remind Americans that Clinton revealed in a January speech that she last drove a car in 1996.
“Despite a six-figure taxpayer-funded income and a book deal worth $8 million, it’s laughable to think that Bill and Hillary Clinton left the White House broke,” Republican National Committee spokesman Jahan Wilcox. “It’s clear nobody could be more out of touch than Hillary Clinton.”
Clinton’s financial disclosure forms, filed when she was a candidate for Senate in 2000, show the couple had assets worth at least $781,000 and as much as nearly $1.8 million. They showed they owed between $2.3 million and $10.6 million in legal bills.
Her advance for her 2003 memoir, “Living History,” was reportedly $8 million. The Clintons have earned millions for paid speeches.
But her supporters say the Clintons have given away millions of dollars to charity and that some speeches have been delivered for free. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Clinton released tax forms showing $1.1 million in book proceeds went to charities between 2000 and 2008.
Clinton embarked on a 10-day cross-country tour Tuesday to promote “Hard Choices,”a635-page memoir of her years as secretary of state. She is being trailed by a red, white and blue bus that has “Join the Movement” painted on the side and was organized by Ready for Hillary, the political action committee that hopes to lay the groundwork for her second presidential run.
Clinton said she will decide whether to run for president by the end of the year at the earliest. But the former first lady, U.S. senator from New York and top American diplomat is already the presumed front-runner for her party’s nomination in 2016.
“I just kind of want to get through this year, travel around the country, help in the midterm elections in the fall, and then take a deep breath, and kind of go through my pluses and minuses about what I will and will not be thinking about as I make the decision,” she told Sawyer.
But the book, and interviews, are drawing attention to criticism Clinton could face if she runs for president: Her ties to President Barack Obama, her tenure at the State Department and the accusations that she is out of touch after more than two decades in public life.
A Republican group, America Rising, is out with a retort, the e-book “Failed Choices,” which it says “reveals the truth about her record at the State Department, not the spin.”
Even Clinton’s choice of interviewers drew scrutiny. Nearly every television interview, as well as two of the print interviews she’s conducted on the book tour, have been conducted by women.
The Clinton camp declined to comment on the record for a spot by CNN’s media reporter, Brian Stelter, who said a “person close to the decision . . . said, no, it was unintentional.”
Clinton’s age and health already have been raised as issues, and a largely noncontroversial interview with People magazine last week sparked controversy when critics began questioning whether she was leaning on a walker in the cover photo.
The magazine tweeted that the “photo mystery isn’t a mystery at all. It’s a CHAIR.”
In the interviews, Clinton looks to defend the Obama administration, but also to put up some distance, noting for example that she refused the Obama campaign’s request to attack Sarah Palin the day after the Republican nominating convention.
“I said, ‘Attack her for what? For being a woman? Attack her for being on a ticket that’s trying to draw attention?’ ” Clinton said in an interview with NBC’s Cynthia McFadden. “There’ll be plenty of time to do what I think we should do in politics, which is draw distinctions.”
Palin noted the exchange, tweeting: “Look who fired the 1st shot in the real ‘war on women.’ Hint: it wasn’t the GOP.” She included a picture of the page in Clinton’s book in which she talks about Palin.
But a Politico story from September 2008 quoted a Clinton insider as saying that the Obama camp hadn’t asked Clinton to attack Palin.
“To be fair to Obama’s people, they haven’t asked us to do that,” Politico quoted the Clinton insider as saying.