Hillary Clinton Emerged as Top Obama Ally on Health: BookJulie Bykowicz
Hillary Clinton, once President Barack Obama’s political foe, emerged as his top ally on what would become his signature policy achievement: revamping the U.S. health-care system.
She quietly advised administration officials and lawmakers uneasy after a summer of attacks by the small-government Tea Party movement, according to the book “HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton.” (Crown, 440 pages, $26.)
“A member or two may have stopped and asked me what I thought,” Clinton is quoted in the book as saying. “And I thought, ‘You need to work with the president and try to get this done.’”
“HRC,” by Bloomberg News reporter Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes of The Hill newspaper, is the first book-length account after Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state to explore her political comeback after losing her 2008 presidential bid to fellow Democrat Obama. The reported narrative, to be published today, gives new details about her reaction to the killings of four Americans at a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and her plans for a possible 2016 presidential run.
Sitting to the right of Obama at a Sept. 10, 2009, cabinet meeting, Clinton listened with alarm as other secretaries asked whether health-care legislation was worth sacrificing much of the rest of the president’s agenda, the book says. “This is the time to do it,” Clinton says in a pep talk the authors recount in the book. “We’re all in it. Everyone in this room knows how important this is.”
Her own experience with pushing for a health-care revamp informed her advice to senior Obama administration officials and lawmakers, the authors write. In 1994, during President Bill Clinton’s first term, the first lady lost a fight to change the country’s health-insurance system.
“I thought, ‘Look, the president had more support in Congress than my husband did back in ’93, ’94, so he could put together a majority,’” Clinton says in the book. “If the Republicans stonewalled, which they were beginning to show they would, despite his best efforts, he could still put a package on the floor and get it passed in both houses, which doesn’t come along every first term of a president.”
Obama signed the Affordable Care Act -- dubbed Obamacare -- into law March 23, 2010. Democrats are still experiencing repercussions; the issue cost them the House of Representatives in 2010 and has returned as a dominant theme of this year’s congressional races. Republicans are positioned to retain the House and need a net of six seats to take the Senate.
The book also traces Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew’s path through Obama’s administration. In a twist, the former Citigroup Inc. executive began in the State Department in 2009 after Obama’s then-chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, objected to installing him at the Treasury Department.
Emanuel was “worried that it wouldn’t look good to put a Citigroup executive in that job in the midst of a Wall Street bailout,” the book says.
Clinton came to regard Lew as her “secret weapon,” the book says, detailing how he was able to fight off a late 2009 budget plan that called for a minor cut in State Department funding when she wanted a double-digit increase. After Lew’s intervention, the White House budget request for State and aid programs represented a 10.6 percent increase over the previous year, to $56.6 billion, the book says.
HRC opens with a scene of Clinton watching video of an April 5, 2010, attack on an American consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan, and deciding that the U.S. “couldn’t afford to leave vacuums in troublesome regions.”
It serves as a preview of what would become the most controversial event during her time at State, the Sept. 11, 2012, assault on a U.S. outpost in Benghazi, in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed. The book recalls that day.
There was “euphoria,” as former Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides put it, when an official at the Tripoli embassy sent word that Stevens might still be alive, followed by shock and grief over a second attack and confirmation Stevens was dead.
“I saw it in real time, and she handled a real crisis,” Nides, now vice chairman of Morgan Stanley, says in the book. “And you know, she wasn’t mechanical, screaming at people, but she was emotional, she was firm in getting facts and getting the issues resolved.”
Clinton declined to appear on Sunday talk shows immediately after the attacks. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice appeared on all five of them in her place, erroneously saying that spontaneous protests, rather than a planned terrorist attack, had morphed into the assaults.
“What difference at this point does it make?” Clinton said in January 2013 when asked by a senator at a congressional hearing whether the deaths were officially the result of terrorism. The book says that Clinton’s longtime aide, Philippe Reines unwittingly inspired that line during a prep session.
What transpired in Benghazi, and the administration’s reaction afterward, will re-emerge in the 2016 presidential race should Clinton choose to run. The book makes it clear that she’s preparing for a second run after having lost the 2008 race for the Democratic nomination to Obama, then a U.S. senator from Illinois.
The former first lady is publishing her own account of her time at the State Department later this year. She also has been meeting privately with donors and other political allies since early last year, the authors assert.
In Clinton’s own recitation of her political life, she insists that she has been drafted for her offices, including the 2000 New York Senate race she won as she was preparing to leave the White House. “I never thought I’d run for office, and then circumstances kind of conspired to suck me into the Senate race in New York,” she says in the book.
Describing her future plans, she says: “I never know what’s going to happen next.”