February 24th, 2008
02:45 PM ET
7 years ago

Clinton offers regrets for husband's remarks

Clinton spoke to the annual State of the Black Union forum Saturday .
Clinton spoke to the annual State of the Black Union forum Saturday .

NEW ORLEANS (CNN) - In remarks to the annual State of the Black Union forum Saturday, Sen. Hillary Clinton strongly defended her husband's record on civil rights, and offered regrets some of the former president's comments earlier this campaign season appeared to have offended many African-Americans.

Clinton was asked about remarks her husband made while on the trail for his wife in South Carolina last month, including his reference to Jesse Jackson having won primaries in the state during the 1980s. Critics complained about the remarks, seeing it as a suggestion that Obama's success in that state would largely be based on his race.

In her answer, Clinton said many of the attendees to the forum know her husband personally and "know his heart."

"If anyone was offended by anything that was said, whether it was meant or not, whether it was misinterpreted or not, then obviously I regret that," she added. "But I believe our task is to go forward with the agenda that all of us agree upon. That is what I have done my entire life, on behalf of civil rights and women's rights and human rights."

"I believe strongly that there is a shared and common purpose that we all hold very dear, regardless of who you are supporting at this time for the Democratic nominee as president," Clinton continued. "It goes way beyond Barack and me. It goes way beyond politics. And I don't think there is any doubt that I and Bill have been part of that common purpose and that struggle our entire adult lives."

Despite the Clintons' longtime popularity in the African-American community, the New York senator has lost the black vote handily to Obama in every primary contest to date.

Clinton offered no criticism of her rival candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, in her remarks Saturday, instead stressing the importance of Democratic unity once the party's nominee is chosen.

"I am very respectful and understanding of people voting however they choose," Clinton said during a question-and-answer session at the forum. "You know there is no entitlement here. There is no guarantee. People should make up their minds on whatever basis they think is important.

"But I do believe the constituencies that have traditionally supported the Democratic nominee - women, African-Americans, Hispanics in large numbers, working people - we must be united once we have a nominee. "

She cautioned that Republican frontrunner Sen. John McCain will run a tough campaign, and a divided Democratic party may not reclaim the White House, which she said is the ultimate goal.

The annual forum gained attention this year not for Clinton's appearance, but for who wasn't there.

Clinton, D-N.Y., was the only major presidential candidate to accept the forum's invitation. Obama, D-Ill., declined, as did McCain, R-Ariz.

Obama's absence has prompted both controversy and a backlash against Tavis Smiley, the organizer of the event who has openly criticized Obama's decision.

In a letter to Smiley earlier this month, Obama commended the forum for addressing important issues, but explained he needed to focus on his presidential run ahead of the critical March 4 primaries.

"In the final stretch, I will be on the campaign trail every day in states like Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin, talking directly with voters about the causes that are at the heart of my campaign and the State of the Black Union forum," Obama wrote.

"That is why, with regret, I am not able to attend the forum."

Smiley has been vocal about his disapproval of Obama's decision.

"I think it's a missed opportunity on Mr. Obama's part," Smiley told CNN.

"Now, I am not interested in demonizing him for his choice, but I do disagree with it."

Smiley's criticism has prompted many people to come to Obama's defense. The talk show host told The Washington Post he has been inundated with angry e-mails - and even death threats.

"I have family in Indianapolis. They are harassing my momma, harassing my brother. It's getting to be crazy," Smiley told the newspaper.

Some of the nation's top black activists and politicians attend the State of the Black Union. Smiley said he picked New Orleans as the 2008 host city to highlight the continued plight of its residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"We owe it to them, those who survived, those who are still struggling to rebuild their lives," Smiley said. "We owe it to them to raise these issues louder than ever."

New Orleans continues to battle problems, including crime and lack of affordable housing. Entire communities still lack hospitals or emergency care.

In her remarks, Clinton noted that the rebuilding of the city should be a national priority.

Obama campaigned in the city before he easily won Louisiana's Democratic primary on Feb. 9, taking 57 percent of the vote.
–CNN's Sean Callebs and Mike Roselli contributed to this report.

soundoff (130 Responses)
  1. Texans4Obama

    I will vote for a woman for president some day in the future when a woman with grace and integrity runs for the office, Hillary is NOT that woman.

    Obama '08

    p.s. Hillary release your TAX RETURNS!

    February 24, 2008 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  2. Ardnuas

    This women will say and do ANYTHING to win......... she is just like George Bush.... she has experience and NO JUDGEMENT !!!!
    Please don't be fooled by THIS WOMEN !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Obama/Edwards08 Si Se Puede

    February 24, 2008 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  3. elod

    blame on him that was you tactic.we are not giving you a single vote the rest of race!!!
    go obama!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 24, 2008 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  4. Dora

    Thank you Hillary for standing up for your years of rights battles. It is your record not Bill Clinton that is on the ballet. And frankly you show a great deal of courage.

    February 24, 2008 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  5. Juan Grain

    Hillary, Bill did not loose for you, you did not loose for you. Barack is winning and will win because of his abilities, not because of anyone's disabilities.

    February 24, 2008 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  6. ABG

    It appears that Obama has distanced himself from black voters by not attending this forum. His main objective must be to secure the white vote to continue to be a viable candidate or he would have taken a few hours to fly to this event as Senator Clinton did. I still would like to know Who is Barack Obama? People are voting for someone who has no record of delivering but he would send troops to Pakistan without permission.....DANGEROUS THINKING!

    February 24, 2008 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  7. Jim

    #1 – His comments were not racist and many blacks have said they did not understand the uproar.

    #2 – The title of this blog should be about Hillary attending and speaking at this event while she is campaigning yet Obama did not come and support his supporters.

    Yet another way for CNN to do their best to slant something positive for Hillary.

    February 24, 2008 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  8. Pauline Smiley

    Hillary Clinton did not attend the event, she showed up to give a speech. I thought Tavis wanted the politicians there so that they can hear the issues and offer their opinion as to what can be done. How did her speech help the event more than if she was on the campaign trail? I believe even though Obama did not attend, he is very well aware of the issue at stake and is fight for those issues.

    February 24, 2008 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  9. lin

    Shame on people who try to paint the President and Hillary as using racial comments. Is it their exuse for their own reasonning.. The demography of the vote is etreme and unbalance and needs to be analized closer especially by the media . Oh the media, we always thought that being a good journalist is to be balance and fair sort of like what we expect from a judge. In this elections this is not true, you have even on CNN guess and pundits that clearly distort the facts. Having said that CNN is not alone. The bias is so obviously true , that it's becomming a news story it self.

    February 24, 2008 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  10. Matthew Jon

    At least she showed up at the event. Obama?

    February 24, 2008 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  11. Donald Thompron, Washington DC

    I clearly support Travis Smiley's comment about Obama because Obama is now doesn't need the black vote.

    February 24, 2008 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  12. nick

    Do you think that staying with Bill is showing good judgement?

    February 24, 2008 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  13. Asher,Calgary,Canada

    So Enough of the Speeches,
    Enough of the Big Rallies,
    Enough of the winning the Primaries and Caucusses,
    Enough of the Endorsements,
    Enough of the Record Cash Being Raised,
    Its time you explain yourself Mr. Barack Obama!

    February 24, 2008 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  14. bob

    Why the sudden negativity about the mailer. One should realize the pubic is so turned off by it. Focus on what can be done, not pointing out the others faults! What would happen if we did that to our spouses all the time?!

    February 24, 2008 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  15. harry K

    Hillary has nothing to regret about Bill's coments because it was the truth! The fact is that many blacks are voting for Obama because he is black. I ask all voters to pay attention Obama is lots of talk with out a record to back them up. In fact a Texan lawmaker was pressed to say one Obama accomplishment and he cound not come up with one inspite the presure from the reporter..
    It is time to unite behind Hillary to win in November.

    February 24, 2008 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  16. Steve

    I really hope that Hillary doesn't decide to quit. Without her as the straw person Obama's momentum may slow. I have to admit I really can't stand her or her low life husband. I hope that her downfall is by the death of a thousand cuts and she will be seen forh what she really is and then we will finally know what is means. She has copied Bush/Cheney in secrecy and hiring "loyalists". This is not a good manager and if she can't control her husband and her campaign where is the "experience" and and ability to run a complex organization. She was good at shaking down contributers and renting out the Lincoln bedroon and hating her enemies. She will be remembered as a shrew and not much more. She did it all on the back of her husband – if her name was Hillary Rodham or Hillary Smith we wouldn't even know who she was. It will be funny to watch as she changes her message and tactics to see if a poll comes out showing her winning as a widow dressed in black. Then old Bill will have to watch his back.

    February 24, 2008 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  17. meadowlands

    The Clintons are users and when they get what they are after they revert back to their old antics. She couldn't care less about what he says or does as long as she can use it to her advantage. She'll never dump him – too much $ involved

    February 24, 2008 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  18. JH

    WHY IS HILLARY HELD TO A DIFFERENT STANDARD THAN OBAMA?
    IS IT BECAUSE SHE IS A WOMAN? LAST WEEK MICHELLE OBAMA
    MADE A COMMENT "THAT THE FIRST TIME IN MY ADULT LIFE I CAN SAY I AM PROUD OF MY COUNTRY" AND REALLY NOTHING IS BEING SAID ABOUT IT. MAYBE OBAMA CAMP HAS BETTER SPIN DOCTORS THAN HILLARY. IT IS TIME THE VOTERS STOP TAKE A
    LOOK BACK TO 1976, WHEN ANOTHER INSPIRATION SPEAKER WAS VOTED IN TO WHITE HOUSE AND LETS FACE ALL HE HAD WAS WORDS, NO ACTION. OR MAYBE WE SHOULD LOOK BACK TO 1972 WHEN GEORGE MCGOVERN BROUGHT OUT ALL THE YOUNG VOTERS DURING A TIME OF WAR. DOES ANY OF THIS SOUND FAMILIAR. MAYBE HISTORY DOES REPEAT ITSELF AND THAT WHY HILLARY IS WINNING THE VOTE FROM OLDER WOMEN!!

    February 24, 2008 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  19. Lydia

    Hillary's comments sound hollow and insincere.

    For weeks after her husband's vitriolic outbursts and the calls of many in the Democratic party for Clinton to back off, he did not and Hillary and her campaign continued to vigorously support Bill's input in the campaign.

    This was one of many missteps and miscalculations of Hillary's campaign. Both she and Bill were counting on America's legacy of racial division to scare white voters from supporting Obama. Instead, more and more Whites began to support Obama as he preached a message of hope and optimism and more and more African Americans began to support Obama, not because he was Black but because of the harshness of the Billary's tactics, Black America realized Obama was a viable candidate.

    Billary's only regret is they did not receive the desired outcome in playing the race card.

    February 24, 2008 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  20. jane

    Hillary Clinton showed great courage in attending the forum especially after comments from Al Sharpton .

    February 24, 2008 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  21. Jacque Bauer

    The bigger apology needed is to explain why you are still around, and continuing to drive a wedge through the Democratic party, in the face of overwhelming public opinion that you (and Bill) are yesterday's tired, old news.

    February 24, 2008 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  22. robert mack

    hillery spoke about the civil rights, womens rights, human rights,what about the white males rights, I guess she figures she will not be getting any white male votes " GO FIGURE. Mr. tired of being everyones scape goat ! ROBERT

    February 24, 2008 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  23. Mark

    In retrospect, it seems to me Bill Clinton might have contributed in a substantial way to Obama's momentum.

    We will know only when we read the History.

    February 24, 2008 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  24. bsch

    Hopefully, this is the beginning of the end of her campaign. If she drags this out, it will be painful to watch.
    First Hillary, and then Bill Clinton proved to everyone that having and unelected second president hanging around in the White house with no accountable agenda... not a good idea.

    February 24, 2008 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  25. Petie

    Hillary – I respect you, your decisions and thank you for making time to attend this forum. As a Black woman, I can state your accomplishments & of that I am very proud. I do think the reality is that Black Americans choose the democratic nominee when all is said and done and they are handidly choose Barack... not because of anything you did or didn't do, not because of what Bill did or didn't say, but let's face it... the race card has been played with Barack & even though he and his supporters wouldn't admit it – race and gender are playing a big part here! Case in point – I ask my Black friends what Barack's positions are, what he has done and not one of them can provide an answer! They haven't even been to his web-page. My prayer is that if he wins, that he is authentic – otherwise we may be being sheep.

    February 24, 2008 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
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