June 22nd, 2014
07:21 PM ET
6 months ago

Hillary Clinton steps in it again with 'truly well off' comment

Updated 11:07 a.m. ET, 6/23/2014

(CNN) - Hillary Clinton said two weeks ago that her family was "dead broke" when they left the White House in 2001. She quickly tried to clean up the comments.

But the clean-up doesn't appear to have been committed to memory.

In an interview with Britain's Guardian published over the weekend, Clinton reignited the debate over her wealth by comparing herself to other wealthy people who Clinton said were "truly well off."

Asked by the paper whether she would represent the populist strain of her party, Clinton said, "They don't see me as part of the problem because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names; and we've done it through dint of hard work."

Questions about Clinton's wealth and whether she is in touch with average Americans plagued the former secretary of state for the first week of her "Hard Choices" memoir tour.

The story line started in the tour's first interview with ABC News when Clinton said that her family was "dead broke" after her husband’s tenure in the Oval Office. She later added that her family had "no money" in 2001 and "struggled to piece together the resources" for mortgages and her daughter Chelsea's college education.

"You know, it was not easy," Clinton said earlier this month.

The Clintons departed the White House in debt due to enormous legal fees. By the end of 2000, their debt totaled somewhere between $2.28 million to $10.6 million. What Clinton left out from her answer, though, was that her family had massive book advances in the works, a sizable government pension, and the prospect of making millions on the speaking circuit.

Katy Perry's offer to Hillary Clinton

Right wing groups, looking to carve a narrative out of Clinton's clumsy wealth comments, have continued to hit Clinton, who is admittedly considering a run for the presidency in 2016.

The Republican National Committee blasted the comment over the weekend with an email titled, "World's Smallest Violin Is Playing For Hillary."

"If Hillary is going to run for President she might be advised to take a lengthy sabbatical from her $200k per pop speaking tour and private shopping sprees at Bergdorfs to try and reconnect with what's happening back here on Earth," Tim Miller, the executive director of America Rising, an anti-Clinton outside super PAC, said in an email to reporters.

A spokesman for Correct the Record, a pro-Clinton rapid response group, argued that Clinton was trying to make a point about "paying your fair share in taxes," unlike some who avoid taxes by holding offshore financial accounts.

"Mr. Miller has selective memory if he doesn't recall reports that Mitt Romney reportedly maintained more than 30 million dollars in the Cayman Islands," Adrienne Elrod said, referring to the 2012 GOP presidential nominee.

But Republicans still see Clinton as out of touch with everyday Americans. Her comments about wealth, as well as a comment from earlier this year when Clinton admitted she has not driven a car since 1996, are helping Republicans with that narrative.

The attack lines appear to be taking hold with Democrats, too. The Washington Post reported on Sunday that Democrats were also questioning whether Clinton was out of touch with Americans.

“It’s going to be a massive issue for her,” an unnamed former adviser to President Obama told the Post. “When you’re somebody like the secretary of state or president of the United States or first lady, you’re totally cut off [from normal activity], so your perception of the middle-class reality gets frozen in a time warp.”

For those closely watching 2016 presidential politics, Vice President Joe Biden made some comments Monday morning that could be interpreted as an effort to draw a contrast with Clinton, a potential rival should they both run for the Democratic nomination.

Biden, at a White House summit focused on working families, said he “makes a lot of money” as vice president, but the former senator made sure to mention he was “listed as the poorest man in Congress” and said he has “no savings account.” He went on, however, to stress that he’s been “really, really fortunate” compared to the way others have struggled. (Biden's financial disclosures indicate he does, in fact, have a savings account.)

After her first clumsy comment at the start of the book tour, Clinton looked to clean up the mistake. She told a friendly audience in Chicago earlier this month that her "dead broke" comment "may have not been the most artful way of saying that, you know, Bill and I have gone through a lot of different phases in your lives."

Clinton did, however, stand by the comments, later adding that her family has "been blessed," but noted that they have also "gone through ups and downs like a lot of people."

What’s likely worrying Clinton supporters is the notion that labeling someone “out-of-touch” has worked to disqualify presidential hopefuls in the past.

Bill Clinton turned his fractured, rural upbringing in Arkansas into an asset in the 1992 presidential race by contrasting himself with the incumbent President George H.W. Bush. Clinton cast Bush as out-of-touch and, in some cases, old, and voters kicked Bush out of office after four years.

More recently, Obama's 2012 campaign and its allies spent millions casting Romney as a wealthy capitalist who didn't understand the middle class or its problems. Obama went on to defeat Romney, handily.

CNN's Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.


Filed under: 2016 • Hillary Clinton • Joe Biden
soundoff (78 Responses)
  1. Thomas

    Darryl Issa is the wealthiest member of Congress , he also wears the most grease in his hair !

    June 23, 2014 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  2. Bill from GA

    Gee, Hillary, just 'write' another book. Your supporters will come out of the woodwork and throw more money your way.

    And maybe you could market those urinal things with your image on it, to get money from the righties. Anything for a few more bucks.

    Ol Hillary is already as rich as Romney. And about as out of touch.

    June 23, 2014 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  3. Getoverit

    @Thomas
    Darryl Issa is the wealthiest member of Congress , he also wears the most grease in his hair !
    --------
    Squirrel!!!!!

    June 23, 2014 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  4. Bill from GA

    Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross..... " Who cares? ...You think Hillary might not represent our interests when we know the GOP won't. "

    This is what the Democrat Party has become: " We're not as bad as the other guys "?

    It is still over two years from the next Presidential election. Time to offer the voters some choices.

    If it is time for a women president, as many imply, Barbara Boxer is a smart, tough, experienced politician. (She is probably older than Hillary, but appears to be fit, and sharper than the last President we had.) There are others.

    June 23, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  5. ezduzit757

    Of course she's out of touch with regular Americans, but no more than everyone else who will be seeking the office of President. Any regular Joe just doesn't have the money, influence, recognition or power to run for President. Surely we want someone who is successful to be president. It shows they are hard working, intelligent and respected by their peers. At least she is paying her taxes and not trying to scoot around them.

    June 23, 2014 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  6. Bill from GA

    kurt – " Hillary had a very poor choice of words for what she was trying to say. ... "

    Hillary is an experienced lawyer. If you have to interpret her words for us, she must not be very bright. i know she once was; maybe her mind is failing her already.

    June 23, 2014 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  7. Bill from GA

    kurt – " As far as if this will impact her... it depends on who she runs against. "

    What? No Dems on your list. Hillary has not been anointed Queen yet.

    June 23, 2014 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  8. Bill from GA

    Pierce – " Quit blaming others in this country because they are rich and you aren't. "

    The Clintons got rich by capitalizing on his being President. She got her political career by capitalizing on his being President. It is NOT illegal, but it is not something for Americans to look up to, either.

    But to complain that she is not wealthy enough is just plain low-class.

    June 23, 2014 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  9. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Bill from GA says:
    June 23, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am
    Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross….. ” Who cares? …You think Hillary might not represent our interests when we know the GOP won’t. ”

    This is what the Democrat Party has become: ” We’re not as bad as the other guys “?

    It is still over two years from the next Presidential election. Time to offer the voters some choices.

    If it is time for a women president, as many imply, Barbara Boxer is a smart, tough, experienced politician. (She is probably older than Hillary, but appears to be fit, and sharper than the last President we had.) There are others.

    Sorry Bill, but I don't need or even want a female POTUS, however the fact that Hillary scares the GOP the way she does, makes me support her. She's the only female I will support.

    June 23, 2014 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  10. sifto

    Kurt, mitt romney never said he was"dead broke"..he also never lied all the time and denied he was wealthy..no comparison, whatever..not even a " smidgen.."

    June 23, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  11. Bill from GA

    Wake Up

    So if the Dems get a serious female candidate, you will NOT support her?? Only Hillary??

    June 23, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  12. Deanna

    I hope I can become as "dead broke" as she is!!! According to her, 99.9999% of the US population must be in abject poverty.

    June 23, 2014 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  13. Jay

    Nice job misquoting her. Is CNN turning in to FOXNews now?
    The original quote said “because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names; and we’ve done it through dint of hard work.”

    She did not once say she is not well off

    June 23, 2014 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  14. betterdays

    People just don't understand how hard it is to stand in front of an audience and talk. It's like digging ditches or loading 100 lb. sacks of flour onto trucks. It's hard work!

    June 23, 2014 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  15. King Barry

    Okay, liberals, get your checkbooks out and make a donation. Remember the clintoons asking for donations when they left the white house? They needed money so they would have to sell one of their five houses.

    June 23, 2014 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  16. barryinlasvegas

    Poor Hillary and Bill only making $100 million dollars and their kid getting paid a paultry $600,0000 for not working at NBC. Just common folks – like the rest of us.

    June 23, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  17. Paul Winslow

    I don't think it would be difficult to find 300 million plus citizens that would trade bank accounts.

    June 23, 2014 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  18. Steve R

    As a supporter of Hilliary, I think she has received some poor advice. The book and these appearances/interviews where the questions focus on things like wealth instead of her resume and accomplishments were a mistake. She should have left the stage to the Tea Party, the GOP self destruction, Perry, Cruz , Rubio, Paul and the rest of the "edge-of-the-cliff gang and stayed in background. Not become the headlines. She should have carefully targeted the colleges, the seniors, the miniorities and focused on getting everyone registered to vote and access to voting booths. She should try to recruit as many people as she can who ran the Obama campaigns. She may wind up defeating herself if this keeps up.

    June 23, 2014 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    Yet they want to tell us how well they can manage the economy when they couldn't control their own finances? It is hard to believe any of them.

    June 23, 2014 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  20. LoLBama

    Is this a parody journalism piece?

    June 23, 2014 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  21. Shauna

    Re: "Wake up"

    I don't think you understand what the Democratic Party has become. It is not: "We're not as bad as the other guys.", it's: "Put your hands out and the Democratic Party will put free money into it." That is a far cry from what the Democratic Party used to represent. They now only represent socialism – a guarantee for economic disaster.

    June 23, 2014 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  22. Alex

    She is answering a question, so the question frames the topic. Doesn't sound to me like she is whining about wealth but saying they are not in the category of Mitt Romney or hedge fund managers who make even more money and are rewarded with special loopholes so their massive incomes are not even taxed as income. Hillary uses the tax laws, you would be a fool not to. But their income is subject to income taxes, unlike many of the uber rich who pay lower tax rates than much of the upper middle class.

    June 23, 2014 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  23. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Jay says:
    June 23, 2014 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm
    Nice job misquoting her. Is CNN turning in to FOXNews now?
    The original quote said “because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names; and we’ve done it through dint of hard work.”

    She did not once say she is not well off

    You must be new here. CNN is so far right, they'll never be straightened out again.

    Bill I'll support whatever Dem is on the ticket however no other female scares the GOP like Hillary. They'll crush another female, Hill can take it.

    June 23, 2014 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  24. sparky

    That's some fine Mitt Romney-level disconnect there, your majesty. I'd like a Democrat in 2016, but at this rate, practice saying: "President Rand Paul".

    June 23, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  25. faircma

    Words directly from the horse's mouth and the libs still defend her. That's scarier than her becoming President.

    June 23, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
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