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

Clinton offers regrets for husband's remarks

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.l.cnn.net/cnn/2008/images/02/24/art.clintonla.ap.jpg caption="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. Ed K.

    Obama wasn't there and it should be a red flag to the Black community but they will only say Hillary came because she was behind but in truth we all know she would have come if she was ahead. The Clintons have always championed the Black community's problems.

    February 24, 2008 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  2. Laura Thompson

    I'm for Hillary Clinton, but somehow I wish Mr. Clinton would " Butt Out". I believe with all my heart that Hillary can stand up for herself!
    I feel he can't sit still some where and watch he's got to get involved! This is her campaign not his, he had his moment. She doesn't need to go out and explain her regret's everytime he opens his mouth. Make him go stop Hillary for your sake!

    February 24, 2008 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  3. full disclosure

    Hillary, please release your tax returns.
    What are you hiding?

    February 24, 2008 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  4. Faye

    All men and women make mistakes. Michelle made one (so people say) when she made her comment about America.
    I find Hillary and Obama both lacking something. PRIDE in America.

    Vote for Nader or McCain

    February 24, 2008 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  5. Ed K.

    People like you take the easy road where people like Hillary Clinton make hard choices and often take the hard road which takes more courage and personal conviction. It would be easy to be you.

    February 24, 2008 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  6. From PA

    lets see president clinton cheated on his wife........so we all know about their personal issues? that makes her less strong?



    February 24, 2008 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  7. Lora

    "Critics complained about the remarks, seeing it as a suggestion that Obama's success in that state would largely be based on his race."

    And... what part of Obama's success is dependent on race?? If 80% of your race is voting for you, then it certainly appears race-based.

    Sadly, Obama rejected the white heritage of his mother as he writes in his book. Yet, the white population of America is not basing their vote on race as revealed in the more even split between candidates.

    I know... off to moderation I go. Out of ten posts, none have made it to the boards... maybe if I said, GO OBAMA !!!

    February 24, 2008 10:59 am at 10:59 am |
  8. Elenanatx

    She lies...they don't actually "know his heart"...he's slick and has been slick for years and black people need to realize that. The fact that she attended this event is another calculated move on the Clintons part to confuse and try to change the votes of black people that she has lost or hasn't gained as of yet. Black leaders need to stop these negative meetings which continue to mentally inslave their communities. We seriously need new leadership and Hillary is not fit to be the leader of America, so how in the heck is she good for the black community?

    February 24, 2008 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  9. Kay Street,Washington

    You can always get a job back at walmart at a low,lower and lowest wage.

    February 24, 2008 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  10. Anyone but Obama

    I love how Obama got the black vote in Louisiana and then decided that they weren't worth their time.

    The funny thing is, the "little people" at the Black State of the Union defended him in their blind idol worship!

    February 24, 2008 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  11. rachel

    Everyone needs to get off Hillary's back about staying with bill its her decison, Jfks wife, Martin Luther king Jr's wife stayed with them it was there decision. No that people are so use to people getting divorced in a milla second people questions other people's decison to try and stick there marriage out and its a personal decison. I am glad that Hillary offered apologies for bills remarks although I beleive they were taken out of context, but of course the media jumped on it.

    February 24, 2008 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  12. Hillary Supporter

    South Carolina was Obama's from the start.. Bill's comment was a last ditch reverse psychology effort to swing it the other way...

    It's nice to see that you are starting your concession speech early. Thank you for seeing what the majority of Democrats see.. Obama Nation baby!!

    Now get back in the kitchen and make me a sammie...

    February 24, 2008 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  13. Liz

    I think we'd see the same results in the black vote if Bill didn't make the comment. I regret he was the messenger before the message delivered itself.

    February 24, 2008 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  14. gman

    Finally, an apology...good show Hillary.

    Go Obama 08!!!

    February 24, 2008 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  15. SetItStraight

    Don't worry about how the Clinton's relationship works and stick to the positive. I just wish that my relationship will be as long lasting as the Clinton's has been. Yes, they have had their issues but they did not give up on each other as you appear to suggest.

    What Bill said was taken out of context, just like the hype about Michelle being proud – these people say so much yet everyone is ready to pounce on one sentence or one commnent while discounting everything else. That is what is wrong with politics.

    February 24, 2008 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  16. carlo

    I totally agree with you JB. Bill Clinton did more to set back the cause of women than any other president in modern history. It is not just Bill Clinton's words in the wake of the South Carolina primary that lost her iinfluence in the Black community. It was and has been her "condescending" tone with Barack Obama, and her lack of concern for his campaign until he started to catch up. Doesn't she know that the first rule of engagement is "never underestimate your opponent?" That, above all else is what she is guilty of. She ignored the African American vote and instead focused on "paid preachers" in some blindly led congregations to lead what they see as "blind sheep" to the polls.

    She has no one to blame for the position she is in but herself.

    February 24, 2008 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  17. CTvoter

    Maybe she should have shrieked," Shame on you, Bill Clinton."

    February 24, 2008 11:03 am at 11:03 am |
  18. Roger

    It's always interesting to note the caginess of the "apology." It takes the form of "if somehow you were offended," I'm sorry for how you took what was said." No attempt at all made to reflect on how offensive the remarks were in themselves, irrespective of how they were taken by others. How typical of her. If the strategy had worked, you can bet she wouldn't be "apologizing" to anyone.

    February 24, 2008 11:04 am at 11:04 am |
  19. John, Las Vegas, NV

    Which accent did Hillary use when talking to this group? Did she throw in a line about her and Bill something like "...we be wit you..."

    February 24, 2008 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  20. Damon

    Thank you Hillary for eat least showing up! unlike Obama - outage!

    February 24, 2008 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  21. Joe

    If Hillary would kick Bill out now with a strong statement, she might be able to begin to get some support.. there is no guarantee, however, but it might be a good start.. but again, it may be too little, too late..

    February 24, 2008 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  22. TSR

    the many faces of Hillary and the Clintons,saying what it takes to appease whom ever they have to appease for THEIR own agendas.Maybe we as Americans have had enough of this tactic and want to genuinely move on with some one other a Bush or a Clinton family

    February 24, 2008 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  23. ralph tyler

    I bet Hillary is sorry about Bill's comments, but her regret has nothing to do with altruism.

    February 24, 2008 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  24. Il Teacher

    She did not say she offers regrets. Direct quote fromm CNN story,

    "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,"

    That is quite a bit different. CNN continues biased reporting.

    On another note...did anyone catch Saturnday Night Live's return last night. It was great. The cast weighed in on the media's love affair with Barack Obama and unfair and biased coverage of Hillary Clinton.

    The media should take a long hard look at the opening segment and then look at themselves in the mirror. To most Americans, the media appears as ridiculous as the SNL anchors, inflicted with Obama-mania. The SNL cast member's portrayal of Barack Obama was also perfect. Vague answers to questions that were obviously written to favor him.

    I am sure that this comment will be awaiting CNN Moderation until long after comments are closed, but it feels good to sound off!

    February 24, 2008 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  25. Closely Watching

    While I don't support her I do respect these comments more than the now famous closing lines (borrowed or not) from the Texas debate. I was pretty convinced until now that she was not capable of accepting mistakes made by she or her husband. However, her shrill and shrew-like comments made in Ohio in response to the mailers sent out by the Obama camp further increases my support of Senator Obama.

    February 24, 2008 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
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