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. nellie

    I strongly disagree with in this comment of infedility . Maybe you should look under your bed to see if there ie someone there. Usually people who critisize are the big offenders. Somebody putting their lives on hold for a big purpose is a very noble character. What have they done to you goys ?. Taken your money? Destroyed your lives? Come on . Is it because you think you are greater than the people in the congress. Ask yourselves why voted for the wrong person ?

    February 24, 2008 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  2. Mary

    I couldn't believe that Obama didn't attend the State of the Black Union forum. I believe that he does take your vote for granted. Hillary has always been a supportor of African Americans,human, children and women rights.

    February 24, 2008 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  3. cindy

    unfortunately some men have no respect for women, maybe they come from else were not from a woman.
    Please give me a break with your comment about the former President
    just get a life, most of you are such an (hypocrit) or maybe memories problem.
    Hillary for president 08

    February 24, 2008 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  4. Skeletons

    Failure to release tax returns only shows one thing...there are skeletons in the Clinton close. Anyone who is still behind Hillary should look at the video on YouTube, "The Video Hillary doesn't want you to see"...the story of her dealings with Ron Paul. Hillary is someone just like her husband Bill, who will say anything to anyone in order to get what they want.

    February 24, 2008 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  5. P.

    Everybody apparently forgot that only three months ago nobody knew who Obama was, but Oprah did. . . if the candidate hadn't been embraced by the media at all levels, as (truly) good as he and his campaign are, he would've been over by Super Tuesday. Or probably poor forgotten Edwards would have emerged stronger, and the story would've been different.

    On the other hand, Hillary has managed to keep his 40sh % of support. With all the popularity and strength that Obama has now, this is quite remarkable.

    February 24, 2008 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  6. Michael, North Carolina

    It is too late for the Clintons Obama has brought about real change and it cannot be stopped. He will unite the American people once again like on 9/11. Get ready America for the 44th president of the United States Sen. Barack Obama.


    February 24, 2008 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  7. The truth

    Ed K, You have it wrong. Bad convictions will lead one to destruction.
    The whole idea is to climb up, live by truth and be free. We may forgive,
    but we will never forget.

    February 24, 2008 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  8. Doreen

    Bill Clinton did not say anything wrong or racist in South Carolina. The African Americans were just looking for an excuse not to vote for Hillary because they want one of their own, Obama, to be President. The black community should acknowledge that fact and not try to trump up pretextual reasons for their abandoning Hillary.

    February 24, 2008 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  9. Adele

    Eveytime Hillary opens her mouth, she keeps mentioning that she has 35 years of experience. With ther experience she voted for the war in Iraq, she voted to declare the Iranian National Guard a terrorist organization. Everytime she uses her experience to vote for something it turned out to be a diaster for the American people. If that is the type of experience she is running on. I want no part of it.

    February 24, 2008 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  10. bk

    Why isn't everyone talking about Obama leading everyone to believe he had such a clean slate. Finally in the debate John King brought the truth out about Obama taking 91 million in Lobbyist money and refusing to release where the money went. That is what should have made headlines. Obama also supported NAFTA. He lied about Rezko too. In the other debate he said he worked on a deal for about 5hrs. When in fact that is where Obama got his start. Obama paid 3000 thousand below market value for his house from Resko. He is arrogant, a liar, and a fraud. He is the same old politics only worse and you think he can unite people. Gimme a break

    February 24, 2008 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  11. Charles Farmer

    Wow, an apology. Maybe she and her husband would both like to apologize for NAFTA. Oh, they still support that don't they.

    February 24, 2008 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  12. Iowan for HILLARY

    Anyone see Obama's responses to reporters about the Ohio mailer?

    He couldn't even answer the questions! UHHHHH UH UH UH UHHHHH

    Sorry – but I don't want someone who can't even answer a simple question from a reporter – how are you going to answer questions from military leaders, and leaders from other countries?!?? "I'm sorry, I'll have to ask staff." Sorry – not good enough!


    February 24, 2008 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  13. Hilary is amazing

    She is still alive. And She will be alive in the end!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    The reason is very simple: America needs her!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Media, I do not believe you. You are not for our people!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 24, 2008 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  14. CR

    The point here is that Hillary came to the State of the Black Union, whereas Barak did not!

    Yes, this disrespectful action of Obama should, indeed, raise a red flag about his campaign and its vested interests!

    This has to be an issue of discussion among all democrats and, specially, the black voters who have shown their unequivocal preference for Obama.

    There is still time to reconsider your choice and vote for Hillary in the next primaries, particularly Texas and Ohio.

    February 24, 2008 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  15. Thomas

    What pleasure I find in listening to Democrats say about the Clintons what the Republicans have been saying for years.

    February 24, 2008 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  16. Sarah

    The Clintons only pander to African-Americans. Very superficial. People must see that.

    February 24, 2008 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  17. carolsullivan

    give it up hilary

    February 24, 2008 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  18. heliosmou

    What is it with the Clintons? Why do they attract such negative attention? Why are so many people interested in Hillary Clinton's personal life? That's her business. Who, after all, is perfect?

    February 24, 2008 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  19. Andy, New York, New York

    Hillary represents EXPERIENCE or PERSPIRATION!

    Obama represents HOPE or INSPIRATION!

    It would seem the line is the sand is drawn: PERSPIRATION versus INSPIRATION, and INSPIRATION is winning.

    February 24, 2008 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  20. Felipe


    February 24, 2008 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  21. african american for Hillary

    Obama is an opportuniist and a hyppocrite. I bet you if there were primaries in Loisiana he would have been there in the black forum.

    February 24, 2008 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  22. RSP

    So...Jake, and the other white male voters who drank the Obama Kool-Aid, Obama is not the Messiah, and his brilliant marketing machine is simply working you over. He didn't appear at the State of the Black Union conference because he no longer needs the black vote. He's too afraid to alienate the white male voters, so he's NOW trying not to appear black.... That's simply "playing the race card".

    Hillary hasn't played the "gender card". One of the reasons older women support Hillary is she stayed in her marriage for her child. We understand that.

    What I don't get is how women could see African-Americans support a black nominee, but women won't support a fellow woman as the nominee. Men have so fooled us, we don't even support one of our own! Shame on you!

    February 24, 2008 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  23. Louis

    This is a late apology and another political move by the Clinton camp to garner black votes. Shame. Shame. She's done everything except accuse the man's mother of pickpocketing Chelsea at the mall.

    What's next Hil? Please concede and get behind Obama and unite the party. Only one candidate can beat McCain and that's Obama.

    For those of you that decry Obama's lack of experience, I challenge you to name one Clinton accomplishment.

    Best To All

    February 24, 2008 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  24. Vera Shabazz

    Hillary, didn't offer full regrets, she said "IF" the comments were offensive, she apologized. That was not an apology.

    February 24, 2008 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  25. Texas Voter

    I can't wait to see who the nominee will be, but democrats must join together in the end for our party's sake. We need to stop this bickering back and forth. If we continue, our party will self-destruct and we will see McCain in office.

    February 24, 2008 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
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