June 22nd, 2014
07:21 PM ET
9 years 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.

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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.

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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. Serious Truth

    Clinton is in the top 0.5% of the world in terms of income and wealth yet they are not "truly well off". Do you really want a President that cannot understand statistics or thinks that being above 99% of the rest of the world is not enough?

    June 23, 2014 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  2. nohillaryno

    yep 50 million is not well off. the lies and sleaze just keep coming and cnn wont be able to spin her like it did the incompetent community organizer....

    June 23, 2014 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  3. Al

    If I made 1/10th of what Hillary earns, I would say I'm extremely wealthy.

    June 23, 2014 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
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