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.

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. neutral observer

    This would not be unlike the time when Hillary started "shukin and jiving"; trying to talk with an overcompensated accent that one time while speaking to a southern audience. I would like to see her speak to a sweedish audience. Imagine what she would morf into then?

    June 22, 2014 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  2. Pk dustere#e

    Why is the gop so scared of mrs clinton

    June 22, 2014 09:21 pm at 9:21 pm |
  3. Chris-E...al

    Hilly is is what is is is to you ? Its One more big show and more of the same Photo shoots glilz and glamour in the dems make believe world and fairy tells riding on tinker bell wings and your cash for clunkers .

    June 22, 2014 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  4. plain & simple

    Hillary Rodham Clinton has lived a sheltered lifestyle. She appears to have an understanding of the worries and concerns of working folks. However not being able to pay a mortgage on your only house is a lot different from struggling to pay the mortgages on your various estates! When you haven't driven yourself anywhere for years or pumped your own gasoline or even know how to. It's not hard to paint her as out of touch. These perceptions will be hard to overcome. They are to an extent true. She my well be a very good president. One doesn't have to be born in poverty to understand everyday struggles. Just don't try selling us what isn't the same. Apples versus oranges!!!

    June 22, 2014 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |

    The Clinton's, Part of the 1%

    June 22, 2014 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
  6. chrissy

    Im sure im not the only one that misses the "Clinton years." I would be hard pressed to be able to raise a family in todays economy and im extremely greatful the economy thrived during his years when i was. I sure feel sorry for those that are trying to do so now...thank you GWB and Cheney! NOT!

    June 22, 2014 11:16 pm at 11:16 pm |
  7. Wes

    hillary is a disaster.

    June 22, 2014 11:40 pm at 11:40 pm |
  8. Imgn_desi

    A Clueless woman , with an entitled mentality .

    June 23, 2014 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  9. Jim

    Well Hillary I pay taxes, and make 100th of what you make. I doubt I could ever afford your life style. If you think the common voter will feel your pain you are sorely misguided. You fool yourself, you have never had to work a day in your life, never had to struggle to pay your bills or give up something because you did not have the money. Stick to the facts and leave the fantasy life out of this.

    June 23, 2014 01:50 am at 1:50 am |
  10. rick

    And we are supposed to care what hillary says because of...? She passed the blame on Bengazi. Even though was the actual one RESPOSABLE for the failure of security.. Did essentialy NOTHING but hamper forign policy and was a total FAILURE at the state department. And now wrote a worthless book and trying to PROMOTE it because its not selling thousands of copies? And reason she HASNT already said will run AGAIN for the presedency is because she only has $100 MILLION dollars and thats not enough to grease the palms to put her in office?? Just like a bunch of weather experts.. Go outside and LOOK for yourself if rain is not in forcast from them.. All is not sunny and dry in Hillary's future for presedent.. Thats a prediction thats much better to accurately predict.. And she should realize it..

    June 23, 2014 02:37 am at 2:37 am |
  11. Sniffit

    “They don’t see me as part of the problem,” Clinton told the paper.

    Yes, and we all knew who you mean by "they", the uneducated lazy government dependent 47% many of which are non-white. What a racist statement. Pack it in Hillary, your election is officially stillborn.

    June 23, 2014 05:34 am at 5:34 am |
  12. Hillary Izexi

    But with her book, "Hard Choices", dominating Amazon book sal... Wait a second... It didn't hit #1 best seller? It fell off the Amazon top 10 list? Maybe America really doesn't want Hillary as President (as we didn't in 2008)?

    June 23, 2014 06:04 am at 6:04 am |
  13. Marie MD

    Nobody hides taxes like the twit! Not even close.

    June 23, 2014 06:33 am at 6:33 am |
  14. Monomachos

    She has a rather odd definition of "hard work". Hiring an agent and agreeing to give a speech is not "hard work"; speaking for an hour is not "hard work" for any politician, especially while getting paid insane amounts of money just for a speech. Maybe the "hard work" is counting all the money afterwards.

    June 23, 2014 06:53 am at 6:53 am |
  15. Jerry

    I laugh in the face of this liar-–ha ha ha

    June 23, 2014 07:43 am at 7:43 am |
  16. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Who cares? As long as she does what all other candidates are supposed to do, what Mitt refused to do, release his taxes, I'm good.

    You think Hillary might not represent our interests when we know the GOP won't. And why reward an 8 year temper tantrum? IMO, they should be run out of town for their actions. They don't deserve to represent America. The GOP, America's very own Taliban.

    June 23, 2014 07:49 am at 7:49 am |
  17. Gunderson

    Hillary sits high on her perch, master of all she surveys. While we, down here in the boondocks struggle to survive in the liberal world. But, Hark!, We have no advanced to the 29 Hour Work Week! Long a goal of the left. Pretty soon success will be had and the Old Soviet Union will rise again!

    June 23, 2014 07:53 am at 7:53 am |
  18. Rick McDaniel

    Clinton's attempts to paint herself as the non=wealthy, are simply totally dishonest. They didn't WORK for their money either. Speeches are NOT WORK.

    June 23, 2014 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  19. Steve, New York City

    There is nothing wrong with getting wealthy, so long as such wealth was accumulated in a legal, ethical manner - and I have no reason to assume that the Clintons did otherwise.

    That being said, for Hillary to tell people that she and her husband are struggling is truly mind-boggling. It almost sounds like Al Gore's statements during his presidential election campaign that he invented the internet.

    June 23, 2014 08:22 am at 8:22 am |
  20. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Ah and I see Fox-lite is remaining true to form. Could you find a less flattering picture of Hillary? One that doesn't make her look like a cold blooded, diabolical mad woman? Of course you could but this is the image you want portrayed. You do the same thing to the Obamas.


    June 23, 2014 08:27 am at 8:27 am |
  21. Rudy NYCX

    Middle class income and personal wealth are two topics that Hillary has consistently bungled. For what reason? What is so hard about speaking truthfully and honestly? I think she'd be better off to admit to a poor choice of words in the past, instead of trying to spin her way out of it because she's only drilling herself in deeper.

    June 23, 2014 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  22. rick

    People are apparently tired of Hillary's rantings.. When a comedian bombed.. Last thing they usualy said was "Exit.. Stage left". Take a hint Hillary..

    June 23, 2014 08:38 am at 8:38 am |
  23. ProtectAmericanJobs

    The problem in trying to elect good leaders for The United States of America has nothing to do with the color or gender of our politicians. It's our politician's, from both parties, lack of honesty and the lack of willingness to do right by the US citizens that they're elected by and should be representing.

    Before Hillary Clinton runs for president, Americans need to remember that it was her "husband" that got us into bed with China in the first place. – And how's that been working out for the American People and the Real American Economy?

    And what about that whole White-Water/Vince Foster deal? And we all know that Hillary must have made a deal with the Dems for promises of future power, just so that she would agree to stand by Bill's side during that whole Monica scandal.

    I don't trust the Clintons at all. – It was the "Clinton Machine" that kicked the ball over to China, which got the Real American Economy rolling down the hill.

    Nixon restored normal diplomatic relations between the US and China, but Clinton is the one who opened up the trade floodgates with Communist China. And both Bill and Hillary were actively involved during their visit to China.

    Under Clinton jobs to China, Under Bush I & II influx of illegals/cheap labor into the US and jobs to Mexico/NAFTA – Bush started it and it was signed into effect by Clinton. I loved President Reagan at that time, because he brought pride and respect back to our country after those embarrassingly weak Carter years, but unfortunately his shortsighted economic policy sent us down the wrong path. Reaganonomics was a huge mistake. Jeez and the wizards on Wall Street wonder why the American people aren't putting as much money into savings and their 401k plans anymore. Maybe it's because the shortsighted economic policies, from the 1980's to the present, have come back to bite the hands that feed them. I guess the thought of changing from a manufacturing based economy to a service based economy of smoke and mirrors is working out just great? – Not!

    June 23, 2014 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  24. The Elephant in The Room

    Hillary needs to get ahead and show leadership on some issues and not be backwards looking. That is her biggest risk. Appearing STALE [which is different than appearing old] is her danger and she'd be wise to surface more than a token team of 40-something influential, empowered captains to demonstrate that her administration would be fresh.

    As far as her STUPID comments regarding her wealth, she is coming off as tone deaf. She is Far Wealthier than 95% of the people who would vote for her and they don't RESENT her for it. MItt Romney's problem was his holier than thou attitudes. That unfair tax policies were somehow fair &BENEFICIAL to the AMERICAN ECONOMY when they just are not. She and Bill may have worked harder than someone that inherited money [eg Trump] or someone born into privilege [Romney] but not as much as the working poor holding down two jobs.

    Hillary face this head on, don't dance around it. RELEASE your tax returns and be prepared to show that you pay "ordinary income" taxes rather than capital gains income taxes. Be prepared to reveal how your income ha saga grown from Yale to now. From the rose firm to being unemployed as first lady to Senator, to big book advance money.

    June 23, 2014 08:49 am at 8:49 am |
  25. kurt

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

    From the context, you can tell that Hillary was trying to say she wasn't someone who inherited her wealth or earned it through investiing in the work of others. Those people pay capital gains taxes... often at a much lower tax rate then regular income taxes.

    But her word choice was very poor.

    She's NOT a Mitt Romney who pays less then 15% in taxes while his employees who make much less pay a much higher percentage. But she DOES make an extremely large income and is truly well off. She's not a trust fund baby, but she is wealthy. But he comments do suggest that she lacks a bit of perspective. While Romney is much more "well off" then she is... the common people in this country view both of them as being much more financially well off then average... with good reason.

    June 23, 2014 08:49 am at 8:49 am |
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