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. nuclear mike

    "During her visit to the Manhattan hospital, the presumed 2016 Democratic front-runner was diagnosed with several problems, including the clots. Hillary had a right transverse venous thrombosis, or a blood clot, between her brain and skull."
    Seems she is NOT well off health-wise at all and is very ill...maybe why she seems so confused & makes her dumb statements as her neuro-functions are disrupted.

    June 23, 2014 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
  2. kurt

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

    Mitt Romney couldn't use this against her for example. If he were her opponent, her words would seem accurate... because compared to him she's MUCH more in touch with what it's like to be an average income earner. Jeb Bush would have similar issues coming from an even higher life of privledge then Clinton.

    Rand Paul and Ted Cruz can't really use it either because they're similar in their backgrounds and wealth.

    Others could probably throw some "not connected to the common man" mud and make it stick though. It all depends on who's running.

    June 23, 2014 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  3. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Does that picture not scream, "Bring me those puppies!"? She looks just like Cruella in the above picture, just less stylish. Say what you want about Cruella but she was an excellent dresser....😊😊😊

    June 23, 2014 09:17 am at 9:17 am |
  4. Mesa

    Give me a break. They take as many tax breaks as they can just like the rest of us. All power to the Clinton's for making money after all it is America but lets not act like it different from anyone else that makes a lot of money legally. Her cheap shot comparison to Romney is less than honest. If they could make most of their money through capital gains they would do it. If you had a choice to pay more in taxes or take all the tax breaks possible and give the difference to a charity where the money is well managed that is what most people would do and they are no different.

    June 23, 2014 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  5. SEL

    She didn't say they weren't truly well off. She said they pay ordinary taxes which many of the truly well off do not do. Stop embarrassing yourselves, CNN.

    June 23, 2014 10:04 am at 10:04 am |
  6. Lizzie

    kurt, "pays less than 15%", so does every hedge fund manager, Warren Buffett and Tom Steyer who is funding democrats in key races, spending millions. The same Tom Steyer who made millions from the oil and gas industry, but seen the light and now is for carbon credits, which the democrats promise to deliver. Romney never claimed he poor, he also gave away all of his inheritance.

    June 23, 2014 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  7. rs

    Ahhh, yes, the Republican spin cycle goes on unabated. The facts are that through various means , the GOP and its minions sued the President and first lady over numerous issues after the Clinton Presidency. They also cost the Clintons considerable money to defend themselves against the various and sundered investigations, commissions and so on that "investigated" them. The Presidency does not pay all that well, and thus, the Clinton's did in fact have money issues. No surprise. That they've turned that around to a healthy savings account ought to make the GOP proud- personal responsibility and all that. But really? more idiocy from the Party whose last Presidential candidate made (I won't say "earned") $50k A WEEK. The GOP is worried about the Clinton's income? More insanity from the Right.

    June 23, 2014 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  8. Sniffit

    "Right-wing groups were quick to try and meld the quote into the narrative that Clinton remains out of touch with ordinary Americans.

    Aaaah, look at the RWNJ poop fly. Are we sure the Capitol building isn't part of the National Zoo?

    June 23, 2014 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  9. brian clancy

    Everyone is looking forward to seeing Katie Perry perform a new, catchy tune that lots of the young demographic will be humming at the polls in November, 2016.

    Right-wing commenters here seem stuck at the bar with one word scrawled on a cocktail napkin, looking helplessly around the room for Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly to come up with a word that rhymes with "Benghazi".

    Songwriting is just another one of those skills deemed less important by the bunch that rouse the rabble around collecting assault rifles with abandon. Alas, they're now stuck with whatever impaired anthem Ted Nugent can come up with. Be patient! He hasn't scribbled a hit song in 25 years.

    Thank god there's still some of his vinyl in nursing homes across the Midwest!

    June 23, 2014 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  10. ed


    It is time to ride into the sunset.

    June 23, 2014 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  11. Sniffit

    This deliberate misinterpretation of Hillary said was brought to you by the advertising revenue received by CNN from America Rising, AFP and Crossroads....

    June 23, 2014 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  12. Lynda/Minnesota

    "America Rising, a Republican opposition research group,"

    America Rising, huh? America rising up against whom; or against what? (Yeah, I know. I know.)

    "to try and reconnect with what's happening back here on Earth," Tim Miller, a spokesman for America Rising, wrote in the email."

    One might ask ... which CENTURY on Earth, Tim Miller? TeaPers having settled nicely in the 1800's and refusing to budge comes to mind. As do tri-cornered hats and knee breeches.

    June 23, 2014 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  13. Peace

    With me I believe Hillary & Bill weren't well off. Bill received the salary like any other President get. Hillary the same with her Senate salary she got. People might be confusing Clinton Foundation. This is the Foundation which gets money from donors. Its a globe adventure and it has got massive of money. Both Bill & Hillary making Money from speeches! folks, they do not do this regularly, hence the money doesn't flow in as some think.

    June 23, 2014 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  14. Mani Miller

    The competition for the president never allows the common citizen much of a shot. How about someone who makes 40 grand a year run for office. Make sure they have two kids and are behind on at least one of their bills and qualify for food stamps whether they actually get them Or not. We need a pragmatic president whose interest will serve the common American and not be beholden to a political ideology or influenced by some well connected cronies. You'll get my vote!

    June 23, 2014 10:26 am at 10:26 am |
  15. Planner922

    And Rep. Darryl Issa is the wealthiest member of Congress. Does this make him smarter? Do the Koch Brothers have any concept of what it means to live from Pay Check to Pay Check? There is a great difference between Earned Income an Un-Earned Income in Taxable Income. The wealthiest 1% in America do not work of a living and do not have any idea what it is like for the rest of us. But the Policies of the Republican Party are written to insure this 1% maintain or increase their wealth. Vote Democrat in 2014!

    June 23, 2014 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  16. Rick McDaniel

    Nonsense. Pure nonsense.

    June 23, 2014 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  17. Pierce

    Quit blaming others in this country because they are rich and you aren't. My grandparents never blamed others for what they didn't have. They worked hard and still managed to be happy with what they had in life. What a difference a Depression can make in a country's attitude.

    June 23, 2014 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  18. Marty

    An example of being out of touch with the American voter.

    June 23, 2014 10:57 am at 10:57 am |
  19. Brian

    First, let's be clear: $123,000,000 is in Clinton's PERSONAL bank accounts, not the 'Foundation' as some voters would have us believe.

    Clinton is very old, very white, very elite, very filthy rich, and completely out of touch with normal America – I don't get it, aren't these the characteristics Dems complained about the Repubs having that they dind't like?

    June 23, 2014 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  20. Strategerist

    Quite possibly the most out-of-touch politician around today.

    June 23, 2014 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  21. bigdoglv

    I am hoping someday I can become "not truly well off."

    June 23, 2014 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  22. Brity Phiz

    she sounds real but wiered\ In Africa often and so common that the first Family is richer than the whole country

    June 23, 2014 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  23. Randy, San Francisco

    It is still better to have a rich Hillary Clinton in the White House than a rich Republican Tea Partier. At least she has compassion and empathy for the working poor and middle classes.

    June 23, 2014 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  24. Thomas

    It's very easy to become an elitist in America . Always be carful not to turn into the things you struggled against becoming .

    Why didn't the State Department foresee what is now happening in Iraq , did we not learn a thing from Vietnam ?

    June 23, 2014 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  25. Hooper

    Amazing. People with no motive whatsoever, except to be envious of another because of monetary difference. Typical republican response to any and all. If I don't have it, I don't believe you deserve it either. Then they elect morons to positions of authority that try to ruin any and all. Amazing.

    June 23, 2014 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
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