NPR logo Transcript: NPR's Interview With Hillary Clinton

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Transcript: NPR's Interview With Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton prepares to talk with NPR's Ari Shapiro on Wednesday in San Antonio. i

Hillary Clinton prepares to talk with NPR's Ari Shapiro on Wednesday in San Antonio. Ariel Zambelich/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Ariel Zambelich/NPR
Hillary Clinton prepares to talk with NPR's Ari Shapiro on Wednesday in San Antonio.

Hillary Clinton prepares to talk with NPR's Ari Shapiro on Wednesday in San Antonio.

Ariel Zambelich/NPR

Former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spoke with NPR's Ari Shapiro in San Antonio. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.


Ari Shapiro: I want to begin with the latest news about the private email server that you used as secretary of state, and a letter from the inspector general for the intelligence agencies saying that there was material in some of these emails that exceeded top secret classification.

Can you give us any more details about how many emails there were, what they were about, whether they were sent or received by you?

Hillary Clinton: Well, first, let me say that this is the continuation of an interagency dispute that has been going on now for some months. As the State Department has confirmed, I never sent or received any material marked classified, and that hasn't changed in all of these months.

And the Department of Justice is doing an inquiry to determine whether there were any issues around the email uses that I had. This seems to me to be — you know, another effort to inject this into the campaign. It's another leak.

I'm just gonna leave it up to the professionals at the Justice Department, because nothing that this says changes the fact that I never sent or received material marked classified.

Just so listeners can understand, then, you're saying that the designation above top secret was applied after you sent or received these emails, or ...

Well, it's difficult to know, because the best we can determine — and I know my campaign has made this point — is that it's likely what they are referring to is the forwarding of a New York Times article.

How a New York Times public article that goes around the world could be in any way viewed as classified, or the fact that it would be sent to other people off of the New York Times site, I think, is one of the difficulties that people have in understanding what this is about.

So again, I just reiterate — I never sent or received anything marked classified. I did, perhaps, receive some New York Times articles.

And just to clarify for listeners, it's been reported that these were articles about the drone program, which at the time was classified, but was also being written about publicly.

It certainly was being written about publicly, and it strikes me as somewhat strange that there would be a — an effort by those who are leaking this — and obviously that's what's happening — to try to raise concerns and doubts about information in the public sector.

But even if they have retroactive concerns and doubts, that doesn't change the fact that these were not marked classified at the time they were sent or received.

Let's talk about the Supreme Court and the court's announcement yesterday that it will review President Obama's executive action on immigration, which would suspend deportation for millions of people.

Now, you've said that you would like to go further than the Obama administration. If the Supreme Court strikes down this program as overreach, as president, what would your next step be?

Well, first, Ari, let me say that I believe the president has acted within his legal authority, and I think that's a very important point to make to your listeners.

We have a long tradition of giving the executive branch the discretion to make decisions about everything from criminal justice, who to prosecute, who not to prosecute, to immigration, detention and extradition and deportation.

So what the president basically has said is rather than having just blanket rules where we're going to be deporting on the same basis a young person brought here as a toddler who is now in high school wanting to go to college, has lived his or her whole life here — one of the DREAMers or those DREAMers' parents [referring to the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act] — we're going to focus on the felons, the violent criminals, the people who should be deported.

And I think the president has the authority to do that. I think there is precedent because other presidents have also exercised discretion.

And if the Supreme Court disagrees and you become president, what is your next step?

Well, it would depend upon what the Supreme Court says as to what basis they might disagree. I am one who — you know, I'm a recovering lawyer. [LAUGHTER]

I taught law and I practiced law. I believe that there's even a strong argument this case doesn't have what's called standing under the law. But in any event, we would, of course, look at what the Supreme Court said, and then I would get to work on trying to figure out what it actually meant and how it would be applied in practice. And I would still be committed to doing everything I could to protect those hardworking immigrants who are here making a contribution to our country, making an economic contribution as well.

So I would be very open to seeing what more could be done to make it clear that until we get comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship — which is what I support — we're not going to be breaking up families, raiding people in the middle of the night, and, you know, just taking them away from their children and their communities and sending them back where, in many cases, they never really lived as a conscious person or haven't been there in many years.

Now, by the time the next president takes office, there will be three Supreme Court justices in their 80s. What criteria would you use if you have the opportunity to choose Supreme Court justices?

Bernie Sanders [Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate] has said he would have a litmus test. Anybody he would nominate would have to commit to overturning the Citizens United campaign finance decision. Would you have a litmus test? What would your criteria be?

Well, I believe strongly that we need Supreme Court justices who truly understand the impact of their decisions, and I think some of the recent decisions — Citizens United being one, voting rights being others, the extension of more and more rights to corporations vis-a-vis real people — I think has created some unintended consequences. So I would want somebody who understands when you blow open the door and say money is speech and you have a, in my view, somewhat misguided hope that all of the money that would then be pouring into our political system would be disclosed in real time — which, of course, it is not and in some instances never is — that you would have someone who has ... experience as a lawyer, as a judge in the real world who would say, hey wait a minute, that really undermines and corrupts our political system.

So is that "yes" to a Citizens United litmus test ... ?

Absolutely, but it's broader than that. It's not just Citizens United, Ari. Let's take voting rights. I was in the Senate when we voted 98 to nothing to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act. President George W. Bush signed it. And we did that because there was substantial evidence that a lot of the discrimination that, unfortunately, was part of our voting system that we addressed with the Voting Rights Act in the '60s was still a problem in some parts of our country.

The folks who didn't agree with that appealed it, took a challenge to it to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court really gutted the Voting Rights Act. And their argument, again, in my view, was fundamentally naive.

And that's the best I can say about it, which was, "You know, we really don't need all of this now. Everybody can kind of stand up for themselves." And look at what has happened. We have had a rash of efforts in states to try to suppress and undermine the vote.

So, I'm looking for people who understand the way the real world works, our political system when it comes to money, like Citizens United; our voting rights system; our economics system where, if you keep enhancing the powers of corporation vis-a-vis unions, vis-a-vis, you know, individuals, you're not going to have the kind of balanced economy that produced the middle class.

Secretary Clinton, we're talking to you 12 days before the Iowa caucuses, where the polls are much closer than your campaign would prefer.

[LAUGHTER] That is always true if you're in a — a very competitive race.

And your campaign has started waging some very pointed attacks on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Yesterday, a group of national security veterans — former national security officials put out a letter attacking Sanders on foreign policy, and specifically on Iran. Part of the letter says, "We need a commander-in-chief who knows how to protect America and our allies, and advance our interest and values around the world."

Are you suggesting that Sanders is not qualified to be commander in chief?

Well, Ari, in a campaign that is as spirited as ours, we owe it to voters to draw contrasts. Certainly, Sen. Sanders has been drawing lots of contrast for quite some time — which it won't surprise you to hear me say, I think are not particularly well-founded, but nevertheless, that's his right.

I will ask you about those in a moment, but ...

That is his right. But from my perspective, you are, if you're in Iowa looking toward the caucus, then on to New Hampshire and Nevada, South Carolina, you are picking a president and a commander in chief.

And in some of the comments that Sen. Sanders has been making, there is room for disagreement, even concern. Take his comments about Iran. I know something about this; I led the efforts to put together the coalition to impose very tough sanctions on Iran, which enabled us to get to the negotiating table to get the Iran agreement to put a lid on their nuclear weapons program.

So, I'm immersed in what it will take for us, going forward, to manage this challenging relationship.

Sen. Sanders has said he would like to see Iranian troops in Syria. I think that would be a terrible mistake; Syria is on the doorstep of Israel, just among one of the reasons why it would be.

He has said he wants to see Saudi Arabia and Iran work together in a coalition to defeat ISIS. Well, you know, we're having a very big flare-up of tension between two longtime adversaries, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Either he didn't understand that, or thought that he could get away with saying what he said.

And, and ...

And thirdly, let me say this. I think that — when he said in the debate the other night that he wouldn't, uh, would favor normalizing relations with Iran, that, too, was a fundamental misunderstanding of what it takes to do the patient diplomacy that I have experience in to be able to continue to change behavior, or at least to mitigate against behavior by Iran.

President Obama doesn't believe we should be moving to normalize relations with Iran; neither do I.

On foreign policy, President Obama's approval ratings are in the 30s. You were the face of Obama foreign policy for four years.

Don't those numbers suggest that people, in fact, want a change from the foreign policies that you represent?

Well, I don't agree with that. I think that people are rightly concerned about ISIS.

I'm the only candidate on either side in this race who has put forth a comprehensive plan about what we need to do to deprive them of territory on the ground through air support of fighters — not Americans, but Arab and Kurdish fighters; what we need to do to go after their foreign funding, foreign fighter flow, take them on online. And how we keep America safe — and first and foremost, it's not by demonizing Muslims, and particularly American Muslims.

So I have a very clear set of proposals. I've given major speeches, I've been vetted on them and I think what you were referring to — there is a concern on the part of experts — national security practitioners that we need to make it clear, these are complicated problems. We need a very steady hand, we need to have people who understand the complexity of the problems because we have to make some hard choices going forward.

Sen. Sanders suggested yesterday that your experience is not enough and that there's a difference between experience and judgment. Part of what he said was Dick Cheney had a lot of experience, George W. Bush's vice president, of course. A whole lot of people have experience, but do not necessarily have the right judgment.

How do you feel about being compared to Dick Cheney?

[LAUGHTER] Well, since I spent eight years in the Senate fighting against a lot of what he represented and four years as secretary of state cleaning up the mess that he left, I think it's, you know, fairly far out there. But it is fair to say OK, let's compare experience. Let's compare what we know and what our track record is.

And certainly, President Obama, when he was elected, immediately turned to me. He trusted my experience and my judgment, despite a very hard-fought campaign, to be his secretary of state because we inherited so many problems from the kind of attitude and actions that were manifest in the Bush-Cheney administration.

And I really did have to get around the world reassuring people that the United States would conduct ourselves in accordance with our values. Yes, we would pursue our interest, but we wanted to do so in concert with others. That's why when I negotiated the sanctions against Iran, I had to get countries as difficult as Russia and China on board, and then I had to go convince countries that felt like; you know, that's a long way away, we want to keep buying their oil and their gas; why that was not in their interests, in order to advance global security.

So I think that I've been in a lot of situation room conversations, been on the line about making recommendations as to what we do, whether or not to go after Osama bin Laden or how to negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas through the Muslim Brotherhood president in Cairo, President Morsi, on behalf of Israel.

And so I have a — a very clear idea of what we need to do and I know it goes beyond sloganeering and political one-liners.

Let's talk a little about partisanship. If you are president, you will likely work with House Speaker Paul Ryan. What's your relationship with him like?

Well, I can't claim to know him well, but of course I know him because we have had occasion to be at some of the same events. And I have watched him with some interest. I've said the other day, I think he would be certainly a worthy opponent because of the views that he represents in the Republican Party.

Would you say "opponent" — as president and speaker of the House are opponents by nature?

No. I think in the campaign, you know, in the campaign, he would be someone who is going to prosecute the Republican case. That's what happens in a campaign. And then once it's over, you have to get to work. And I think he would be an honest broker in working with me.

I saw that when he was the head of the Budget Committee and, you know, the Congress, instigated by Ted Cruz, shut our government down in the fall of 2013, which was a terrible, irresponsible thing to do. And it was Paul Ryan for the Republicans in the House, and my good friend Sen. Patty Murray, who was the chair at that time of the Budget Committee, who went to bat to try to work out an agreement.

And they didn't get everything each of them wanted. They had to work really hard to come up with a solution that could pass through the Congress. That's good, old-fashioned legislating. That's what you have to do. And you can never give up on it. People come with different experiences, different pressures on them, different ideologies and worldviews.

So what you have to do is get up every day, build those relationships, work to find common ground — something I did as first lady, as senator, as secretary of state. And you know, it's very amusing to me, Ari. When I'm not actually running for something, when I'm in a position and I'm working on behalf of these concerns that I think are important to be addressed, the Republicans say the nicest things about me.

So, I'm going to just make it clear, I will work every day to find common ground.

Well, as you talk about finding common ground, is there any policy proposal that you have heard from a Republican candidate this election cycle, in debate or on the stump, that you thought, "Yeah, that's a really good idea; I could get behind that"?

You know, I haven't heard them so much from Republican candidates because I think they've all been in a rush to appeal to the most extreme parts of the Republican base. But I have heard them from Republican officeholders, from Republican governors, from ...

Can you give an example?

Well, from Republicans in the Congress. Well, it was great that at the end of last year when the Congress had to come together around a budget going forward, a so-called omnibus, you had old-fashioned legislating. And you had Republicans joining with Democrats to say, "Look, we need to keep supporting renewable energy." So, some tax benefits called the production tax credit and the investment tax credit were continued.

You also had a compromise to continue to support the earned income tax credit. Now, the Republicans also got some things. You know, they wanted to lift the ban on exporting oil. That's not my preference. I would prefer that we have a different approach to energy. But in a Congress, in a legislative environment, everybody has to give a little.

And I worry about people who run for office, whether it be in the Congress or for the White House, who are so sure of their ideological positions that they're going to throw us into more gridlock. I'm interested in us solving problems together. I'm interested in finding good ideas whether they're from Republicans or Democrats, getting people around the table, and trying to make progress on behalf of our country.

So the first votes are being cast in Iowa in just over a week. And pollster J. Ann Selzer with The Des Moines Register said that it feels like 2008 all over again. Are you having flashbacks?

No, I'm really not. I feel very positive about the organization we've built, the enthusiasm and energy of the people who are literally showing up in below-freezing temperatures to canvass for me — my precinct captains, my precinct teams are really all so focused on doing well in the caucus.

We're going to have to work hard, though. I always thought that would be the case. And that's part of the job; you've got to work hard as president — nobody is giving the job away. You've got to get out there and earn it, and that's what I try to do every single day.

What, apart from — apart from the changes in your ground game, which you have talked about changing since 2008, the infrastructure. What have you learned since your 2008 defeat about the American voter, the Democratic primary voter that has changed your approach this time?

Well, I have to say, Ari, I think perhaps I've changed more. Having served for four years as secretary of state has given me the kind of perspective that really fuels my understanding, my proposals about how we keep us safe at home, and how we work with our friends and allies to try to keep the world more peaceful, secure, and hopefully prosperous.

So, I bring a different perspective to the campaign this time. And I also have a long experience — going back to my first job with the Children's Defense Fund — about what we have to do to make things happen. And when I make a proposal about building on the Affordable Care Act, I'm doing it because we are now slightly over 90 percent who have health care.

That is a huge accomplishment for our country. I don't want to rip that up and start over again. So, I am trying to level with the voters, I'm trying to tell people, here's what I will do. You can look at my record of fighting for results, whether it's the Children's Health Insurance program, or getting a nuclear weapons reduction with Russia through the Senate with two-thirds majority.

You can look at what I've accomplished, and you can know that when I say, "I will fight for you," that's exactly what I mean. And that's my — you know, that's what motivates me every day.

One of the things that seem to appeal to voters so much about Bernie Sanders and about Donald Trump is their visceral anger that they convey on the stump.

What makes you really angry?

Well, lots of things do. Most recently what happened in Flint, Mich., makes me really angry. The idea that you would have a community in the United States of America of nearly 100,000 people who were drinking and bathing in lead-contaminated water infuriates me. And that is a fundamental failure of government to protect the very people we represent.

So, I understand why people get angry. They're angry about the Great Recession, which so knocked everybody flat. They're angry about the failures of, you know, our government and the powerful interest — it's not only Wall Street, it's the gun lobby, the prescription drug lobby, the insurance lobby and so many others.

Let's talk about Big Oil. I understand that, but I also know that, once you've vented your anger, once you have gotten out there and roused all of those really strong passions, you've got to do something.

But to take Flint, Mich., as an example. You talked about this on Sunday night at the debate. And you said, "I was angry about Flint, Mich., so I went on TV and talked about, and I sent an aide and I put out a statement."

And a lot of people said, if you were so angry, why didn't you go [there]? You know, you're pinballing all over the country. If this is something that really gets you in the gut, why not go there?

Well, I think that's really unfair. No. 1, as soon as I heard about it, I sent my aides.

You know, I didn't want to go off half-cocked. I wanted to know what was happening and what the facts were. And so, I sent two of my trusted aides to go, meet with the mayor, meet with others to begin talking with the senators, the congressman who represents the area.

Let's get the facts first. You know, I am not someone who goes off half-cocked. I'd like to actually know what the facts are. I know that puts me at odds with some people these days in our political environment, including ...

Are you referring to Sen. Sanders?

Well, I'm referring mostly to the Republicans, who seem to be very fact-adverse. So what I did was to gather the information, then I immediately called for action.

And I thought the action would be forthcoming, because, clearly, if I had been in a position of responsibility, it would have been. But then, it was clear, unless the governor asked the president to make the order, it couldn't happen.

So I then, as you know, went on Rachel Maddow and said, "the governor needs to ask for the help that is required to help the people he represents." Within two hours, he did. I think that's a pretty good track record.

Do you think he did it because you went on Rachel Maddow and said he needs to do this?

Well, you know, I lived a lot of years in Arkansas, and one of my favorite sayings I learned is, "if you find a turtle on a fence post, it didn't get there by accident."

I think it was quite telling that the governor made his decision two hours after I really challenged him to do so, and I'm thrilled that the mayor of Flint has endorsed me, because I'm the only person who has been reaching out and trying to learn what is going on, and then making proposals that will actually help to deal with what the terrible potential problems are, especially with children's learning and brain development.

Well, Secretary Clinton, I know we have to wrap up, but the last question I wanted to ask you — you have been open about the fact that you maintain your health on the campaign trail by eating raw jalapeno peppers.

It's true.

Where did that practice come from? Where did you get that?

Well, I don't want everybody listening to think this is a good idea, because they may have a different constitution than I have. But back when — you know, my husband was running in '92, I read an article about the special immune-boosting characteristics of hot peppers.

And I thought, "well, that's interesting," because — you know, campaigning is pretty demanding, and so I started — I'd always liked hot food — Mexican, Indian, Thai. But I started adding hot peppers, and then I got into eating them raw, wherever they weren't really, really too hot.

And all I can tell you, knock on wood, is that maybe that's one of the reasons I'm so healthy and I have so much stamina and endurance out there today.

Is it true that you give some of your staffers a hard time when they can't take the heat ...

Well ...

... of a raw jalapeno?

... Yes. If we — let's qualify it to jalapeno. Yes. We do have a running joke about that. And I used to carry — you know, a little tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce to spice up the foods.

I've — you know, now gotten into the real hard-core hot peppers. But I can't do them all, so if you're out there listening, don't meet me with a raw habanero and say, "OK, take a bite."

Secretary Clinton, thank you very much for joining us.

My pleasure. Thank you so much.

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