NPR logo Clinton Offers Bipartisan Olive Branch, But Is It In Season?


Clinton Offers Bipartisan Olive Branch, But Is It In Season?

Hillary Clinton confers with Republican Sen. John McCain in 2013. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton confers with Republican Sen. John McCain in 2013.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton has a vision, which some would call a fantasy, of Washington working again the way it once did.

"I'm interested in us solving problems together," said Clinton, speaking Wednesday to NPR's Ari Shapiro.

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"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."

Shapiro sounded properly skeptical. How can you govern in such a fashion in such divisive times?

"People come with different experiences, different pressures on them, different ideologies and world views," Clinton said. "So what you have to do is get up every day, build those relationships, work to find common ground."

It was a stock politician's answer, perhaps. But it was also what many a weary voter wants to hear. The idea of another eight years of government shutdowns and shout shows is dispiriting, to say the least. Clinton seemed to channel some of that in her interview with NPR.

"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."

Shapiro asked whether Clinton could point to any examples of the kind of cooperation she was envisioning. She offered several from the most recent budget deal that funded the federal government through September of 2016. She called it "good old-fashioned legislating."

"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 ... but in a Congress, in a legislative environment, everybody has to give a little."

Shapiro picked up on Clinton at one point referring to new House Speaker Paul Ryan as "a worthy opponent." Are the president and the speaker opponents by nature, if they represent opposing parties? Clinton said in the campaign mode, yes, in the governing mode, no.

"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," she said.

Clinton saw a side of Ryan she could work with when he was chairman of the House Budget Committee in the fall of 2013. At the time, Ryan's House colleagues had voted for a budget confrontation with President Obama that put the federal government on partial shutdown for weeks. Ryan devoted long hours to closed-door negotiation with the Senate budget chair, Patty Murray of Washington state.

"And they didn't get everything each of them wanted," Clinton noted. "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."

Talk of peace between the parties will not appeal to everyone, especially not in this year of the angry activist. The primary battles on either side have been dominated by those who are intent on prevailing over the other party, pressing for every item on the agenda and pushing every issue to the max.

Clinton is no stranger to the more ideological elements of her party. As a young lawyer she worked on the staff of the Watergate impeachment committee that pushed Richard Nixon out of the White House in 1974. And she has been in town for all of the ugliest partisan wars of the past two decades, including the impeachment of her husband in 1998.

But Clinton has also seen moments of compromise and achievement. Those included the budget negotiations of her husband's second term, when Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate. Those negotiations produced a budget that was projected to produce a surplus after the year 2000.

In that spirit, Clinton can imagine the parties returning to something closer to the wary but workable d├ętente with which they have functioned through 70 years of divided power in postwar America. And that remains her hope, even with all the personal criticism she faces in this campaign year.

"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."

She already knows she will not be the first choice of the hard-liners in her party. She hopes to weather that storm in the Democratic primaries, survive to win the nomination, and face someone in November who was the choice of the hardest of the hardcore in the other party.

Then, if the dynamic of past presidential cycles holds, Clinton would get a chance to test her vision or fantasy of a more productive relationship between the White House and the Capitol.