CHICAGO – As she considers another White House bid, Hillary Rodham Clinton intends to work in the nonprofit world on issues like improving early childhood education, promoting the rights of women and girls, and finding ways to improve the economy – a set of priorities that could inform a 2016 presidential campaign.
The former secretary of state offered her most extensive description of her post-Obama administration agenda on Thursday since leaving her role as the nation's top diplomat, basking in loud applause from admirers at a Clinton Global Initiative meeting in Chicago. The former first lady, a longtime advocate for women and children, said the foundation would serve as "my home" on a set of public policy initiatives close to her heart.
"What I think we have to be about is working together, overcoming the lines that divide us, this partisan, cultural, geographic [divide]. Building on what we know works, we can take on any challenge we confront," Clinton said. Reflecting the entire family's involvement, the foundation has been renamed the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.
Clinton's speech at the start of a two-day annual conference touched on themes that could be part of a future Democratic presidential campaign, with the former New York senator stressing the need for private and public partnerships to tackle issues like economic and educational inequality. She said climate change, "financial contagion" and nuclear proliferation were "too complex and cross-cutting" for any one government to solve alone.
"This can't just be a conversation about Washington. We all need to do our part," she said.
As secretary of state, Clinton avoided delving too deeply into domestic policy but signaled a desire to become re-engaged in pocketbook issues important to Americans. Pointing to efforts by a teachers' union and others to improve conditions in rural West Virginia, she said economic inequality was "not limited to one county in West Virginia. There are too many places in our own country where community institutions are crumbling, social and public health indicators are cratering and jobs are coming apart and communities face the consequences."
Clinton has emphasized similar issues in the past. In her 1996 book "It Takes a Village," she discussed the importance of collaboration between families and community groups to help children thrive. As a presidential candidate, she was popular with many blue-collar workers whose wages had remained stagnant even as the economy flourished for many Americans.
As secretary of state under President Barack Obama, she promoted a number of initiatives to improve the standing of women and girls in developing nations. She said that work would continue at the foundation, both here and abroad.
Democrats said Clinton had supported many of these issues in the past and cautioned not to read too much into her priorities. "I'd imagine she'll work on them til the day she retires, if she ever does retire. Whether she'll try to do this work from 1600 Pennsylvania, who knows?" said Jill Alper, a Michigan-based Democratic strategist.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, a longtime friend of the Clintons, said at the conference that he was sure she would "figure out what she wants to do in the future and we all look forward to hearing about it."
Clinton noted that as secretary of state she visited 112 nations – "I'm still jet-lagged," she joked – and had learned several lessons during her travels. Regardless of someone's circumstances or homeland, "what people wanted was a good job," she said. Her time abroad taught her that the United States' greatest advantage was its "freedom, equality and opportunity," and said she learned that the U.S. could overcome any challenges and divisions.
She did not address recent criticism from Republicans over her handling of the deadly attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya, last September. She did not address a recent report that said misconduct complaints against American diplomats were improperly halted by senior State Department officials while she was at the State Department. The State Department's internal watchdog has asked outside law enforcement experts to review the cases.
Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, said he was glad that she was joining him at the foundation. He credited her for teaching him about the work of nongovernmental organizations, pointing to the early years of her career at the Children's Defense Fund.
The conference included sessions led by the former president; the couple's daughter, Chelsea; Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and actress Eva Longoria. New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a potential 2016 White House contender, was joining the former president on stage Friday for a session titled "Cooperation and Collaboration: A Conversation on Leadership," a nod to Christie's embrace of a bipartisan mantle as he seeks re-election in his Democratic-leaning home state this year.
For the former first lady, who grew up in suburban Chicago, the speech served as one of her most public forays since departing the administration. She has delivered a number of private speeches around the country and is writing a book about her time at the State Department but offered little indication on whether she'll run for president again. She remains the heavy favorite within the party to succeed Obama, and Republicans have begun dissecting her record.
It also brought supporters of both the Clintons and the Obama teams together in the president's hometown, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, longtime Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett and Lew, who served as Obama's chief of staff and also served in the Clinton White House.
Mrs. Clinton was being honored later Thursday at a dinner with a Chicago-based nonprofit organization founded by former Obama senior adviser David Axelrod and his wife, Susan, and other parents to promote research into epilepsy. As first lady, Clinton helped organize a White House conference on epilepsy in 1999.
The event was another sign of approval for Clinton among Obama's supporters, with many of the attendees coming from the top echelon of Obama's financial backers.
Clinton Global Initiative America 2013: http://www.cgiamerica.org/
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