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Remarks by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Democratic Presidential Candidate, to the AFSCME 2007 National Leadership Conference


Location: Washington, DC



(Cheers, applause.)

SEN. CLINTON: Whoa! (Cheers, applause continue.)

MR. MATTHEWS: Your opening statement, Senator.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, my opening statement is, I'm really happy to see all of you. I'm glad to be here this morning. (Cheers, applause.)

You know, I have had the great privilege of working with AFSCME leaders not only in New York but around our country and of course here in Washington. And I'm grateful to you because you take politics seriously.


SEN. CLINTON: You understand that we have to organize in order to change the direction of our country. And we also have to make sure that people who work hard every single day have safe working conditions and wages that lift them up and give them and their children a chance to have the American dream.

That's why I support the Employee Free Choice Act that will give -- (cheers, applause) -- will give Americans the chance to make their own decisions about whether or not they want to be part of a union.

Because the way I see American history, the American middle class was largely helped along the way by the American labor movement. There is a connection between what we did during the 20th century to lift people up and give them a middle-class way of life and what is happening today, where more and more people feel so pressed -- health care costs are up, energy costs are up. Just go try to fill up your car at a gas tank (sic). And you know as well as I that everything that you're trying to do gets harder and harder if you're not given the opportunity to have those rising incomes. And in the past six years, productivity has gone up 18 percent in America, which means that Americans are working harder than ever before, but the average family income has gone down $1,300. So we need a strong union movement, we need a strong economy and we need a president who wants to be on the side of the American people again, who will stand with us and work with us and create the opportunities that we deserve to have and meet the challenges that we confront. (Cheers, applause.)

I want to set goals for America. I want quality, affordable health care for every American. I want to be sure we have an energy policy that gets us off our dependence on foreign oil. I want to make sure college is affordable again for everyone, and I want to make sure that the American labor movement has the opportunity to organize and bargain for good wages for hard-working Americans to lift us up and move us into the future with confidence and optimism. (Cheers, applause.)

And we have a lot of other things that Chris and I will talk about that we need to do around the world to restore respect for America. So let's renew America's promise at home and restore respect for our country around the world. (Cheers, applause.)

MR. MATTHEWS: Susan Silverman is an urban planner in New York, has asked this question.

I've raised it with the other candidates. What is your specific exit strategy for bringing American troops home from Iraq?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I have been saying for some time that we need to bring our combat troops home from Iraq starting right now. I would not wait. I would begin to get them out of the multi-sided sectarian civil war that they are part of.

You know, our American young men and women in uniform have done their job. They were asked to get rid of Saddam Hussein, and they did. They were asked to let the Iraqi people have elections, and they made it possible. They were asked to let the Iraqi government have some space and time to get organized in order to defend the Iraqi people, and they've given them that time. But the Iraqi government hasn't done their part. They haven't met the conditions that are necessary for a political solution because there is no military solution. So I think it is time that we start bringing our troops home.

I also think we have to make it very clear to the Iraqi government that if they don't meet conditions that they themselves have met (sic), like how they're going to allocate oil revenues, how they're going to bring the different sectarian groups together to hammer out what is the political determination that they're going to agree upon, if they don't do that, we should begin cutting aid to them. We cannot continue to support them if they're not going to do the job that they have to do.

And finally, we should have intensive regional and international diplomacy. I believe in diplomacy, unlike our current president, who apparently doesn't. He thinks you don't talk to people you disagree with or people you think are bad people. Well, I don't know how you get through the day, the week or the year if you don't talk to people you don't agree with every so often. (Laughter, applause.) So I believe that we've got to start engaging in diplomacy. And that's what I would do, beginning now, if I were president. And if our president doesn't end our involvement in Iraq, when I am president, I will. (Cheers, applause.)

MR. MATTHEWS: President Bush and his spokespeople have suggested a Korean model for Iraq -- in other words, a long U.S. occupation, perhaps of half a century, in the case of Korea. Should we leave a residual force in Iraq after the current fighting is over?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, Chris, I have for some time said that we may still have remaining vital national security interests that are important to America. You know, we cannot let al Qaeda have a staging ground in Iraq.

And finally, we have made common cause with some of the Iraqis themselves in Al Anbar province, so that they are actually working with American forces against al Qaeda. That doesn't take a lot of American forces, but I think we have to look carefully about continuing that.

We also have to look to see how the Kurds are being treated, because the Kurds have behaved very well in this. You know, they took their opportunity for freedom from Saddam Hussein's tyrannical rule, and they've been building their society in the north of Iraq.

We also have to pay attention to Iranian influence. I don't know that we need very many troops to do that. I think diplomacy and trying to get the rest of the region involved is the best way to go there.

And finally, we will have to protect our interests. We'll have an embassy there. And if the Iraqi government does get its act together, we may have a continuing training mission. But that's a limited number of troops with very specific missions -- no permanent bases, no permanent occupation. I don't think it's equivalent to Korea. I don't see that as an analogy. I think what we have to do is try to persuade or convince the Iraqis themselves to take responsibility, and so far that hasn't proven to be very successful.

MR. MATTHEWS: Mayor Giuliani, who you know -- (booing) -- has said recently that he would consider enlarging our force of troops in Iraq, depending on conditions over there. Would you consider expanding the U.S. force level in Iraq?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, number one, I don't know where he thinks he's going to get the troops. Our military is stretched thin. We have been deploying not only active duty but Guard and Reserve troops consistently. Some have been on their second, third, even fourth deployment; I bet some of you in this audience know people who have been in that situation. (Light applause.) And we also haven't demonstrated the commitment to our veterans that they deserve to have. We have to clean up our treatment at DOD and the VA of how our returning young men and women are given medical care and compensation and disability. (Cheers, applause.)

So -- we have an all-volunteer military, and I am very grateful for those young men and women who serve their country, and I thank all of you who have served and all of you who have loved ones who are serving. But I think it's important that we keep faith with them. And I don't see how more American troops in a situation that we do not control because we do not set the course for what the Iraqis want themselves would make a differences. The Iraqis have to decide whether they want to continue killing each other. They have to decide whether they're going to get together and resolve the differences among them, and it's not just one group against another group; it's multiple groups. And when our young men and women are on a street in Baghdad, they often don't know what is happening, they don't know whose side they're supposed to be on, they don't know the language. I don't see why putting more of our young men and women into that situation makes any sense whatsoever. (Cheers, applause.)

MR. MATTHEWS: Senator, Joe Lieberman, your colleague from Connecticut, has called for -- at least he's been careful about how he's couched this -- but he's talked about limited military action against Iran right now because of their aid to the -- to people fighting us in Iraq. Are you with that position of considering military action, not because of a nuclear threat but because there's immediate involvement by Iran in the Iraqi war?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I believe we do have to defend our troops, and there is considerable evidence that weaponry and fighters are crossing the border, not just from Iran but from Syria and from other countries as well.

So we do have to try to choke off the weapons coming in and the fighters crossing the borders.

But I think we should focus on intensive outreach and diplomacy right now with Iran. And that is one area that I'm pleased that President Bush and Secretary Rice have moved toward. We do need to start engaging the Iranians. I think it's been a mistake for us to ignore them, to outsource our policies to the British, the French and the Germans. So I think we have to focus on what's going on inside of Iraq right now militarily and focus on what's going on outside diplomatically. And that's what I would be pressing for if I were president. (Applause.)

MR. MATTHEWS: Would you have any problem or anything to say if President Bush were to pardon Scooter Libby? (Laughter.)

SEN. CLINTON: Oh, I think there would be enough to be said about that without me adding to it. (Laughter.)

MR. MATTHEWS: Does that -- that is such a political answer. That is such a political answer.

Would you have a problem with Scooter Libby getting a pardon, getting too walk, after being convicted of perjury and obstruction?

AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Ask a real question.

Next question.

Ask a real question.

SEN. CLINTON: (Laughs.)

MR. MATTHEWS: Oh, a real question, okay.

SEN. CLINTON: Like a question that's really about the people in this audience and not what goes on inside of Washington. (Cheers, applause.)

MR. MATTHEWS: Okay, all right, so we'll leave that as a non- answer then. (Laughter.)

You want to fight? Okay. Okay, let's start it, right here.

SEN. CLINTON: This is good; this is good. You guys keep going. (Applause.)

MR. MATTHEWS: Look, why, why, okay, let's have a fight. I like to fight, okay?

SEN. CLINTON: (Laughs.)

MR. MATTHEWS: Let's -- you want to fight? Okay.


SEN. CLINTON: (Laughs.)

MR. MATTHEWS: What about -- why is it important for the labor movement to have card check neutrality when you had the access to secret ballot elections? Explain to the regular people out here, not organized people, why it's important to let labor people who want to organize to do it through card check.

SEN. CLINTON: That's a great question. Because back in the 1970s, our system was changed. We used to have card check, and card check was available, for some of the veterans out there who remember those days. And card check gives an individual the opportunity to say yes or no without any kind of, you know, consequences.

What happens when you're trying to organize and you have to have an election, and the way that the balance has been tilted against labor over the last years, means that the employer has a lot of opportunity to try to intimidate and harass the people who are being asked to consider joining a union. And the balance is out of whack.

You know, I believe in balance. I think it's the genius of our political system -- checks and balances, separation of powers. But you have to have those checks in order to have the balance. And what the Employee Free Choice Act does is to get back into a balance so that if you want to organize, and somebody signs a card, that should be sufficient as an indication of their desire to be part of a union. If you go just -- (applause). If you go just with the election, then you're going to have a continuing opportunity for employers not only to delay and postpone, but to harass and intimidate. And we've seen this all over the country. And, you know, I'm all for secret ballots, I'm all for elections. But then you're going to have to have a lot more enforcement and supervision over what happens during an organizing drive than the current administration has been willing to provide. I want to get back to an old fashioned idea: Let's appoint people, like to the Department of Labor, who actually care about labor. (Cheers, applause.) You know, people on the National Labor Relations Board who care about labor.

MR. MATTHEWS: Bill Richardson was here, Senator, and he said that he would name a union person as Labor secretary. Would you agree with that commitment or share it?

SEN. CLINTON: I think it's a great idea. And I think that we should get the best people. But we certainly ought to look for people who have relevant experience. And if you've been in a union, you've been a union leader, you know how important it is to kind of get that organizing done and get those contracts bargained for, I think we should really consider that.

MR. MATTHEWS: NAFTA -- Dennis Kucinich, the congressman, was just here, and he gave a big roaring condemnation of NAFTA, said he would get rid of it as one of his first bits of business as president. The crowd really responded positively. What's your response?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, you know, I think that like anything, NAFTA had some positive, but unfortunately, it had a lot of down side, and we know that. We see that especially in the loss of jobs going south to Mexico and then beyond. But we also now are seeing it with the loss of jobs going north. You know, I was in Detroit recently, and a gentleman, UAW member from the Wixom plant that makes the Lincoln cars, told me they're closing the plant down, and some of the work is going to Mexico, but some of the high-value work is going to Canada because of lower health care costs.

So some of what has happened with NAFTA is because of NAFTA. But some of what is attributed or blamed on NAFTA has other contributing causes as well. If we don't get our health care costs under control, we're going to continue to lose jobs. And that's why we have to have universal quality, affordable health care. (Cheers, applause.) It's a jobs issue as well as a health issue.

MR. MATTHEWS: You've been talking in the campaign, Senator, about the reindustrialization of America. And I was talking with the other candidates or asking them about the image we all have in our heads of much of America -- small towns where there's really nothing left anymore, maybe a diner, maybe a movie rental place -- just really nothing left but retirees.

Can we bring back that wonderful time of our memory of the boy or girl gets out of high school, they're 18 years old, and they can actually begin to provide for a family? Are we ever going to get back there?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, Chris, I hope so. It's one of the reasons I'm running for president, because I think if we don't restore the middle class and the quality of life and the standard of living that many of us took for granted when we were growing up, we will not recognize our country in the next 20 or 30 years.

Now, how do we do that? Well, we have to have a broad comprehensive strategy, number one, where we can tilt the playing field, so to speak, by having our workers well skilled and prepared for the jobs that are available. We need to do that, and that's why I think it's so important that we don't just pay attention to kids going to college. Let's pay attention to kids who are not going to college, which ends up being about 60 percent of the kids who don't go to college -- (applause) -- and get them trained for the jobs that are there, because, you know, there are auto mechanic jobs paying $50,000 to $60,000 a year that they can't get filled. There are airline mechanic jobs paying a lot of money that can't get filled. So first, we got to get the skills and the jobs to match.

Secondly, we need to end any kind of benefit in our tax code that goes to any company that outsources jobs. If they want to outsource them, you know, they shouldn't -- (interrupted by cheers, applause) -- they shouldn't do that on taxpayers' money. Let them bear the cost of it and not give some kind of tax benefit for moving our jobs overseas.

Thirdly, we have to look at what is possible. You know the old industrial base is not coming back, but we could create millions of new jobs with a new energy policy. If we were investing in solar and wind and geothermal and everything that goes with biofuels and biodiesel, that will create millions of jobs for Americans, and they'll be good-paying jobs. So there's a lot we could do that we are not doing.

But we got to get those health care costs under control because that's one of the excuses people use for moving jobs. They say, well, we can't afford to continue to pay health care. Go to Canada, everybody pays; go to Mexico or China, we don't have to worry about it. Well, we've got to have a strong base for middle class values and middle class jobs, and that's what I want to restore. (Cheers, applause.)

MR. MATTHEWS: Okay. Because of these people down here, in this group right down here, I'm giving you a little more time because they've asked for it. (Laughter, cheers.)

You're for card check neutrality. Military service regardless of sexual orientation or it's "don't ask, don't tell"? Where are you on that, Senator?

SEN. CLINTON: I am for allowing people who are patriotic Americans to serve their country. We need their service, and -- (interrupted by cheers, applause). You know, I said in the last debate that I agree with Barry Goldwater -- you don't have to be straight to shoot straight, and I think it's time we let people serve! (Cheers, applause.)

MR. MATTHEWS: You're still a Goldwater girl. (Laughter.)

SEN. CLINTON: (Laughs.)

MR. MATTHEWS: Let me ask a couple more labor questions. Then we'll end this.

Homeland Security just -- they don't have full collective bargaining rights -- Transportation Security Agency, the people -- Administration -- who check our luggage. Should they be allowed to organize?

SEN. CLINTON: Yes. In fact, we passed that in the Homeland Security bill; that we would give federal employees, like TSA employes and others, the opportunity to organize and bargain collectively.

We went through a world war, we went through a Korean war, we went through a lot of challenges in our country, and we allowed federal employees to organize and bargain. And I think we should allow it again.

The president has threatened to veto the entire Homeland Security bill over the provisions that would allow people to organize -- (booing) -- and I sure hope he doesn't do that.

MR. MATTHEWS: Can I ask one question of my own, please, just one question? (Laughter.)

SEN. CLINTON: (Laughs.)

MR. MATTHEWS: Just one! One freaking question, all right? (Cheers, applause.) I'm sorry. You have your ringers out here.

Okay. All right. I wouldn't ask this, except I moderated the Republican debate at the Reagan library, and three qualified candidates for president raised their hands and said they don't believe in evolution. So it's an odd thing to be talking about in the 21st century, but do you believe a public school teacher should ever be fired for teaching evolution?


MR. MATTHEWS: Do you believe a public school teacher should ever be fired for offering an alternative explanation of how we got here?

SEN. CLINTON: Look, I think that a science class should be about science. I think philosophy classes and history classes and social studies classes should be broad-ranging and looking at different points of view, because that's what the debate should be about.

But in science, let's stick to science. I mean, one of the problems with the current administration is that they have confused us. I consider myself a person of faith, a religious person, and I don't see any conflict between believing in the power of the Almighty to have created this extraordinary world we're part of, in ways that I can't possibly understand -- (cheers, applause) --


SEN. CLINTON: -- and going to the museum and seeing a dinosaur. I mean, I think that those go hand in hand. I can believe in both faith and science. And I think our country is stronger when we believe in both faith and science -- (applause) -- because science has given us an advantage over so many other societies, going back a hundred years.

So let's not confuse the two. Let's keep our faith strong, those of us who are people of faith, but also let's let our scientists do the work that will break through all kinds of barriers, including stem cell research, to keep us healthy and give us a better life. (Cheers, applause.)

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you.

Two minutes to close.

SEN. CLINTON: (Laughs.)

Well, I want to thank you all for doing something I never thought I would ever see, and that is to render Chris Matthews speechless. (Laughter, cheers, applause.)

MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you.

SEN. CLINTON: I'm running for president because I think we can do better. I know we can. You know, six years ago, we had a balanced budget and a surplus. We don't need a constitutional amendment to do that. We just need to get back to having a president who knows how to get the budget balanced and get us back in a responsible fiscal position. (Cheers, applause.)

I know we can do better because I know the strength of the American people. We need to unleash that talent and that incredible energy again. You know, when I grew up, we believed we were the nation that solved problems. We rolled up our sleeves, we worked together, we put a man on the moon, we broke down barriers to civil rights and voting rights, we unleased the power of women. We did a lot of great work as Americans making our society better. (Cheers, applause.)

So let's get back to setting goals. Let's set those goals of quality, affordable health insurance for everyone. Let's set that goal of energy security, dealing with global warming and creating millions of new jobs as we go along. Let's have pre-kindergarten for every 4-year-old so that every child gets to school ready and able to learn. (Cheers, applause.) Let's make college affordable again. (Cheers, applause.)

Let's reform this government, make it more transparent and get back to an old-fashioned idea of appointing qualified people to do the work that we should expect them to do in our government for us. (Cheers, applause.)

And let's restore the values that people held about the United States. I want to be the president who restores positive feelings about who we are as a nation around the world. We need alliances, We need partnerships. We can't deal with global terrorism or global warming without having those regional alliances again.

So we can do this. Let's get out and show the world that America is back! Thank you all, and God bless you! (Cheers, applause.)


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