Remarks in a “Let the Conversation Begin Webcast”

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Hillary Clinton

HILLARY CLINTON: Hello and welcome back. We have a lot to talk about tonight because last night was the President’s State of the Union address, and I know we have been getting a lot of questions about that. In fact, we’ve gotten tens of thousands of questions in the last few nights. And I have really been impressed by how serious people are about the future of our country. So let’s have that conversation again tonight and let’s get started.

Once again, Crystal Patterson, our campaign blogger, is here with me. So, Crystal, what’s tonight’s first question?

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Our first question tonight is from Patricia in York, Pennsylvania. She asks, there was no mention of the Katrina disaster in the State of the Union. Did that strike you as odd? Isn’t that a large part of the Union?

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, Patricia, that did strike me as odd. I know from talking from my friends and colleagues from the Gulf Coast, particularly New Orleans, that the promises the president made are just not being kept. They are more empty promises. It is so heart-breaking because this is a part of our union. These are our fellow citizens and we need a much more serious effort. So I’m hoping that with the Democratic Congress, we will be able to push things along, that we’ll be able to try to sort out some of the continuous bureaucratic snafus that have presented people from getting what they needed and making decisions about their futures.

There are thousands of people who are still displaced from their homes in southern Louisiana and even along the Mississippi coast.

Well, let’s figure out what we’re going to do to try to help those people. This was one of the worst blots on President Bush’s record. It was disgraceful the way they were so inattentive and different. It has been equally disgraceful how incompetent and really inadequate their response has been. So I’m going to continue to talk about Katrina. I’m going to continue to work with my colleagues from the region as well as others of us that are concerned about this to see if we can’t make some progress now that we have a Democratic majority.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Our next question comes from Alexander in Palm Springs, California. After hearing the State of the Union address last night, do you agree or disagree with President Bush’s plan for medical insurance for the people of this country? If you disagree, what would you do differently?

HILLARY CLINTON: Alexander, we didn’t get a lot of details last night. It was a couple of lines in a nearly hour-long speech. So I’m trying to make sure that I understand exactly what the president is proposing. And what I worry about is that the President’s plan wants to cap the deduction that you get for the cost of health care and essentially use that to try to help uninsured people get some tax benefits to go out into the marketplace and buy health insurance.

There is no real market yet. This would require that we would have to tell insurance companies they would have to insure people, even with preexisting conditions, which they don’t want to do, that they would have to keep their cost down in order for a lot of the people who are insured and people who are just above that line to be able to afford it.

So I’m going to be focusing on a more comprehensive approach because the other problem that I have with the President’s plan is the way he would help to pay for this is by cutting federal funding for public hospitals and community health centers. That is really a false choice in my book. We shouldn’t be cutting the money that goes to actually give people health care to get them into the insurance market. I will be proposing in the next weeks or so my own plan about how we get to universal coverage.

I’m pleased, however, let me add that the President was willing to talk about health care and come forward with a proposal. I have told members of his administration that’s a good sign and we need to figure out how we can work together to try to make progress. But at the end of the day, we’re going to have a much more comprehensive approach if we are going to tackle the problems of coverage so that everybody is insured, quality so what you are insured for is good quality care, cost because, it’s way too expensive in America compared to the rest of the world and we don’t even have the highest quality health care compared to the rest of the world. And competitiveness, we are losing jobs because of the health care costs that are imposed on our businesses. So I have got a lot of ideas. Stay tuned. We’ll talk about that later.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: We are going to take a break from the live questions to respond to Steve Clemons who posted the following on the Huffington Post blog. Would you be the kind of president who gave your staff license to challenge you, to force consideration of every last policy action, to put bad news before good news? Or do you like your team to validate your views and not challenge you?

HILLARY CLINTON: Steve, I think you can ask anybody who works for me that I like people who challenge me. I like people with expertise and experience and strong opinions. Now, I may push back because I also have my opinions, but I want that kind of give and take and debate. I don’t think any one person — and certainly no president in these difficult and complex times — have all the answers. And I don’t think you find answers from an ideological starting point. I believe in looking at the facts and the evidence, trying to understand what you’re trying to achieve in terms of the values that you have and the objectives that you’re setting forth in order to get results.

What we’ve seen in the last six years is exactly the opposite. It is as though there is a little echo chamber where everybody is saying the same thing where the president, from what we’ve been told, is rarely challenged or confronted. That is not the kind of office that I run today. That is certainly not the kind of White House that I would want.

Another thing, I would like to get a broad cross-section of people. I don’t want people who already agree with me. I want honest, experienced, hard-working patriotic people who want to be part of a team, the American team, in order to understand what we have to do to meet the challenges of today.

So I hope that if you ever run across anybody who works for me, you will probably hear that I have got high standards because there is a lot at stake. I want people to work to the best of their ability and I want them to be part of a team, even if the other members of the team disagree. I think through that process you can come to better conclusions.

And I’m always open to new evidence, new ways of looking at things, asking those hard questions about the direction we’re headed. I think it leads to better decision-making. And sometimes it is a little messy because you’re trying to get to a point after hearing all sides and you want to keep searching for the very best outcome, the consensus that’s going to stand the test. But that, to me, is a better way of making decisions than this kind of top-down, intimidatory style where you have to tell them what they want to hear. That’s been a disaster and I certainly hope we can get beyond that.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Our next question is from Alice in Cornelius, North Carolina. What are your plans and proposals for domestic homeland security? Would you approve a budget that would aid in security services such as the FBI and CIA to carry out specific duties in fighting terrorism?

HILLARY CLINTON: Alice, this has been a principal concern ever since 9/11. As a senator representing New York on that horrible, horrible day, I saw firsthand and I still deal with the consequences today of our lack of preparedness, our failure to communicate adequately of the stress we were facing. I have very strong feelings about this. I introduced some of the very first legislation after 9/11 that would try to get money to our law enforcement agencies, to our intelligence agencies. But equally important, getting it to our local communities. They are the first line of defense with our local fire departments and our police departments and our paramedics and our health departments and so many others that are working diligently to try to be prepared in the case of a natural disaster like Katrina which we were just discussing or a terrorist attack.

So from my perspective, we need to do many things simultaneously. We need to beef up our Homeland Security funds so we protect our border. We protect our ports, our mass transit systems. We have done better with airline passengers since 9/11. Airline cargo, we still have work to do. Our vital infrastructure like bridges and tunnels, some of our landmark buildings. We have got to have the very best security. It’s not just for the public sector. The private sector has to be involved. They own a lot of our buildings. They are landlords for buildings. They run our big malls and our sports stadium. This has to be a partnership.

Recently we got the administration to set standards for the chemical industry. We have so many chemical plants in our country that could be disasters if they were ever attacked and there were explosions. That could affect literally millions of people in certain highly congested areas.

We have to do a better job of sharing information among levels of government. The federal, state and local governments. We have to get all of our federal agencies working together, the Homeland Security, FBI, the CIA, counterterrorism centers. All of that has to be much more streamlined and focused so that the police on the beat in the car who stops somebody that may be suspicious, may be somebody that the FBI is looking for, they will have that information, they will be able to immediately respond.

So we have a lot of work to do. We have made progress since 9/11, but, you know, the 9/11 Commission which did such a great job in analyzing what happened on 9/11 came out with a report card last year and basically gave our federal government a D. That’s not a very good grade. It may not be a failing grade, but I sure wouldn’t want to bring it home to my mother.

We have to do a better job in trying to work together, get the money to follow the threat which is what the 9/11 Commission recommended, and then make sure that all levels of government and the public and the private sector are working together.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Our next question is from Judy in Seymour, Connecticut. I am a 69-year-old widow of 13 years struggling to get by on Social Security. I know there are many widows in my situation. If you were elected president, do you have any interest in this large population of Americans? And if so, what will you do to help?

HILLARY CLINTON: Judy, I have a lot of interest. My 87-year-old mother lives with Bill and me. And I have many friends who are retired who are widowed or divorced, but are alone. They are living on either Social Security and a small pension, their own, or maybe a late husband’s or their ex-husband’s. So I am very concerned about this because as you know so well there are so many older women who are living alone and it is great that they’re healthy enough, independent enough. But as you get older, you have, you know, some challenges.

And certainly my highest priority is to protect Social Security. I consider it a solemn generational promise. And I was adamantly opposed to the President’s plan to privatize Social Security because the very people it would have hurt the most are older women. I worried any move to undermine the guarantee of Social Security would throw a lot of women who are only above the poverty level today because of Social Security, I’m going to continue to do everything I can to strengthen Social Security.

There are some fixes we will probably have to make in order for the whole system to keep operating and I’m going to, you know, be open to doing that. But I will never support privatizing this basic guarantee of financial security in our older years. I will also work to find different ways of adding to the savings that widows and single women have in their later years because Social Security is not enough and even Social Security with a small pension is sometimes difficult to get by on.

So I will certainly be attentive and sensitive to these concerns. You know, as a woman myself who has a lot of friends, either already in your position or very close to it, I consider it a very important part of my responsibility to do everything I can to make sure that you get the help and support you deserve to have.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Virginia from Jensen beach, Florida asks, what will you do to ensure increased health care for our military personnel returning from Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East as well as health care for the lifetime career veterans facing overcrowded facilities and long wait times for their appointments?

HILLARY CLINTON: Boy, I am glad you asked that question because you may have noticed in the State of the Union last night that we didn’t hear a single word about veterans. We heard a lot about our currently serving young men and women who we are so proud of and so grateful to. But, eventually, they will become veterans, and when they return home, they should be guaranteed access to the highest quality health care through the VA.

And unfortunately, we’ve had to fight with the Bush administration every year to fund the VA. I believe that we should have guaranteed funding for the VA. We shouldn’t have to fight it out every single year in the appropriations process that goes on in Congress to decide how we are going to spend the money in the budget.

And the VA has made a lot of improvements over the last ten or so years. I’m very proud of the changes that were made in the Clinton Administration, moving toward information technology so we don’t duplicate and lose the medical records and the test results. I am very proud of the power that was given to the VA when Bill was president to allow the VA to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices.

As your question implies, there are still long, long lines, waiting periods. We just haven’t put together the services that are needed to take care of our returning vets. And, unfortunately, as you probably know, we’re going to have so many young men and women with serious conditions going forward. You know, the battlefield is a 360-degree, 24/7 situation now. And many people are able to survive wounds that would have killed them in the first Gulf War and certainly Vietnam or World War II.

What that means is that we have a lot of seriously injured young people with amputated limbs, with traumatic brain injury, with spinal cord injuries. And we owe them everything. I will be a very strong advocate for our veterans and not just in showing up at veterans’ gatherings and making a patriotic speech but in fighting for veterans, in fighting for their health care, in fighting for the VA, in fighting for fair treatment for vets.

We have an all-volunteer military now. So to a great extent our military is composed of young men and women to really want to make a commitment to our country. We’re so proud of them and grateful to them. But let’s show it by taking care of them. Let’s not just give lip service to their needs. Let’s make sure that the VA is fully funded to meet the ongoing physical and mental health needs of our veterans.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Our next question is from Jamie in Illinois. HIV/AIDS in the USA, what will you do and make sure Americans are cared for?

HILLARY CLINTON: This is an issue for me for a long time. Especially as a senator from New York, we have a very high population of people living with HIV and AIDS. I believe we need to provide the full range of medical care and support services for people who are afflicted with HIV and AIDS. I have been a strong supporter of the federal programs that fund treatment for people living with HIV and AIDS. And I will continue to do so.

Here in our country, the fastest-growing group of people that are being infected with the disease are women of color, are women who are poor. They are often being left out of the service system and the programs that are available to treat people with HIV and AIDS. I want to be sure that everybody has access to the medical care that they need. We are going to have to do some work — excuse me — to get that done.

I think it is very important that we recognize that the population is growing in our southern states. And up until now, there hasn’t been enough treatment available for people in those states. I had a big fight — You may know if you follow this issue this past year because the Ryan White Care Act is one of the principal vehicles for providing health care to people living with HIV/AIDS. What I really argued against was instead of keeping the money at the same level, the federal government should increase the amount of money available. And they wanted to take money away from my state of New York which still has the highest number of people in order to take care of the people who are suffering in other states.

I want to take care of everybody. But why take it away from people who need it to give it to other people who need it? It is one of the reasons why we need a new president and why I am looking forward to being that president, to make sure that we take care of everybody who is afflicted with this disease.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Brian from New York says, how will you handle the current nuclear crisis in Iran and North Korea?

HILLARY CLINTON: Let me get a glass of water here because I am losing my voice. I have think I have done too much talking in the several days.

We are in a terrible situation because of the way this administration has mishandled both North Korea and Iran. With respect to North Korea, we had a crisis with North Korea in 1994 and we were able to prevent them from processing plutonium. That’s the fastest, easiest way to get what you need for a nuclear weapon. The North Koreans being the North Koreans were cheating and they were trying to enrich uranium. They didn’t breach the agreement about plutonium but they were cheating on the side trying to enrich uranium which is frankly harder to do.

When the Bush Administration found out they were cheating, they said we are not going to talk to you anymore. We are taking the inspectors out. We are shunning you because you were cheating. That was, like, an open invitation to the North Koreans to process plutonium. As we have seen, they have produced some nuclear weapons.

I think that was a backwards approach. We should have come down even harder on the North Koreans. We should have put even more inspectors in and we should have been very tough in negotiating with them directly. We made the same mistake with Iran. Instead of negotiating and dealing with Iran and figuring out what they were up to and trying to understand who was really calling the shots, this administration’s attitude is “we don’t talk to bad people” Well, I don’t know why that’s a very sensible policy in their view, but that’s their policy.

They stopped talking to Iran. Instead they told the British, Germans and the French, you go talk to Iran. So that went on for years with no real results and Iran is just continuing to push forward.

I have advocated direct contact, engagement with both of these regimes. Do I agree with what they’re doing? Of course, not. Do I trust them? Absolutely not. We dealt with the Soviet union all during the Cold War when they had thousands missiles pointed at us. We didn’t stop talking to them even during the Cuban Missile Crisis. We gained valuable information that enabled us to take steps that led to the demise of the Soviet Union. I would urge that we do the same thing with Iran and North Korea. I would like to see the administration begin doing that sooner instead of later.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Great. Okay. Our next question comes from New Jersey. Andrea asks, what do you like to do when you are not working?

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, sleeping is a good option, catching up on my sleep. Seriously, last night I talked about what I like to do outdoors. I love to walk. I love to hike. I love to bike. I love to swim in appropriate weather. And I love to go to movies. Bill and I go to movies as often as we can. We love to go out to dinner with our friends, sometimes just the two of us. There are a lot of favorite little places we enjoy going to.

I love to read for pleasure. I just — you know, I just like to chill out and do as little as possible. Putter around in my garden which is, you know — I’m not that great a gardener. I try to avoid killing anything I have. But I love being out there and think about what I can ask somebody else to do who has a much greener thumb than me.

I love to spend time with my friends, just normal things that give me some real pleasure. Sometimes I like to clean my house, clean out my closets because there is a beginning, a middle and an end. And a lot of the work I do, there doesn’t ever seen to be an end. You worry about North Korea and Iran and there is no way to get your arms around it all. Kind of normal stuff I like to do, I think, when I am not working.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Our next question is from Jacqueline in Wellesley, Massachusetts. As a college student concerned for the future of our environment, I was wondering if you had any plans to implement controls on CO2 emissions and further, how do you plan to address the ever growing crisis of global warming.

HILLARY CLINTON: I see that your message is from Wellesley. I don’t know if you are a Wellesley student or perhaps going to one of the other fine institutions around there or Wellesley High School. I spent four wonderful years at Wellesley College and really enjoyed myself there.

I am glad you are worried about the environment. I think the changes we have to make are going to be driven by young people.

We have dropped the ball. This administration has wasted six years. It looks like it will waste mostly the next two years instead of coping with and dealing with the challenge of global climate change. There is a lot we have to do. I want to draw your attention to something I will be involved in. I sit on the environment committee. It is now being chaired by my friend and colleague Senator Barbara Boxer from California. She is absolutely committed as all the Democrats are on the committee to trying to get a piece of legislation that we can, perhaps, get majority support for that moves us toward dealing with CO2 emissions.

Now, we have a closely divided Senate so it won’t be easy to do everything that we all think we should do. But we have got to make a start. It is disgraceful that our country is not on record as dealing with global climate change. Starting next week in the Environment Committee, we will start having forums on climate change and global warming. We will be having an open forum with every member of the Senate invited to come and state their position so we can try to figure out what’s the consensus position.

We’re also going to be having later that week or next week, I can’t remember which, we are going to be having a meeting with people from other countries who have dealt with global climate change. Look at what Great Britain has done. They set very strict standards about trying to get back to the 1990 levels and they’re doing very well because they adopted both some carrots and some sticks. They have incentives for energy conservation and efficiency. They are working with polluting power plants. They have a comprehensive program.

And the extra-added benefit is that it has helped to create thousands of new jobs in Great Britain because they are dealing with a problem by putting people to work, to actually make a difference. So stay tuned. I think you are going to see some positive action out of the Democrats in the Senate.

CRYSTAL PATTERSON: Okay. Our final question for the evening comes from Patrick in South Dakota. He says, Senator Clinton, my name is Patrick. I live in a small town in South Dakota so my wife and I can stay close to our roots. We are recent college graduates and worked hard in college and continue to do so as graduates. We are finding the contrast our society lives in now, that is, getting an education equals success. What it should say is getting an education equals debt with high interest rates and the inability to buy a home, start a family and live a good life. With the rising cost of health care, interest rates on student loans, rising housing market and not being compensated for our education, what would you say to the youth of America to stay focused and go to school?

HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I think that is the message, that I understand completely the problems that you have just outlined. But we have to continue to educate our people in order to be competitive globally.

And I would hope that we can give you some relief from some of these rising costs. It is incredibly damaging to someone’s prospects for the future or the choices they can make in their life, if they are totally focused on having to pay back their debt.

So I want to get the cost of education down. I want to get the interest rates on loans down. I want to give more forgiveness for debt for people who go into areas of shortage or need in our society, like math and science teachers or engineers. We have a lot of work that needs to be done in America and we aren’t going to be successful if we make it so difficult for our young people to afford to go to college, stay in college and complete college.

So I hope that in the next few years — and this is one of the issues I am going to be running on for president — I hope that we can get back to paging college affordable again, that we don’t load people down with debt, that we can deal with the rising health care costs in a sensible way and that we can also, you know, try to close that gap between the very well off and everybody else because that’s not good for America either.

But I guess I would underscore the importance of an education. Despite the difficulties and the challenges, I really wish you and your wife well. You are exactly the kind of young people that build communities and being close to your roots, you know how important it is to really keep your family going and make something of yourself.

And I wish you well, just as I do everybody who is watching tonight.

I have to thank all of you for logging on tonight and for the last two nights. It has really gone by way too fast. I have enjoyed the conversation. I will be going out around the country. I will be in Iowa this weekend, the following weekend I will be in New Hampshire. I am going to be having face-to-face conversations. But I will continue to use this medium as well because I want you to hear directly from me and I want to have your questions.

I am so sorry we couldn’t answer the tens of thousands of questions that came in. It was really overwhelming. But I want to thank Crystal for all of her help. I hope when we launch our blog and Crystal starts reporting on the campaign that all of you will log on and share your thoughts with us.

Meanwhile, I look forward to keeping the conversation going. And I wish all of you the very best. We’ve got a lot of tough challenges in America but there is nothing we can’t handle if we work together, we come up with sensible, practical solutions and we keep our eye on what’s important, to renew the promise of America and to restore the greatness and respect for our country at home and abroad. That’s what I intend to try to do during this campaign with ideas and with my vision for this country.

And then in 2009, to have the chance as your president to do that as well. Thank you all and good night.