DOVER, New Hampshire – Hillary Clinton’s first New Hampshire town hall of her second presidential campaign was interrupted by climate protesters here on Thursday.
Clinton has made several trips to New Hampshire, but had yet to contend with the free-wheeling nature of a town hall forum, in which voters can ask candidates about anything and everything. After her event in Dover, she headed to a second event in Windham, where she also spent most of her time taking questions from supporters. As she experienced, the setting is more difficult to control than some of the tightly stage-managed events of the early phase of her campaign.
As Clinton took questions from the audience on a range of issues, from the historic nuclear deal with Iran to “annoying” telemarketing calls, two young women pressed the Democratic candidate on whether she would commit to banning fossil fuel extraction on public lands.
Clinton said that while she believes “climate change is an existential threat,” she could not commit to banning extraction on public lands until there were “responsible alternatives” in place to keep the economy moving. She vowed to invest in finding those alternatives, but said it was not realistic to ban extraction now.
When the second young woman, University of New Hampshire rising junior Giselle Hart, pressed Clinton on the issue for a second time, she began chanting “act on climate!” as six other protesters emerged to chant the same. Two of the protesters unfurled a banner reading “Ban extraction on public land.”
The protest was organized by 350 Action, the environmental group known for its confrontational tactics, which has led the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline. Elaine Colligan, a recent Georgetown University graduate who asked the first question, said she came to New Hampshire to engage in the protest, and was “disappointed” when Clinton did not agree to ban extraction on public lands.
Clinton took the interruption in stride and told security guards to stand down as they moved to eject one woman. The two young men with the banner were moved to the back of the room, but allowed to stay.
“I am going to tell you what I believe,” she said to applause. “There are candidates that will tell you whatever you want to hear.”
Speaking to reporters after the event, Clinton was asked whether she supports the movement to raise the minimum wage to $15.
Clinton said she supports the movement at the local level, but is unsure about what level the federal minimum wage should be, since cost of living varies dramatically across the country. “I support the local efforts,” she said, before declining to commit to the $15 level.
Democratic rival Martin O’Malley, who supports a $15 federal minimum wage, seized on Clinton’s answer. “[L]eadership is about forging public consensus – not following it. On this issue, we must lead with our progressive values to rebuild the American Dream,” he said in a statement.
The main reason Clinton came to Dover was to roll out the first piece of her economic agenda, which she unveiled in a major speech Monday. Her plan calls for encouraging companies to share their profits with employees through a tax credit. Clinton would give companies that set up profit-sharing arrangements a two-year tax credit equal to 15% of profit-sharing distributions. Small businesses would be eligible for even more.
The plan would cost an estimated $10-20 billion over 10 years, paid for fully by closing tax loopholes. Which loopholes will be identified later when Clinton rolls out her tax proposal.
Clinton said profit-sharing makes workers feel more invested – “they stand a little taller and work a little harder” – and says studies show it benefits both companies and employees.
“What I’m proposing is not so much left or right as it is forward or backwards,” she said.
Afterwards, Clinton headed to a backyard in Windham, where she faced a friendly crowd. As with her earlier event, Clinton faced several questions on climate change and student debt.
“I am not anxious to move back to the white House,” she said, explaining her seriousness. “You know it is, it is a nice place and I hope you all come visit.” She also said she “got very excited” when the U.S. women won the World Cup. “I took it as very good omen,” she said of her own run.