ATLANTIC CITY, New Jersey – In the final scheduled paid speech of Hillary Clinton’s long run-up to a second presidential campaign, the former secretary of state said political polarization is one of the country’s greatest challenges, and called for adult summer camps to close America’s “fun deficit."
As her 2016 campaign team quietly assembles itself in advance of an expected April launch date, Clinton steered clear of thorny issues of the day and controversies that have hung over her in recent weeks. Instead, she spoke about the need for Americans to “come together about where we go together in the future.”
"Don’t forget: Adults need camp too."'
The former first lady spoke for about an hour to more than 3,000 camp professionals at the American Camp Association of New York and Jersey’s annual Tri-State CAMP Conference here, including a 30 minute Q&A session with her longtime donor and ally (and camp owner) Jay Jacobs.
She opened her remarks by advocating, somewhat facetiously, for adult summer camps to help close the “serious fun deficit” in America and bridge political differences. Adult campers in the “blue cabin” and “red cabin” would have to “come together and actually listen to each other,” she joked.
The former senator, who has taken aim at congressional Republicans on Twitter this week, lamented the growth of political division and partisanship, pointing to changes in the media and campaign finance laws as culprits.
“The insatiable pressure to raise money” is “crazy” and "no way to run a country," Clinton said, calling out the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
She also said the media feed on conflict, and worried that not enough lawmakers work across the political aisle these days, spending too little time in Washington. She recalled when then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich would go to war with the Clinton White House during the day, then come over to 1600 Pennsylvania at night.
“As senator, I did a lot of relationship-building, reaching across the aisle,” she said. “From my perspective, you can’t do enough relationship building.”
President Obama has been criticized for not investing enough in building ties with members of Congress.
While Clinton has shed few details about her 2016 campaign themes, the need for a pragmatic approach to getting things done in a gridlocked Washington has been one. In Silicon Valley last month, Clinton said she wanted to get Americans into a “nice warm purple space” to come together.
Her foil thus far has been congressional Republicans, whom she portrays as obstructionists, instead of presidential hopefuls in the GOP, though they have taken shots at her.
In a speech light on policy, Clinton also spoke about her advocacy for children, her book It Takes a Village, and praised camp professionals for teaching life skills to kids.
She also reiterated her call for universal pre-kindergarten education, which she portrayed as an economic and national security issue, since competitors like China are already investing in the program. “This is not just about how nice it is for us to do things for our kids, this about what we're going to be able to do in terms of economic growth and jobs and opportunity into the future,” she said.
And poking fun at former Vice President Al Gore, Clinton praised American ingenuity. “Yes, we did invent the Internet, and we did give it to the world,” she said.
The conference is one of Clinton’s last events of 2015 as a private citizen. After two more public appearances in Washington, D.C, on Monday, Clinton has a wide open calendar.
Staffers are being told to be ready to report for duty by April 1, sources have told msnbc, and already quitting old jobs and moving across the country to be in position. Some are already working, formally or not.
Unlike Republicans testing the waters for a 2016 bid, most of whom have created super PACs to build campaigns-in-waiting, Clinton has no entity to raise money or pay staff. Most aides are volunteering their time until she formally declares her run.
A specific launch date remains uncertain, but a formal declaration sometime in April is all but assured.
Despite all the planning, Clinton’s team insists she still has not made a final decision on a run. The moment Clinton says she’s decided, she has to comply with more stringent campaign finance and disclosure regulations, so her team wants to wait until after April 1, which marks the start of a new financial quarter and clean slate for fundraising.
The last time Hillary Clinton came to Atlantic City, for the New Jersey Democratic Party’s state convention in 2007 as a candidate for president, she was upstaged by an up-and-coming U.S. attorney named Chris Christie, who that day announced the arrest of state officials on corruption charges. But there was little danger of that this year, as Clinton has a perceived lock on the Democratic nomination and the now-New Jersey governor's political prospects in the Republican presidential field have faded.
Jacobs also asked Clinton a series of lighter “lightning round” questions. Clinton said and her husband binge-watch “House of Cards,” though they have not yet seen the newest season. “Great acting, unrealistic storytelling,” she said of the show, which has a character some speculate is based on Clinton. Instead, she recommended a Danish show about a women who is elected prime minister.
But Clinton closed her remarks on a strong note: “Don’t forget: Adults need camp too.”