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In NYC, Hillary Clinton calls Obama's immigration action 'historic'

Hillary Clinton praised as an “historic step" President Obama’s executive action on immigration, and called for a return to the “vital center" in politics.
Hillary Clinton attends the New-York Historical Society 2014 History Makers Gala at Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Nov. 21, 2014 in New York. N.Y. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty)
Hillary Clinton attends the New-York Historical Society 2014 History Makers Gala at Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Nov. 21, 2014 in New York. N.Y.

Hillary Clinton praised President Obama’s executive action on immigration as an “historic step," and called for a return to the “vital center” at a black tie event in New York City Friday night.

At a gala for the New York Historical Society, which honored Clinton with its “History Maker” award, the former secretary of state called Obama’s order “historic.” The move will spare over 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. If Republicans have a problem with it, she said, they should pass their own law, echoing a statement she released Thursday night. 

“We should all remember … that this is about peoples’ lives. This is about, I would venture to guess, the people who served us tonight, who prepared our food tonight,” and those who perform construction jobs, she said to applause. “These are the lives of people who are, in many instances, longtime residents and workers who have not only raised children, but made contributions.” 

In a discussion with the Aspen Institute’s Walter Isaacson, Clinton called for a more equitable distribution of economic opportunity for those struggling, while pushing back on more “radical” ideas. Clinton cited the Roosevelt family to explain. But instead of Eleanor Roosevelt, her longtime hero, she cited Teddy, whom she said she’s been thinking a lot about lately. Roosevelt was president at a time of massive economic imbalance, she said, but he used the power of the bully pulpit to help correct that.

Clinton, herself a likely 2016 presidential candidate, said she admired the Roosevelts in part because they were born into privilege, but worked to balance the desire for economic growth with a commitment to “broad based prosperity” for all Americans. That’s something we need now, she added. “There’s so much anger in large parts of the electorate right now, people whose incomes have not rebounded from the Great Recession,” she explained. “Where people feel … they are not being viewed as important to employers, to their government, in the community … They feel that something is not working.” 

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But Clinton suggested there’s a danger in overreacting to this economic anxiety, praising Franklin Roosevelt for avoiding more extreme ideas. “There was lots of pressure, because of the economic conditions ... for people to be much more radical,” she said.

“I think our country kind of moves in pendulum swings. We go maybe a little bit too far in one way, and then we swing back. We are most comfortable when he have that balance in the vital center. And we are, I think, in need of getting back to that,” she added. 

At a time when many in her party are encouraging Clinton to adopt a more populist tone, she seems to be embracing the issue -- but only to a point. Clinton rejects the radicals, stakes out the center, and talks about inequality in a way that won't alienate this well-heeled crowd.

Perched over Central park on  the 36th Floor of the Mandarin Oriental in Manhattan, guests dined on baby mizuna and seared beef tenderloin in a cabernet sauvignon reduction. The governor, both senators, the mayor, and the president of the city council sent letters congratulating Clinton on the award, which were republished in the program.

Isaacson added that ”in rooms like this" -- filled with the elite -- the Roosevelt family's values offer an all the more important “moral lesson.”