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Transcript: Rachel Maddow interviews Hillary Clinton

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton sits down with Rachel Maddow after an epic week

MADDOW:  …since the Libyan civil war, since Khadaffi was toppled and then killed four years ago this week.  I can now imagine the toppling of Assad in Syria, whether or not he's propped up by the Russians, but like in Libya, I cannot imagine what happens after.  And it worries me.  Is it a good idea to help topple Assad when there isn't a government in waiting, we don't have any idea what would happen then?   CLINTON:  Well, let me just say a few words about Libya because I think that if we are going to draw some conclusions from that, I'd like to say a few words about it.  One of the hallmarks of Khadaffi's dictatorship is that hollow out all the institutions.  But there was a very dedicated core of people who were committed to a democratic path forward, and it's often overlooked.  Libya held elections within a year, less than a year after the fall of Khadaffi.  They were free, they were fair, they elected moderates.  They tried to form a government.  They were making progress and they had very little institutional support to do that.  There were a number of efforts made, certainly by our government and others, to help them.  It was almost as though they didn't know what to ask for and how to translate any help into changes on the ground.  But there still is a very committed group of people who are trying now to work out the differences.  And the differences between the east and the west of the country have been very prominent from the beginning. MADDOW:  In some ways it's an artificial country. CLINTON:  In some ways it is, like a lot of places in Africa and the Middle East where the lines were drawn during colonial times. MADDOW:  Mm-hmm. CLINTON:  But next door in Tunisia, a much smaller country of course but with far fewer resources than Libya, they have struggled and worked so hard to find ways to accommodate the different points of view, and they just got the Nobel Prize for having done that.  So I'm not prepared to give up on Libya.  I think we have to do more to invest in Libya.  I think what happened in, in Syria in many ways is a different story but with perhaps an even worse outcome.  Because Assad, when there was the uprising that was legitimate, it wasn't terrorism, it wasn't extremists, it was pharmacists and professors and students saying, wait, we're done.  We have to have more freedom.  There were so many other ways for him to go because Syria did have institutional structures there.  They were oppressive on a lot of the people in the country, but they did exist.  Now, though, we have territory that is controlled by, not just ISIS, but other terrorist groups.  We have Assad, with the help of the Iranians and the Russians, trying to hang on to the territory that, you know, goes from Damascus up to the coast.  And, unless there is some kind of agreement which very well might result in either a confederation or a dismantling along geographic and tribal or religious lines inside Syria, it's hard to see how there can be anything that would be constructive after Assad.  But I am encouraged that Secretary Kerry is meeting with the Russians, the Turks, the Saudis and others, to see if there isn't some sort of a political way forward. MADDOW:  You differ with the current administration, with the Obama administration, now on having said you support a no-fly zone… CLINTON:  Mm-hmm. MADDOW:  …in Syria.  If, if, say you're President and that no-fly zone is in effect, and a Russian jet flies into that no-fly zone and they refuse warnings to leave… CLINTON:  Mm-hmm. MADDOW:  Do you give the order to shoot down a Russian jet? CLINTON:  Well, that's a hypothetical that I think there are many steps you have to go through and decisions you have to make before you even get to that.  NATO did have to warn the Russians because they were invading Turkish air space,… MADDOW:  And they were escorted out, right?   CLINTON:  …a NATO ally, they were escorted out.  Part of the reason I have proposed a no-fly zone as a coalition effort, not a United States solo effort, is to have conversations with the Russians at the table.  Because the goal of any no-fly zone is not only to provide safe areas for Syrians so they don't have to be fleeing or continued to be bombed by Assad, supported now by the Russians, but to give some leverage to get everybody at the table, to try to create as much as a cease-fire, including the Assad forces, with the Russians and the Iranians as well.  One of the ways that you do that diplomatically is you put out some ideas like what -- we're going to talk about a no-fly zone and, in fact, I thought it was interesting, you know, on the other side of the argument here, Putin is now saying, OK, now we can talk diplomatically because we're changing the situation on the ground, and therefore we should come and have some diplomatic consultations.  I think the no-fly zone, which the Turks have asked for for a long time and humanitarian organizations have, is a device as well as a potential outcome to see how we get people to the table.  And the Russians would be certainly warned.  There's been military discussions now to, as I say, de-conflict air space.  So I think it would be highly unlikely, if this were done in the right way… MADDOW:  But ultimately a no-fly zone is an anti-aircraft proposition. CLINTON:  It is, it is.  But that doesn't mean you shoot at every aircraft that might violate it the first or second time. MADDOW:  Vice President Biden has said that he is not running for President.  You talked a lot about your friendship with him and your respect for me.  You've given him a lot of space to make this decision on his own without any pressure from you.  Now that he's said that he is not running, are you jealous? CLINTON:  That's a really good question.   MADDOW:  I mean he didn't have to go through all this (inaudible). CLINTON:  Well, bless his heart.  I, look, I am a huge Joe Biden admirer, friend, a former colleague, and I know this was an excruciating decision in a time of just such pain and grief for him and his family.  He is liberated and I don’t think history is done with him.  There is a lot for him and the President to keep doing in the next year and a half.  And I want to build on the progress that they are leaving behind.  I feel very strongly about that.  I want to go further, but I think the real point of this election is whether or not the Republicans are going to be able to turn the clock back and rip away the progress that has been made.  So I, I want to support what the President and the Vice President have accomplished. MADDOW:  In terms of the Obama legacy and the way that Vice President has talked, even if he's saying he's not going to run, talks about needing to champion the Obama legacy, obviously there's some specific policies on which you have some differences with the President. CLINTON:  Right. MADDOW:  But I want to ask you about one part of President Obama's approach to being President that I think there would be a difference between him and you. Has he been naive in expecting Republicans to work with him, when they -- they really didn't work with him on anything?   They explicitly did not work with him even on things they agreed with him on because it was more important to them to try to stop him than to even accede (ph) their own policy aims.  Should he have expected that?  Would you expect that?   CLINTON:  Well, I think, when you are dealing with the other part in Washington, it's that old saying -- you know, you hope for the best, you prepare for the worst.   Of course you want to have the opportunity to work across party lines.  I did that when I was a senator.  I did it when I was secretary of state.  But you need about -- you know, six, seven, eight, 10 scenarios if something doesn't go your way.   I think what the president was doing when he came into office, number one, was coping with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and the very people who had supported President Bush in voting for TARP -- the Republicans and the Democrats -- were then asked to support the president on the Recovery Act and the stimulus.   And it was Democrats, predominantly, again, who supported him, and I was there at the end of the Bush administration.  And I -- I know that I was trying to exercise my -- you know, responsibility as a senator, and I voted for TARP.   And then to see people who did something when the Republicans were in the White House who wouldn't do it when we had a new Democratic president -- although we were losing 800,000 jobs a month and the auto industry was on the brink of total collapse -- gives you an idea of what we're up against.   Because there is this ideological purity test that I think, unfortunately, too many Republicans who know better are being subjected to.  So I will go anywhere, talk to anybody, anytime to try to find common ground.  To try to achieve our national objective.   But I'll also stand my ground, and I think it's a constant balance about where one begins and the other one ends.  And I think the president was absolutely sincere.  I mean, I spent a lot of time with him in the first four years, and he was absolutely sincere.   And he was often -- you know, just bewildered that the evidence was clear, the results were going to flow (ph), and the Republicans would privately say, "yeah, you're right, but I can't," or "I won't."   So we've gotta break the stranglehold that the extremist views in the Republican Party have on too many people who are otherwise sensible and try to get them back into the pragmatic problem-solving that should be the hallmark of the relationship between the president and the congress.   MADDOW:  I think a lot of people hoped that would be true -- both Democrats and Republicans, and people who maybe see themselves as neither, but hope for constructive policy.   The question is how to do that.  I mean, you -- you -- you don't have the nomination, and there was already a sitting Republican member of Congress from Alabama, Mo Brooks, who says that he is ready to impeach you... (LAUGHTER)   ...on the first day of your presidency.  Isn't that pathetic?   CLINTON:  It's (inaudible) it's just laughable!   MADDOW:  It's amazing. CLINTON:  It's so totally ridiculous.   MADDOW:  But that is where the Republican Party is... CLINTON:  That is where they are.   MADDOW:  ...that's probably good politics in Republican politics for him to say that.   CLINTON:  Well, it's -- it perhaps is good politics with the -- you know, the -- the most intense, extreme part of their base.  I guess that is, or otherwise why would they be doing it?   And -- and I think we have to -- you know, really try to build a -- a larger base of our own that cuts across all kinds of geographic and -- and -- and political gradations.   You know, let's try to have a -- you know, from a -- a center-right to a center-left understanding about certain things, and then let's have a good old-fashioned argument and fight about progressive values versus the alternative.   But there are some things, like not defaulting on our debt, that should not even be the subject of a political argument.  It is just beyond my understanding how anybody, despite how extreme he might be, would think it would be in America's interest to default on our debt. And so for -- whether it's the president or me or anyone else, you just have to keep trying to build the pace (ph) as best you can, and look for ways to bring -- you know, those who are responsible over to the right side.   That's one of the reasons why we're hoping that -- you know, before Speaker Boehner departs the speakership, there'll be the vote on the debt limit.   MADDOW:  On -- on the issue of finding a path between the left and the right, finding what's doable and what's not doable, I'm a true-blue liberal, and I'm allowed to say that.  OK?  (LAUGHTER)   But one of the things that I have been struck by -- and during the Obama administration -- is that a lot of the -- really, the civil rights achievements of this administration have actually been undoing things that were done in the Clinton administration.   Whether it was "don't ask, don't tell" or the Defense of Marriage Act or the -- you know, tough on crime (ph) mandatory sentences.  Former President Clinton is progressive on all those issues now... CLINTON:  Right.   MADDOW:  ...but the policies that he signed -- for politically practical reasons -- in the '90s have taken -- you know, the political mural -- miracle of Barack Obama's election and -- and -- and a decade of progressive activism to unwind those things to get back to zero.   And so I know that you and President Clinton are different people, and I know that -- I don't -- you -- you're not responsible for what he did as president.  But is your approach to civil rights issues the same as his, or is it different?   CLINTON:  Well, I -- I want to say a word about the -- the issues you mentioned, because my -- my -- my take on it is slightly different.   On Defense of Marriage, I think what my husband believed -- and there was certainly evidence to support it -- is that there was enough political momentum to amend the Constitution of the United States of America, and that there had to be some way to stop that.   And there wasn't any rational argument -- because I was in on some of those discussions, on both "don't ask, don't tell" and on -- on DOMA, where both the president, his advisers and occasionally I would -- you know, chime in and talk about, "you can't be serious.  You can't be serious."   But they were.  And so, in -- in a lot of ways, DOMA was a line that was drawn that was to prevent going further.   MADDOW:  It was a defensive action?   CLINTON:  It was a defensive action.  The culture rapidly changed so that now what was totally anathema to political forces -- they have ceded.  They no longer are fighting, except on a local level and a rear-guard action.  And with the U.S. Supreme Court decision, it's settled.   "Don't ask, don't tell" is something that -- you know, Bill promised during the '92 campaign to let gays serve openly in the military.  And it's what he intended to do.   MADDOW:  Firestorm (ph).  Terrible firestorm (ph).   CLINTON:  And then -- yeah.  Oh my gosh (ph), it was the most astonishing overreaction, but -- by the military, by the Congress.  I -- I remember being -- you know, on the edge of one of those conversations, and -- and so "don't ask, don't tell," again, became a defensive line.   So I'm not in any way excusing them.  I'm explaining them.   MADDOW:  Yeah.   CLINTON:  And the same with the crime bill, which was a result of a lot of reaction -- particularly from poor communities, communities of color -- to the horrific crime rates of the 1980s.  And there was just a -- a consensus across every community that something had to be done.   That went too far.  First speech I gave in this campaign was about mass incarceration, and about reform of policing practices.  And I think that sometimes, as a leader in a democracy, you are confronted with two bad choices.  And it is not an easy position to be in, and you have to try to think, OK, what is the least bad choice and how do I try to cabin (ph) this off from having worse consequences? My take on this, now, is we're gonna have an election that is truly going to be, at bottom, about fundamental rights.  A woman's right to choose, defending Planned Parenthood, marriage equality, taking on the continuing discrimination against the LGBT community.  You can get married on Saturday, you can get fired on Monday.  Voting rights -- the most profound citizenship rights that we have being blocked and undermined at every turn. We are gonna have a very vigorous debate in this election, because the Republicans are all on record as trying to reverse and rip away the progress that has occurred. A lot of it, because of decisions that the court has finally made -- both for good and for bad.  I mean, the marriage equality decision for good, the terrible gutting of the Voting Rights Act for bad.  And the local activity in states against a woman's right to choose and defunding Planned Parenthood. This is going to be -- at -- at the core of this stem election. MADDOW:  Part of the political way that we got there, is that the Democratic Party has been doing terrible in state politics.  Something like 70 percent of state legislates that are controlled by Republicans now... CLINTON:  Right, right. MADDOW:  ... The number of states where the Governor and the -- the Governorship and both Houses of the Legislature is controlled by the Republicans is now 25 states.  The number of states in a similar situation, the Democratic Party is, I think, seven. CLINTON:  Right. MADDOW:  Down-ticket races have been going really south for the Democratic Party for these last few cycles in a way that has huge policy consequences.  Are you able to leave the Democratic Party in a way that will get people other than yourself elected? CLINTON:  Well, that's my goal.  And I have said that repeatedly across the country to the Democratic National Committee, to local elected officials. I think it's part of what I not only want to do, but I must do.  You see the problems that come when Democrats don't show up, when we don't have a pipeline of candidates starting, you know, in counties, commissions and school boards all the way up to State Legislators and Governors.  And it has really hurt us because we don't pay attention to midterm elections. You know, Democrats are very much personality driven in a lot of our politics.  That's -- there's that great old line that Democrats like to fall in love and Republicans just fall in line. MADDOW:  Right. CLINTON:  Well, there's a lot of truth to that, and we have, then, just decimated.  And you look at what more can happen that will hurt us -- we're going to have another census not so long from now. We need a real focus on recruiting, and raising money for and having some untied methods that people will actually listen to to help build parties from the local level up again. MADDOW:  One policy question that I think the Republicans are raising or talking about amongst themselves hasn't really burst into a general election conversation yet, but I am genuinely shocked by it.  Which is that it's becoming more fashionable in Republican circles to talk about abolishing the VA.  Privatizing the VA, getting rid of it. CLINTON:  Right. MADDOW:  Throwing veterans onto the mercies of the for-profit healthcare system. The reason they are able to propose something that radical is because the problems at the VA seem so intractable.  If I had been running Republican campaign against President Obama last year, I would have run it entirely on the VA. A bureaucracy, a bloated big Government program (ph) that can't be fixed and let's do right by our veterans (ph). Do you -- do you have any new ideas for trying to fix it?  I mean -- there -- you can't find a person in politics who doesn't say we shouldn't (sic) do right by our veterans.  But for some reason, this can't get fixed fast enough.   CLINTON:  Yeah, and I don't understand that.  You know, I don't understand why we have such a problem, because there have been a number of surveys of veterans, and overall, veterans who do get treated are satisfied with their treatment.  Now...   MADDOW:  Much more so than people in the regular (inaudible).   CLINTON:  That's exactly right.   MADDOW:  Yeah.  Right.   CLINTON:  Now, nobody would believe that from the coverage that you see, and the constant berating of the V.A. that comes from the Republicans, in -- in part in pursuit of this ideological agenda that they have.   MADDOW:  But in part because there has been real scandal (ph).   CLINTON:  There has (ph) been.  And -- but it's not been as widespread as it has been made out to be.   Now, I do think that some of the reforms that were adopted last year should be given a chance to work.  If there is a waiting period that is just unacceptable, you should be able to, in a sense, get the opportunity to go out, have a private physician take care of you, but at the cost of the V.A.   But I think it goes deeper than that, because if you look at not only V.A. health care, but the backlog on disability determinations, there's something not working within the bureaucracy.   And I have said I would like to literally appoint a SWAT team to bring in people and just tackle the disability, have an ongoing review of the care that is being given, do more to make sure that every V.A. hospital is delivering care to the highest standard of the community, because, unfortunately, some are doing a lot better job than others are.   And I think that the current new leadership that President Obama did put in seems to be trying to tackle a lot of it.  I just don't know if they have enough help, and here's a perfect example of the way that the Republicans try to have it both ways.   They try to create a downward spiral.  Don't fund it to the extent that it needs to be funded, because we want it to fail so then we can argue for privatization.  They still want to privatize Medicare.  They still want to do away with Social Security.   And these are fights we've been having for 70, 80 years, now.  So we cannot grow weary in the face of these ideological assaults on basic fundamental services, whether it's the V.A., Medicare, Social Security.   But we have to be more creative about trying to fix the problems that are the legitimate concern, so that we can try to stymie the Republican assault.   MADDOW:  I have a question for you about having been in public life for a long time.   There's a book written about the Obama family by Jodi Kantor recently, in which Michelle Obama was quoted, saying that one of their new rules when they got to Washington was no new friends (ph).   And that resonates with me, because I feel like -- I -- I see that in other people who become well known for other reasons.  They decide -- you know, once you're well known, you don't want to bring new people into your life in a close, personal way, because they'll probably want to use you for something.   You've been in public life for so long that -- I have to bring this around to a Sidney Blumenthal section, and I hope you'll forgive me.  I realize he was not your primary adviser on Libya...   (LAUGHTER)   ... I do not hold you responsible for his e-mail feed (ph).   But I -- I also feel like, maybe by necessity, you and your husband have had to hold on to friends for a very long time, in part because it doesn't make sense to bring on a lot of new ones.   And a lot of the friends that you've got that are old Washington hands have really been through the wars with you.  And it has hardened them, and turned some of them into really, really aggressive partisans.   And that is one thing that I worry about, about the prospect of you becoming president.  About Sidney Blumenthal and Glenn Davis and -- and Mark Penn and all of these guys that you guys have known and worked with for all this time thinking that they've got -- they're back at the table.   Because they're ready to go fight your wars again, and then that means we can't move on from all the old battles.   CLINTON:  Yeah.  No...   MADDOW:  You -- do you hear that phrase (ph) -- does it make sense?  I hope it doesn't sound mean (inaudible).   CLINTON:  No -- no, it doesn't sound mean, and -- you know, I -- I haven't heard it directly, but I've read it, so that -- I know that it's not -- it's not something that -- you know, is just a -- a throwaway line.  I think people raise it.   Well, first of all -- you know, because we've been in public life for so long, we've made a lot of new friends over the years.   MADDOW:  There's no "no new friends" rule?   CLINTON:  There's no new friends rule at all, and there certainly is no new advisers rule, no new ideas rule.  Because Bill -- you know, started running for political office when we were very young, in our early thirties.  If we had made no new friends, we would have had the friends we'd had from high school and college.   So of course we've made a lot of new friends, and I think that's all to the good.  I'm very grateful that I've had a lot of people who have come into my life.  My campaign this time is run by a lot of people that I didn't know before I hired them, as well as people that had worked for me before.   So I do -- you know, I am like the old Girl Scouts song -- you know, "make new friends, but keep the old; some are silver, the others are gold."  And I think I have developed a -- a real -- you know, ear for those who are more aggressive in my defense than they may need to be or should be.   It is hard on your friends.  You know, one of my very best friends, somebody that I communicate with at least every week, if not more so -- I remember her saying to me one time, "you know, it's really hard being your friend, because I take everything so personally."   Well, we've been friends since sixth grade, so, yeah, she does take everything so personally.  And I do have a lot of my women friends, who are -- you know -- you know, they see something like yesterday, with eleven hours, and they're -- you know, e-mailing me like crazy, like, "get a massage."   (LAUGHTER)   "Just take tomorrow off."  All of that.   I have great friends, and some of them are known publicly, and some of them are totally private.  But -- I wouldn't have a "no new friends" rule, but I would certainly be a little bit -- I take my time to decide -- you know, is somebody, as you say, just trying to get in -- to sit at the table, or is somebody genuinely interested in what I'm interested in.   MADDOW:  One of my friends who knows your family told me that what I should ask you today -- now, I didn't plan on doing this, but I now realize I should -- told me I should ask you what your mom would have said to you at the end of those eleven hours, last night, when you (inaudible) out.   What would she have thought?   CLINTON:  I think she would have been appalled at the whole spectacle, but she would have been concerned about me getting home, because she was with us in the last years of her life, and she -- you know, she'd be waiting up, and she'd want to know how I was, and whether I'd had anything to eat during the day.   But I think at the end of it, she would have -- you know, breathed a big sigh of relief, because she -- she was someone who lived a really tough life, and she knows that everybody gets knocked down in life, and the question is whether you get back up, or whether you allow yourself to be -- you know, not only knocked down, but knocked out.   And that's the way she raised me.  So she would not have been surprised by my sitting there and absorbing what I did yesterday.  Because that's what she would have expected it.  MADDOW: I could hear her say (ph) Hillary Clinton, presidential candidate.  First time we've ever spoken.  I really appreciate you being willing to do this.  I know you have a million options (ph), and I hope you'll come back.   Thank you.   CLINTON:  I'd like to.  Thanks.   MADDOW:  Thanks so much,   END