Five decisions Hillary can’t duck

Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonPoll: Clinton and Trump neck-and-neck Politics and the perils of protectionism EXCLUSIVE: Pro-Hillary group takes 0K in banned donations MORE will have to make decisions about where she stands on a number of controversial issues as she nears a presidential campaign.

Clinton so far has been picking and choosing what issues to weigh in on, something easier to do as an unofficial candidate.

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Republicans have sought to make Clinton’s silence an issue. They argue she’s in hiding, and that this is emblematic of a broader problem: the former secretary of State largely makes decisions out of political expediency rather than any more deeply-rooted sense of conviction.  

“Hillary Clinton is driven by politics, not principles, so it isn’t surprising that she’s refusing to tell the American people where she stands on the issues until her army of political consultants have thoroughly poll tested her positions,” said Allison Moore, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee.

Clinton allies reject that categorization. They say that until Clinton is actually running for the White House, she shouldn’t be expected to release detailed statements on her position on hot-button issues, such as President Obama’s request that Congress authorize military action against ISIS.

“She’s not a candidate yet and shouldn’t be expected to have a detailed policy analysis of this or other subjects this early,” one ally said.

Still, even Clinton’s allies acknowledge she’ll have to come out publicly on a series of big issues if and when she officially enters the race.

Here are five big examples.

Military force and ISIS

The question of how Congress should authorize military action against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is an impossible one for Clinton to avoid.

It’s also a difficult issue for Clinton, whose 2008 run for the White House was undermined by her support for legislation authorizing the Iraq War.

Then-Sen. Obama made that his big issue in the Democratic campaign, and it cost Clinton support on the left.

Observers say Clinton, who is seen as more hawkish than Obama, is likely to support the president’s request.

“She wouldn’t want to make Obama look weaker on this,” one ally said. “I could see her just supporting the president.”

But she’ll want to be careful to not be seen as too out of step with her party. And there is plenty of opposition to Obama’s request from Democrats, who see the ban on “enduring offensive ground operations” as not ruling out ground troops.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who is expected to wage a long-shot bid for the Democratic nomination, is opposing the measure.

And Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) hasn’t taken a position on it.

Keystone XL

Republicans have been pressing Clinton to take a stand on the Keystone XL pipeline since she was Secretary of State, but Clinton has repeatedly refused to wade in on the subject.

Pushed on the matter, Clinton allies point to her support of alternative energy but they predict that she’ll stay mum on the issue because “she doesn’t want to weigh in to influence the process,” as one ally said.

More questions are likely to be triggered in the coming week, as Obama is expected to veto legislation approving the pipeline.

Obama will argue that the bill approved by Congress circumvents the proper process for considering a pipeline that crosses the border with Canada.

Unions and Democrats support the measure, however, aren’t likely to take that excuse well.

It’s a tricky position for Clinton, who doesn’t want to turn off environmental groups opposed to Keystone, or labor groups that back it.

Medical device tax 

Speaking to a conference of medical device manufacturers in Chicago last fall, Clinton refused to firmly state where she stands on whether this controversial tax included in the healthcare law should be repealed.

While she supports the healthcare law, she told the group she didn’t know “what the right answer is,” with regard to the tax — an answer unlikely to please anyone.

“I think we have to look and see what the pluses and the minuses that are embodied in a decision about either to remove, or alter, or continue, this particular piece of the Affordable Care Act,” she said. “We’ll gather more information and that will perhaps give us a better path forward.”

Even some Clinton allies argue she needs to offer a better answer.

“Look, as president, she’s not going to please everyone. She needs to say, ‘This is how I feel’ and if people are going to get upset about it, so be it,” one source said. “Being president is about making tough decisions that don’t please everybody.”

Social Security

Warren and Sanders both want to raise the caps on Social Security contributions, but Clinton hasn’t taken a position on the sensitive issue.

People pay into Social Security through the 6.2 percent payroll tax, but only on earnings up to $118,500.

That means income earned above that ceiling is not subject to the tax, something Sanders and other liberals argue is unfair. They say wealthier people should pay more into the Social Security program to make sure it remains solvent.

It’s just another issue, political observers say, where Clinton will be pulled to the left.

“I think she's going to have to look at it pretty hard and strongly consider if it's worth taking this up,” said Democratic strategist Jim Manley.

Trade

Trade is one of the trickiest issues for Clinton, because Republicans have been trying to portray her as a flip-flopper on the issue.

Clinton’s husband won passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement that tore down barriers to trade with Canada and Mexico.

Groups opposed to free-trade policies ever since have argued that NAFTA and the agreements that followed it have sent manufacturing jobs overseas.

As secretary of State, Clinton backed free-trade policies, but she hasn’t weighed in on Obama’s request that Congress give him “fast-track” authority that would prevent lawmakers from amending deals sent back for their approval.

Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons acknowledged that Clinton “bears the weight” of her husband’s trade policies.

He argued that she’ll have to back free-trade, but will choose her words carefully.

“The problem for trade isn’t that it’s bad for the economy, the problem is that the benefits seem to benefit elites,” he said. “So she needs to create policies that help more people.”