Increasing attention will focus on, or be drawn to, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty Attorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation MORE’s health as she mulls a bid for the presidency.
The former first lady and secretary of State turns 67 in October, and Republicans have begun to ask questions about her hospitalization in late 2012 for a blood clot in her head.
Raising this issue is fraught with risk, as Karl Rove, who served as a senior political adviser to former President George W. Bush, unintentionally made plain in recent days after he suggested that Clinton might have suffered a traumatic brain injury. The backlash was swift, as the White House and even a couple of Republicans said Rove was out of line.
Rove noted Clinton’s need for special glasses to correct for double vision after her discharge from the hospital.
“When she reappears, she’s wearing glasses that are only for people who have traumatic brain injury? We need to know what’s up with that,” Rove said at a conference in California, according to a report in the New York Post.
Rove tried on Tuesday to calm the outrage, but he held firm to his claim that Clinton’s health is fair game. “I didn’t say she had brain damage. I never used that phrase,” he said on Fox News’s “America’s Newsroom.”
But, he added, “This will be an issue in the 2016 race whether she likes it or not.”
Clinton’s spokesman on Tuesday accused Rove of intentionally spreading misinformation.
“Even [Tuesday] morning, Karl Rove is still all over the map and is continuing to get the facts wrong. But he doesn’t care, because all he wants to do is inject the issue into the echo chamber, and he’s succeeding,” said Nick Merrill.
“It’s flagrant and thinly veiled. They are scared of what she has achieved and what she has to offer,” he added. “What he’s doing is its own form of sickness. But she is 100 percent, period. Time for them to move on to their next desperate attack.”
Reaction from Capitol Hill was wary. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a vocal Clinton critic, said, “I probably wouldn’t have done what [Rove] did. When Karl Rove [talks about her health], it sounds like it’s a partisan thing.”
Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who are mulling presidential runs in 2016, declined to comment, as did several other Republicans, including Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (Texas).
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said Rove’s comments would have been “inappropriate” if he hadn’t clarified them.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) called on Rove to apologize and advised other Republicans not to talk about Clinton’s health.
Some Republican strategists privately believe Clinton’s age will be a factor if she mounts a bid. She would be the same age as Ronald Reagan when he won in 1980 and three years younger than Sen. John McCain was when the Arizona Republican lost in 2008.
Both Reagan and McCain had to fend off questions about their age, and the McCain campaign considered embracing a one-term pledge before opting against it.
Women on average live longer than men, a fact that could be repeated by Democrats if Clinton runs.
Congressional Democrats quickly rallied to her defense.
“That’s vintage Karl Rove,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa). “It’s sort of going after the person rather than what they stand for, their views and what they’ve done politically.”
Meanwhile, White House press secretary Jay Carney mocked “Doctor” Rove’s judgment.
Some Republicans say raising Clinton’s health is legitimate because she is widely assumed to be the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in 2016. She has had a history with clots, having been treated for another, in her knee, in 1998.
McCain, who ran for the Republican nomination in 2000 at the age of 63, said opponents questioned how his health was affected by being held as a POW during the Vietnam War.
He said Clinton should release her medical records if she runs again, just as he did in 2000 and 2008.
“In 2000, because of my POW experience and injuries I had to have a complete revelation of all of my medical records,” he said. “That was the only way I was able to put the issue behind me.”
“I would suggest [releasing the medical records] because the media will continue to question until they feel they have all the necessary information,” he said, adding, “I do not claim that she has had any injury or anything like that.”
Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) said, “I think when anybody puts themselves out to run for president of the United States they’re going to face questions about everything.”
She said that most candidates for president make public their school and tax records as well.
“I think it’s a practice that is appropriate and has come to be expected,” she said. “It applies to school records, taxes, health records.”
Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of the Senate Republican leadership, said recent presidential candidates have released their medical records, adding, “I think that’s a legitimate question for voters to have.”
While Clinton is likely to run, no announcement will come for months. She launched her unsuccessful 2008 presidential bid in January 2007.