Hillary says she’ll work across aisle — and some in GOP agree
Hillary Clinton is making the case that she’ll be able to get more done with Congress than her rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination — and President Obama, for that matter.
Clinton’s argument is that she has long relationships with many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, as well as the policy knowledge, political sense and leadership skills to pass legislation.
Team Clinton is hoping the message of reaching out to Republicans will resonate with voters frustrated by Washington’s inaction and dysfunction, even if it goes against the grain in a year in which anti-establishment candidates have had success in both parties.
Even Republican lawmakers say it’s not just a Clinton talking point.
They say she won’t emulate the Obama model of conducting business with Congress. For one thing, they say, she knows the players and isn’t afraid to reach out.
Former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said, “Obama doesn’t like to deal with the Congress and he won’t invite them up and he won’t come up here
“He apparently doesn’t respect the institution and the role that they play,” Lott said of Obama. “I think Hillary, I’m not going to be for her, but I think she would be much better about reaching out and actually trying to work with the Congress.”
In an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd, Clinton stopped short of saying that she’d have better relationships with Congress than Obama. But the Democratic front-runner sent a clear message that she would succeed in pushing policy and navigating the treacherous political terrain because of her lengthy Beltway résumé.
“I have been in Washington, as you know, in and out, for a while. I can see how things get done, and I know how much effort it takes to try to find that common ground,” Clinton said on “MTP Daily.”
“From day one, that’s exactly what I’ll be looking to do,” she added.
“I think you’ve got to go in with an agenda so that it is policy based. And then you begin the intensive effort to build relationships even with people you don’t agree with,” Clinton continued. She added that she worked with former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay
(Texas) to “reform the adoption and foster care system.”
Those is Clinton’s orbit expect her to highlight her history of working alongside Republicans.
One senior aide who worked in Clinton’s Senate office pointed to her work on human trafficking issues with conservatives such as Sam Brownback, the senator-turned-governor of Kansas. The aide also highlighted that she teamed up with others such as Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) on legislation that guarantees full payment of bonuses and incentives to veterans wounded in combat.
“Compromise is the secret sauce of addressing problems,” the aide said.
Former Rep. Thomas Reynolds (R-N.Y.), in a telephone interview on Tuesday, ticked off a list of accomplishments the two worked on together, including their work to save the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station after the Pentagon threatened to close it in 2005.
“I found Hillary to be very reasonable and very interested in working on projects that mattered to my district, but I also saw some of my Republican colleagues say the same thing,” Reynolds said. “Watching her, she knew the process of how to get people involved, earn consideration of her
issues and work to get support of her issues.
“Great lawmakers on both sides of the aisle know how to do that,” Reynolds said.
Clinton’s remarks about working across the aisle could be seen as targeting not only Obama but also some of the Republican candidates running for president — particularly Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
It’s an argument that sounds like a preview of a general election sound bite, when Clinton would be seeking to win over independents.
Clinton first must win the Democratic primary, where she is the front-runner but is facing serious challenges. And it’s not clear the argument will be a winning one with liberals.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has taken a fiery tone on the campaign trail, which has helped him emerge as a contender in Iowa and New Hampshire.
He can also point to some bipartisan work: He helped shepherd legislation reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs through Congress last year.
Vice President Biden, if he chooses to enter the race, could point to a long record as a congressional dealmaker, both in Congress and through the Obama administration.
“Oh, Biden is a natural for being able to communicate, with both parties. He spent most of his adult life up here [on Capitol Hill], and that makes a heck of a difference,” said Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), who is a Clinton supporter. “That’s why he is the administration’s go-to guy when they have a legislative priority that they need to communicate to both sides.”
Lott said Clinton would most likely emulate her husband, former President Bill Clinton, who was known for working with Republicans to strike
While he was Senate majority leader, Lott recalled working with Bill Clinton and then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) to achieve results.
“Bill Clinton talked to Daschle all the time, I talked to him all the time,” he recalled. “He called me. I called him. He called me at home at 2 o’clock in the morning, 9 o’clock at night.”
And he remembers long meetings at the White House with the former president.
“We were up there all the time meeting with him and giving each other hell, but we got a result,” he said, adding, “I don’t think [Hillary Clinton] would be as good at it as he was, but few people are.”
Mike Lillis contributed to this report.