Hillary Clinton’s Hates Power (No, Really)

Mike Tomasky interviews Hillary Clinton for The Guardian. The opener is quite interesting:

I want to start with some questions about foreign policy and terrorism. If you become president you’ll enter the White House with far more power than, say, your husband had. What is your view of this? And what specific powers might you relinquish as president, or renegotiate with Congress – for example the power to declare a US citizen an enemy combatant?

Well, I think it is clear that the power grab undertaken by the Bush-Cheney administration has gone much further than any other president and has been sustained for longer. Other presidents, like Lincoln, have had to take on extraordinary powers but would later go to the Congress for either ratification or rejection. But when you take the view that they’re not extraordinary powers, but they’re inherent powers that reside in the office and therefore you have neither obligation to request permission nor to ask for ratification, we’re in a new territory here. And I think that I’m gonna have to review everything they’ve done because I’ve been on the receiving end of that. There were a lot of actions which they took that were clearly beyond any power the Congress would have granted or that in my view that was inherent in the constitution. There were other actions they’ve taken which could have obtained congressional authorization but they deliberately chose not to pursue it as a matter of principle.

David Kurtz is quite excited, summarizing the exchange, “Hillary Clinton promises a systematic review of the Bush administration’s executive power grab if elected–with an eye toward relinquishing some of those powers.” Except for the part about relinquishing some of those powers, I’d say.

You’ll notice that she ran with the idea that the Bush administration has expanded presidential powers but neglected to answer the part about “specific powers might you relinquish as president, or renegotiate with Congress.” Indeed, she didn’t even jump on the easy target of “declare a US citizen an enemy combatant.” Instead, she went for the transparent dodge of saying she’d have to “review” the situation. What’s to review?

Gollum Hillary Rodham CLinton Somehow, I’m reminded of Gollum.

They’re thieves. They’re thieves, they’re filthy little thieves. Where is it? Where is it? They stole it from us. My Precious. Curse them, we hates them! It’s ours it is, and we wants it.

My guess is her tune would quickly change were the ring once again hers.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias comes to the same conclusion, minus the Gollum reference. Andrew Sullivan agrees, adding, “With the Clintons, you always have to go back later and read the transcript very, very closely. They reflexively lie, the way other people breathe.”

CORRECTION: The original version of this attributed Kurtz’ comments to Greg Sargent. The error is attributable to Kurtz having linked Sargent’s post at a different TPM Media blog and my having then followed Sargent’s link to Tomasky’s original interview with Clinton.

For his part, Sargent wasn’t “excited” at all about the remarks; indeed, he voiced objections quite similar to mine.

The promise of a review of these abuses is clearly newsworthy, though unfortunately the interview is short on specific suggestions as to what areas she might be willing to relinquish power in. For instance, asked directly by Tomasky whether AG nominee Michael Mukasey’s recent hedging on whether waterboarding constitutes torture would lead her to vote against him, she demurred.

She did say, however, that some of Mukasey’s answers “about presidential authority with respect to interrogation” concern her. Of course, the proof of this will reside in her vote, and she’s continually stopped short of condemning specific torture techniques.

OTB regrets the error.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Terrorism, The Presidency, Uncategorized, US Constitution, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    For someone who’s pursuing the level of power she is, she’s successfully avoided power for an awfully long time.

  2. jpe says:

    I’d be very, very surprised if she maintained the Bush admin stance that the President can violate the law if it thinks it’s really, really important for some double-super secret reason.

    And Clinton I was scrupulous in his use of executive power; I’d expect Clinton II to be similarly disposed.

  3. Ugh says:

    Jack Balkin had a post a while back about how things aren’t likely to change much with respect to presidential power even if a democrat arrives in the White House in 2009. It was extremely depressing.

  4. yetanotherjohn says:

    The key to interpreting a Clinton is to take their words at face value and recognize that they may be using a different dictionary than you (e.g. the definition of sex).

    I have no doubt that she would conduct a review (not personally, but some staffers. But she does not say that she would give up any of the powers. I suspect that the review would take some time, be released when other news dominated the headlines and conclude that she has “ceased all extraordinary executive powers” without mentioning that this means she has concluded all of them are ordinary executive powers.

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  6. Sam says:

    Well, there was this:

    I guess I’m asking, can a president, once in the White House, actually give up some of this power in the name of constitutional principle?

    Oh, absolutely, Michael. I mean that has to be part of the review that I undertake when I get to the White House, and I intend to do that.

  7. James Joyner says:

    Oh, absolutely, Michael. I mean that has to be part of the review that I undertake when I get to the White House, and I intend to do that.

    But there’s no promise to actually give up any power – just to review that possibility. I’m willing to lay great odds that the answer is No.

  8. Tano says:

    I really dont understand the strategy here.
    I mean the one used by JJ and the other cynics.

    What is the point of assuming, loudly, that she is just bs-ing? That totally lets her off the hook if she is to get elected and goes back on the committment.

    Why not simply give her credit for raising the issue, for making the committment, and then make it very clear that all of us will keep the issue alive if she is elected and hold her to it?

  9. James Joyner says:

    Why not simply give her credit for raising the issue, for making the committment, and then make it very clear that all of us will keep the issue alive if she is elected and hold her to it?

    Because she didn’t raise the issue and made no commitment?

  10. Christopher says:

    What abuse of power by President Bush are you guys talking about? What horrible things has he done with this supposed “power grab”? What terrible actions did the administration take that was beyond what was constitutionally granted? (Remember, democrats have voted for everything Bush wants. Indict Bush, indict yourselves)

    You liberals are SICK. What a spin machine! I guess the trick is to keep repeating it, and repeating it, and repeating it over and over again.

    Ruth is, Bush is the most honorable person in DC. You all sleep safe and sound in your beds tonight and enjoy the safety and security that our armed forces, led by the commander in chief, have provided for you.

    Ungrateful nits!

  11. Who’s Ruth and what has she got to do with this?