CHICAGO – In her first major public appearance since stepping down as secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton embraced key pillars of President Barack Obama’s domestic agenda Thursday and said she will strive to act as an envoy between businesses, nonprofit entities and the federal government.
Speaking at a charitable conference in Chicago convened by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, the potential 2016 presidential candidate announced that she had joined the Clinton family’s foundation and said she will spend the coming months championing early childhood development, economic development and opportunities for women and girls.
The speech, centered on educational and economic empowerment, echoed many of the Obama administration’s top priorities and suggested some of the possible themes Clinton could use in a presidential campaign, should she decide to run.
“This can’t just be a conversation about Washington. We all need to do our part,” Clinton said at the meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative America. “We have to prove again to ourselves, as well as to the rest of the world, that our public and private sectors can work together to find common ground for the common good.”
Clinton voiced praise for many of the issues high on Obama’s agenda, including expansion of prekindergarten programs and equal pay for women. The remarks signaled that she intends to remain aligned with her former boss and rival from the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries.
But Clinton also struck a gloomy note on some economic issues, seemingly at odds with the preferred White House message. She decried high unemployment among young people, the decaying state of cities, and pockets of economic and educational inequality in areas such as rural West Virginia.
“In too many places in our own country, community institutions are crumbling, social and public health indicators are cratering and jobs are coming apart,” Clinton said.
She also spoke of “overcoming the lines that divide us — whether partisan, cultural, geographic.” She said one of the lessons she learned traveling the world is that, regardless of where she went, “what people wanted was a good job.”
Although she made no direct reference to her own political future, one comment Clinton made drew knowing applause from several hundred conference attendees. Calling opportunities for women and girls “the great unfinished business of this century,” she said that “when women participate in politics, the effects ripple out across society.”
The issues Clinton said she would work on are hardly new to her agenda. She has focused on childhood development, girls’ and women’s empowerment and economic development throughout her time in public life, beginning as first lady of Arkansas.
Yet by dedicating the next period in her life to those issues, Clinton is suggesting that she sees unfinished business from the presidencies of her husband and Obama.
Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic strategist, said Clinton is smart to focus her energies on those areas rather than rejoining Washington political debates.
“Her great strength when she was first lady, senator and secretary of state is that she’s viewed as a real policy leader,” Elmendorf said. “Whatever she does next — and if she wants to preserve the option of running for president — she’s got to spend these couple of years not being political but talking about issues and substance that matter to the American people.”
Clinton opened a busy day at the CGI America conference, a domestic offshoot of her husband’s global charitable gathering every September in New York.
The family foundation has been renamed the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, signifying the growing role of Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, in the philanthropic organization, which was founded a decade ago.