By James Hohmann at The Washington Post
THE BIG IDEA:
Hillary Clinton has struggled to effectively answer questions about her paid speeches on Wall Street and all the support she receives from big banks. During a previous debate, she invoked the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to argue she was just doing her job as a senator for New York. Last night, during a New Hampshire town hall broadcast on CNN, Anderson Cooper asked the Democratic front-runner if she made “a bad error in judgment” by accepting $675,000 from Goldman Sachs for three speeches. She didn't hesitate to say no.
Her explanation sounded flip. "That's what they offered,” she said, adding that “every secretary of state that I know” has also given such high-priced speeches.
Cooper followed up by asking why she’d take the risk of making such appearances if she was going to run for president. Clinton said it was because she was not totally sure she would get in the race. "To be honest, I wasn't committed to running," she replied.
The most problematic part of her answer came when she insisted something that is demonstrably untrue: “They’re not giving me very much money now, I can tell you that much. Fine with me.”
Watch Clinton's full two-minute response, quickly blasted out by the RNC, here:
-- The latest FEC reports reveal that Hillary reached a major milestone during the fourth quarter of 2015: Donors in the financial sector have now given more to support her campaigns than Bill’s. A deep dive into the numbers from Matea Gold, Tom Hamburger and Anu Narayanswamy just posted: “Through the end of December, donors at hedge funds, banks, insurance companies and other financial-services firms had given at least $21.4 million to support Clinton’s 2016 presidential run — more than one of every 10 dollars of the $157.8 million contributed to back her bid, according to an analysis of Federal Election Commission filings.”
- “In all, donors from Wall Street and other financial-services firms have given $44.1 million to support Hillary Clinton’s campaigns and allied super PACs, compared with $39.7 million in backing that former president Bill Clinton received from the industry."
- "Only about $75,000 of the $75 million Sanders has raised for his 2016 campaign has come from donors in the finance sector."
- “With the $21.4 million that Wall Street has given for her current White House bid, Clinton is on track to quickly exceed the nearly $23 million that she raised in her three previous campaigns combined from the PACs and employees of banks, hedge funds, securities firms and insurance companies." (Read the full story here.)
-- Other than the tone-deaf sound bite, made close to the town hall’s 11 p.m. finish, Clinton delivered a particularly strong performance. She sounded positively presidential. She nailed the dismount on a question about the use of force, showed empathy to a questioner with terminal cancer, offered an eloquent defense of her progressive bona fides and beautifully deflected a question about why she’s losing the youth vote so badly. "They don’t have to be for me,” she said. “I'm going to be for them.”
-- But let’s be real: the ratings probably were not that good for thefull telecast. Cable news, the blogosphere and the mainstream media will likely all seize on the Goldman answer today. Here's a taste of the initial reaction:
It's as bad as Jeb not having an answer to the Iraq question. https://t.co/EK5UIIElzo
— Jackie Kucinich (@JFKucinich) February 4, 2016
Speaking fee question awkward terrain.#DemTownHall
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) February 4, 2016
Man this segment on the Goldman speeches is just brutal. — Ben White (@morningmoneyben) February 4, 2016
-- The Clinton campaign, in damage-control mode on this issue and trying to regain its footing after the close finish in Iowa, has postponed two finance industry fundraisers until AFTER the New Hampshire primary. “Clinton was originally supposed to attend an event in Boston on Friday, organized by Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine, the managing partner of Sankaty Advisors, an affiliate of Bain Capital,” Tom and Matea report. “The fundraiser has been rescheduled for a later date that the campaign would not reveal. In addition, a New York fundraiser billed as a ‘Conversation with Hillary,’ co-hosted by Matt Mallow, chief legal officer for the asset management firm BlackRock, that was originally scheduled for Jan. 28 has been moved to Feb. 16.”
-- It is hard to overstate how much the base in both parties HATES the big banks. It’s especially salient right now with the box office success of “The Big Short,” which doesn’t just cast bankers in a bad light but intentionally leaves viewers outraged that none really went to jail. The distaste for the financial services industry comes up constantly when I interview voters at Democratic and Republican events.
-- Make no mistake: Heidi Cruz’s work at Goldman Sachs could become a BIG problem for her husband in the coming months. The Texas senator is trying to get out front of the attacks. "I agree in many ways with Bernie Sanders," Cruz said at a college in Henniker, N.H., yesterday. "They say, ‘Gosh, Ted, you sound exactly like Bernie, saying it’s all big money and lobbyists and corruption.’ Well you know what? That’s right. It is! Washington is corrupt."
-- The head of Goldman unintentionally made an in-kind contribution to Sanders by attacking him on CNBC. Lloyd Blankfein said the senator’s attacks on bankers and the "billionaire class" makes this “a dangerous moment.” In 2008 he endorsed and raised money for Hillary. His wife has maxed out to her this year, Politico notes. But on Squawk Box, he played coy: “I don’t want to help or hurt anybody by giving them an endorsement."
ON THE OTHER HAND, BERNIE'S OBAMA PROBLEM IS REAL:
-- The Vermont senator spent yesterday on the defensive after saying that Clinton is a progressive only on “some days.” (John Wagner chronicles the blow-by-blow here.)
The hour-long Q&A with Cooper highlighted his challenge, especially going into the South, where Obama is overwhelmingly popular. He tried to thread the needle between being ideologically pure and touting all the compromises he's made.
He defended himself against attacks that he’s not actually a member of the party he’s seeking to lead. “Of course I’m a Democrat,” he said.
At times he was argumentative. “It’s not accurate to say it’s my way or the highway,” he told the host.
The most damning moment came when Cooper asked why he gave a “ringing endorsement” to a book by liberal radio host Bill Press called "Buyer's Remorse: How Obama Let Progressives Down.”
“No, I didn't give it a ringing endorsement,” Sanders said.
“But you blurbed it,” replied Cooper.
“No, not true,” he said.
“Okay. You tell me what you did,” Cooper shot back.
“I wrote a blurb for it,” Sanders then acknowledged. “And what the blurb said is that I think the next president should be very aggressive in bringing people into the political process.”
Then asked if the president let progressives down, Sanders cited trade: “I think in some areas.” Then he praised him. “President Obama and Vice President Biden have taken us a very, very long way from those dismal days. Are we where we want to be today? No," he said. "But we have come a long way and President Obama deserves an enormous amount of credit for that.”
-- Hillary, meanwhile, continued to link herself as closely as ever with Obama. She noted that both Obama and the late Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) wouldn’t qualify as progressives under Sanders’ standard. "I'm amused that Senator Sanders has set himself up as the gatekeeper of who gets to be a progressive," she said.
A former top Obama adviser posted a picture of the book's cover, complete with the blurb in question:
Lending your name & endorsement to this critique is no small thing in the heat of an election to replace Pres Obama. pic.twitter.com/xyxTVgwyvc
— David Plouffe (@davidplouffe) January 31, 2016
And Clinton got lots of air cover from her allies:
Hillary is a progressive EVERY day. Bernie is a Democrat "some days." https://t.co/GP6TpUyjEK
— Barbara Boxer (@BarbaraBoxer) February 3, 2016
-- They're back at it again tonight: Clinton and Sanders agreed to debate on MSNBC from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. It'll be their first one-on-one matchup. The campaigns also locked in March 6 for a debate in Flint, Mich.