Hillary Clinton speaks at UM, remains mum about presidential aspirations

 

mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com

Hillary Clinton — the once and current Democratic frontrunner for president — spoke Wednesday at the University of Miami, touching on the chaos in Venezuela, climate change, and the traps of partisanship.

One topic she conspicuously avoided: Whether she’ll run for president in 2016.

When asked about her plans — noted in her Twitter bio as “TBD,” or to be determined — Clinton slipped the question.

“Well, I’d really like to. But I have no characters left,” Clinton said with a laugh, referencing the 140-character limit of Twitter.

“I will certainly ponder that.”

But earlier, in addressing the 6,000 or so students and guests, Clinton might have given a hint.

“No one can or should sit on the sidelines,” said Clinton, who also noted the need to “get beyond the partisanship, … beyond all the political dead-ends, and decide that that’s just not who we are.”

As with a September speech Clinton gave in Miami, her appearance was highly stage-managed and had the trappings of a campaign event. There were no questions from, or nearness to, the news media.

The main difference between Clinton’s address at the BankUnited Center and those given at the venue by President Barack Obama in the 2012 election cycle: Clinton stayed for a question-and-answer session.

The questions from students were pre-screened and asked by UM President Donna Shalala, who worked in Bill Clinton’s administration as health secretary. Shalala called Clinton her “friend and colleague in too many adventures to count.”

In a nod to the sizable number of Venezuelan students and residents in Miami-Dade, Shalala made sure to ask Clinton, the former secretary of state under President Obama, about the chaos in Caracas under President Nicolas Maduro’s regime.

Clinton acknowledged longstanding problems with Venezuela and Cuba and expressed a measure of regret that their leaders had no interest in truly normalizing relations and democratizing.

“We saw Venezuela, which is such a rich country — a beautiful country — going backward. First under President Chavez’s rule, now in the present day, with President Maduro,” she said.

“We tried. We tried to engage with President Chavez at that very first meeting,” Clinton said.

Clinton said Obama had hopes for a change.

“If I meet him, I will be cordial. I will shake his hand,” Obama said of Chavez, according to Clinton.

“It happened. Lots of pictures,” Clinton said. “And then unfortunately, rather than it being an opening to find ways to work together — unfortunately, it went backwards instead of forward.”

Clinton was never asked about a major foreign-policy controversy that occurred while she served as secretary of state: the deadly Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attacks on U.S. diplomats and agents in Benghazi, Libya.

Clinton “will have to answer for Benghazi,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a likely Republican candidate for president, told CNN on Tuesday.

“I think she's going to be asked to account for her time as secretary of state and I don't think it's the sterling success people think it is,” Rubio said.

Clinton’s speech in Coral Gables was just a few miles from Rubio’s West Miami home and the Coral Gables residence of another potential Republican contender, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Like Clinton, Bush has ducked the topic of running for president, saying he’ll decide later this year or next.

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Right now, early national and Florida polls show Clinton leading Democrats and beating Bush or Rubio — even in their home state. In a Quinnipiac University survey last month, she led Bush by 6 percentage points and Rubio by 10 points.

Clinton never mentioned any of her potential rivals by name. She did recall her amazement at how, after she traveled as secretary of state, foreigners were amazed that she was offered her post by President Obama after a hard-fought campaign.

As a former health secretary, Shalala was intimately familiar with Clinton’s failed healthcare push when her husband was in the White House.

Shalala threw an admitted softball about President Obama’s health plan when she exhorted Clinton to persuade young people, so-called “invincibles,” to buy health insurance as required by the Affordable Care Act.

Clinton also talked about the need to address climate change and stressed the need for “energy efficiency, energy efficiency, energy efficiency.”

In the final moments of Clinton’s speech, Shalala had to ask the political question about Clinton’s future. Clinton side-stepped it.

Shalala then asked if Clinton would return.

“I would love to come back!” Clinton responded to applause.

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