Hillary Rodham Clinton is a political superstar. These days, she is deciding whether to continue her political career, this time by making a run for the United States Senate in New York. She sat down a few days ago with 60 Minutes II Correspondent Dan Rather to talk about that decision, and many other things. Among the topics: her beliefs, her hopes, and how she has gotten through the hard times in the White House. She finally began to answer some of the questions no one has had a chance to ask.
Dan Rather: "Here's a tough question. One that you're going to be asked repeatedly, one that you are eventually going to have to answer. For whom do you root, the Mets or the Yankees?"
Hillary Clinton: "Very good question" (laughing). You know, I just love baseball. So the politic answer is that, since I do plan to live in New York no matter what I end up doing, I'll root for both.
Dan Rather: "Ah, but you know New York. New York in many ways is split between those who cheer for the Mets and those who cheer for the Yankees. So, I have to pressure you to come back. Mets or Yankees, Mrs. Clinton?"
Hillary Clinton: "Well, you know Dan, that's one of those questions I'm probably going to have to give serious thought to and give you a final answer."
Hillary Rodham Clinton hasn't answered many questions in the past year and a half. By now, even the easy questions have complicated answers. But then again, she is pretty complicated herself.
Hillary Clinton: "I guess I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life and I've tried very, very hard to be as careful as possible and that's all I can tell you."
Once a political lightning rod, today she is political lightning, a crowd-pleaser and first-class fund raiser. She is under enormous pressure to step into the arena, this time on her own.
Dan Rather: "Let's talk about the New York senate race. We can't do this interview and not talk about it."
Hillary Clinton: "Right."
Dan Rather: "It's in the papers again. You've made up your mind to run. It's just a matter of time or announcement. Is that a fair description of where you are?"
Hillary Clinton: "No, not really. I'm still thinking about it. People are still talking to me about it. I've been very flattered by the people who've come to me and asked me to consider it. And I'm obviously very interested. But it's such a big decision; you know a year ago it never crossed my mind. Even six months ago, it wasn't anything I ever even thought about but I'm very committed to learning about a lot of different issues I've worked on all my life and how they affect people in New York because I think that, you know, everything that happens in America happens in New York. And as I have listened to people and talked with thethe kinds of things I care about--education, health care, better jobs, better balance between work and family--the kinds of issues that I think are going to be on the front burner in years to come are ones that are of great concern to New Yorkers and of great concern to me."
Dan Rather: "Why New York? Why not Illinois? Or Arkansas, where you spent a lot of time?"
Hillary Clinton: "Well, you know I never could have predicted something like this could have occurred, but people came to me and asked me to consider it. Of course, I've been thinking about and talking to Bill about, you know, living there after we finish in the White House. I think that both of us would really enjoy that. So it just all kind of came together and that's why I'm pursuing it and considering it so seriously."
She talks like a candidate, walks like a candidate, and kisses babies with the best of them. But she remains stubbornly coy about whether she'll run, and when she'll decide.
Dan Rather: "You really haven't made the final decision?
Hillary Clinton: "No, I haven't. I haven't."
Dan Rather: "Have you made a final decision to at least launch an exploratory committee?"
Hillary Clinton: "No. I've considered that carefully. And that would be the next step that I would take, if I go forward."
She has been pushing forward, and pushing the envelope, since election night 1992, building a reputation here and abroad for her work with women, children and families.
She has gone the extra mile to visit refugees, returned home to push for public schools, and crossed the country to campaign for Democratic candidates and causes.
In the weeks since the killings at Columbine High School she has waded into the war over gun control, and led the national grieving. During the interview, those issues were on her mind again. She and the president had spent a long day in Littleton, Colorado, meeting with the parents whose children had been killed.
Dan Rather: "What can you say to them? What do you say to them?"
Hillary Clinton: "Oh, Dan... it's one of the hardest things Bill and I have to do. And you know, we've had to do too much of it in the last six and a half years. You know, today we did a lot of hugging. A lot of saying how sorry we are. We looked at a lot of mementos. And then we talked about what we could learn from this and what we could do to try to make sure it never happened again, if that were humanly possible."
Dan Rather: "Tell me what you talked about."
Hillary Clinton: "Well, a lot of them have, you know, been thinking hard about what they could do to give meaning to this. You know, they don't want their children to have died in vain, and neither do we. So some said, 'Well, we hope that parents will just hold their kids tight and spend time with them.' And a lot of the parents wanted to go out and speak to other parents about how precious this time with children i. Some were very anxious to talk about theÂ…the need for better gun laws and to enforce those laws. To make sure that people didn't get away breaking laws and whatever new ones we needed should be passed and implemented. They wanted to talk about the culture and what we could try to do to send stronger signals about how to really turn this culture around, this culture of violence that people have, I think rightly, talked about. So there were so many different ideas. But what was heartening to both Bill and me is how in the midst of such an enormous tragedy that these people were looking for help and meaning. They really want America to, not just have the feeling of hurt and sorrow that we all feel, but to do something with that feeling. And to really make some of the changes that could make a difference."
Dan Rather: "Colorado, like many states in the West, Southwest, South, is, in some ways, a gun culture. People here grow up with guns. Guns were pervasive. Was there any talk of that?"
Hillary Clinton: "I think that there was talk about the need for better gun laws, and to implement them. But you know America's become a gun culture in many respects. We have so many guns. The Senate did pass some meaningful gun legislation and I hope that they'll continue to do more and I hope the House will agree. And that, you know, we will close these holes. And that we will make a very clear statement that we're not going to permit guns to fall into the hands of criminal juveniles or anyone else for that matter."
She says that if she runs for the Senate, it will be because of what she's learned in places like Littleton. And in spite of what she has lived through in Washington.
Dan Rather: "With all that you've been through in politics--you were virtually under siege for at least the last year and a half. Why in the world would you want to go into that kind of campaign, particularly in a tough state like New York?"
Hillary Clinton: "Well, you know, Dan, I just spent the afternoon with people who'd suffered an unspeakable tragedy, losing their children in the Columbine High School killings. And they wanted to talk about what we could do together. They wanted to talk about how we could bring people together to solve our problems. They were not filled with bitterness or hatred. They were filled with hope and positive energy. And I respond to that. I'm someone who thinks that, you knowÂ…. We are so blessed to live in this country. And for me, having an opportunity to serve in the United States Senate, if that's what I would decide to do, and were fortunate enough for the people of New York to give me that chance, it would enable me to work with people and bring people together and try to solve problems that were on people's minds."
But what's on the minds of many Americans is her marriage, and the personal troubles that have been played out so painfully and publicly. In a year and a half of denials, details, and DNA. Trough all this, she has maintained her silence.
Dan Rather: "Well, you know... You never met anybody who wants to respect your privacy more than I do. But you're a very public person... And sooner or later in New York, they're going to say, 'why are you still with this man'?"
Hillary Clinton: "(laughing) Oh, you know, we've been together for, I guess, 28 years. We've been married, hmmm, we'll be married 24 years this year. And we have a deep and abiding commitment to one another. And it's something that's been part of our lives.... From ... really almost from the time we met. And you know, I'm old-fashioned enough not to talk about my private life and I respect your respect for it. But, I think thatÂ…I look back on all of those years together and it's just something that... means a great deal to both of us."
Dan Rather: "Well, given what you've been through the last year and a half, did you ever consider leaving him?"
Hillary Clinton: "(laughing) I am not going to talk about that. I respect you, Dan. But I'm not going to answer those questions."
She doesn't bat an eye, and she doesn't give an inch. She has set firm boundaries that she doesn't want broken. And whether she runs for the Senate or not, she is already on a campaign to make Americans define "public" and "private" the way she does. But in the Clinton White House, public and private--his past and her future--are hard to separate.
Dan Rather: "If you were to run and if you were to be elected, you would walk into the United States Senate, famous or infamous depending upon your point of view, a pit of deal-making and compromise. And you would be walking into a Senate in which a large number of the senators were the same senators who had put your husband on trial and indeed, tried to run both of you out of Washington, for all intents and purposes."
Hillary Clinton: "But you know, it's the United States Senate. It's probably the most important legislative body, I would argue in the history of the world. And there are a lot of good things and there are a lot of good people who are working hard together. And you know, after all the years that I've been in Washington and after all the difficulties and the challenges that you refer to, I still really believe that we are blessed to be Americans and that public service is a privilege. So I'm not at all discouraged or pessimistic about the political process. I just know how tough it is. I know a lot more about that now than I did before I got to Washington."