New York Times
By Maggie Haberman
October 29, 2015
Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York whose plan for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants was the source of a stumble in a debate for Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2007, is aggressively criticizing her for that moment, calling it a “metaphor” for her soft support on the issue of immigration.
Mr. Spitzer, who was the governor when Mrs. Clinton last ran for president eight years ago, swung hard at Mrs. Clinton in an interview this week with David Axelrod, the Democratic strategist and former adviser to President Obama, who hosts a podcast for the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics.
The former governor, who resigned in 2009 after it was revealed he was a client in a prostitution ring, recalled sitting in his living room watching the Democratic debate in October 2007, when Mrs. Clinton and Senator Barack Obama were asked about Mr. Spitzer’s proposal to let undocumented immigrants get driver’s licenses.
Mr. Spitzer recalled that Mr. Obama, who was advised by Mr. Axelrod at the time, was asked about it and “gave a one-word answer — yes. When it came time for Senator Clinton’s answer, she literally gave three different answers in 30 seconds. To which Chris Dodd then responded, ‘Wait a minute, Senator Clinton, you just said three different things, what do you think?’ And she waffled and waffled and waffled.”
The moment, from a debate in Philadelphia, was widely seen within Mrs. Clinton’s campaign at the time as the beginning of the end for her, a stumble for an otherwise agile debater at a moment when voters were just starting to tune into the race. Mrs. Clinton has, in her presidential bid for 2016, positioned herself to the left of even Mr. Obama on using executive actions to halt some deportations of illegal immigrants, as Hispanic voters have become a major component of the Democratic coalition.
Mr. Spitzer acknowledged that he is supporting one of Mrs. Clinton’s opponents, Martin O’Malley, and dates the candidate’s deputy campaign manager, Lis Smith. But he insisted that the moment was revealing overall about Mrs. Clinton.
“It was a politically tough issue,” Mr. Spitzer said. “It didn’t poll well, but there was no ambiguity about what was right. And if you look at where we are now as a nation on this very issue It’s the law of the land, I think, in California, a slew of states, and it’s not controversial because people know it’s right and it works. But at the time it was controversial. And because it was controversial she hemmed and she hawed.”
He added: “This goes to the core of where are you on immigrants rights? And the president – not then the president, Senator Obama, now the president – gave an unambiguous answer: yes. The Clinton folks, as no doubt you remember, thought the issue was the problem. I thought the issue was a metaphor for her vacillation.”
Christina Reynolds, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Clinton, did not address Mr. Spitzer’s criticisms about flip-flopping. But she said in an email on Thursday, “The immigration landscape of 2015 is far different from the immigration landscape of 2007, so of course the policy responses are different.”
In a response focused entirely on immigration policy, Ms. Reynolds added: “In 2007, we didn’t have an executive action that would focus our resources on deporting felons, not families, allowing millions of undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States. In the last eight years, states have increasingly been moving in this direction with positive results. Hillary supports those state efforts. As she said in 2007, she believes the long-term solution is comprehensive immigration reform, but given Republican obstruction, we can no longer wait for that.”
When Mr. Axelrod asked if the Clinton campaign had asked Mr. Spitzer to scrap the plan, he replied, “Yeah, we heard from folks who said they want this issue gone.”
Mrs. Clinton has strengths, said Mr. Spitzer, who conceded that she is the likely nominee. But Mr. Spitzer, who once held his own presidential aspirations and who was known to be furious with Mrs. Clinton at the time for the damage her debate answer caused to his plan for driver’s licenses, suggested that doesn’t mean she would be a good president.
She is “intensely smart. Clever. Glib. A joy to be with,” Mr. Spitzer told Mr. Axelrod. “None of that has to do with whether or not she’s the best Democratic candidate for president.”
He suggested that Mr. O’Malley, the former Maryland governor, will have an opportunity to make his case to voters. Mr. O’Malley has made criticism of Mrs. Clinton over hedging on driver’s licenses in the 2007-8 presidential campaign a key part of his message.
“O’Malley has been there on the tough issues and gotten it done and I think he’ll make that case,” Mr. Spitzer said.
When Mr. Axelrod raised the fact that Mr. Spitzer dates Ms. Smith, he replied, “Yes, everybody knows that. Yes. Correct. I am biased and overtly so. And proudly so. I never thought that being biased was a negative thing as long as you had a foundation for it, if it’s based on fact.”
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