“We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt,” Clinton said. “We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea’s education. You know, it was not easy.”
The remark evoked charges of elitism long volleyed by both parties during presidential campaigns. Republicans immediately seized on the comment, two years after their presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, was dogged by accusations of being out of touch because of his wealth. GOP officials pointed out that Hillary Clinton received an $8m (€6m) book advance for her 2003 memoir and said the comments reflected her insulation from the daily problems of average Americans.
“I think she’s been out of touch with average people for a long time,” said Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, pointing to Clinton’s estimated $200,000-per-speech speaking fees and million-dollar book advances. “Whether she was flat broke or not is not the issue. It’s tone deaf to average people.”
Clinton’s memoir, Hard Choices, was released yesterday. She will appear at book events this week in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and suburban Washington, DC, and her appearances are already stoking a debate over her record at the State Department and as a one-time presidential candidate, New York senator and first lady.
After leaving the White House, former president Bill Clinton earned a fortune in speaking fees while Hillary Clinton represented New York in the Senate. But the couple departed the White House with large legal bills incurred during investigations into the Whitewater inquiry into real estate investments by the couple and their associates — and the Monica Lewinsky affair.
Hillary Clinton’s Senate financial disclosure forms, filed for 2000, show assets between $781,000 and almost $1.8m.
The forms allow senators to report assets in broad ranges. The same form, however, showed that the Clintons owed between $2.3m and $10.6m in legal bills to four firms.
Mrs Clinton’s advance for Living History, her 2003 memoir, was $8m. In 2004, the Clintons paid off their legal bills, according to Senate disclosure forms. And by 2009, when Hillary Clinton was preparing to join President Barack Obama’s administration as secretary of state, the Clintons’ wealth was somewhere between $10m and $50m.
In 2008, Democrats took to the airwaves when Senator John McCain said in a Politico interview that he was unsure of how many homes he and his wife, Cindy McCain, owned.
In 2012, Romney was forced to repeatedly fend off charges by Democrats that he was clueless about the economic strains of many Americans. During the GOP primary campaign, Romney said he was “not concerned” about the very poor, said he knew what it felt like to worry about being “pink-slipped,” and said his wife drove a “couple of Cadillacs”.
Clinton’s defenders noted the family has been generous to charities and some of Clinton’s speeches have been delivered for free or her appearances have raised millions of dollars for philanthropic organisations.
As Clinton starts her book tour, the back-and-forth demonstrated what could be a preview of the political jousting in the next presidential campaign.
Clinton said she feels “emboldened” to run for the presidency because of Republican criticism of her handling of the deadly 2012 terrorist attacks in Libya.
Ms Clinton said the Benghazi attacks inquiry from Republicans gives her a greater incentive to run for the White House because she considers the multiple investigations into the attacks “minor league ball” for a country of the United States’ stature.
But she said that she is still undecided, adding: “It’s more of a reason to run, because I do not believe our great country should be playing minor league ball. We ought to be in the majors.”