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A License To Flip Flop

- April 15, 2016

It Was One Year Ago Today, After A Tortured Mishandling Of The Issue Of Drivers Licenses For Illegal Immigrants That Began The Downfall Of Her 2008 Campaign, That Hillary Clinton FINALLY Took A Position

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TOP TAKEAWAYS

  • A year ago today, Clinton came out in favor of providing illegal immigrants with driver's licenses, a policy she opposed while running for President in 2008.
  • Clinton's flip-flop was "the latest example of Clinton's efforts to avoid the pitfalls that doomed her 2008 bid for the Democratic nomination."
  • In 2007, Clinton ignored requests for her position on New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's proposal to allow illegal immigrants in New York to obtain driver's licenses.
  • When she finally was forced to confront the issue, Clinton waffled and was unable to provide a consistent answer on where she stood, something her primary opponents were quick to seize.
  • The day Spitzer dropped the proposal, Clinton came out against the policy, after weeks of contradicting herself.
  • Just last year, Spitzer revealed that Clinton urged him to drop the proposal, which was causing problems for her campaign.
  • Clinton's flip flops in 2007 were highly criticized and her declaration of support for the issue in 2015 continued her record of flip-flopping on the issue.

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Today Is The One Year Anniversary Of Clinton's Flip Flop In Support Of Driver's Licenses For Illegal Immigrants, An Issue Where Her Vacillation In New York During The 2008 Campaign Has Haunted Her. "Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Thursday spoke out in favor of giving driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants, taking a firm stance on an issue that hurt her during the 2008 election after she seemed intentionally vague on her position. 'Hillary supports state policies to provide drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants. This is consistent with her support for the president's executive action,' a Clinton campaign spokesperson told The Washington Post Thursday." (Jose DelReal, "This Time, Hillary Clinton Supports Giving Driver's Licenses To Undocumented Immigrants," The Washington Post , 4/16/15)

CLINTON'S SUPPORT FOR THE POLICY WAS A NOT SO SUBTLE REVERSAL FROM HER POSITION IN 2008

Clinton's Support For Driver's Licenses For Illegal Immigrants Is "A Switch From Her Muddled Position In 2008." "In her first week as a presidential candidate, Mrs. Clinton twice came out with pro-immigration stances. First, a spokesman issued a clear statement saying she supports state efforts to give driver's licenses to people in the U.S. illegally, a switch from her muddled position in 2008. And on Friday, she tweeted her support for Mr. Obama's executive action on immigration, which is being challenged in federal court. On Friday, an appeals court heard arguments." (Laura Meckler, "Immigration Debate Very Much Alive On Campaign Trail," The Wall Street Journal, 4/18/15)

The Washington Post Headline: "This Time, Hillary Clinton Supports Giving Driver's Licenses To Undocumented Immigrants" (Jose DelReal, "This Time, Hillary Clinton Supports Giving Driver's Licenses To Undocumented Immigrants," The Washington Post , 4/16/15)

The Daily Caller Headline: "Hillary Clinton Flip-Flops On Driver's Licenses For Illegal Immigrants" (Alex Griswold," Hillary Clinton Flip-Flops On Driver's Licenses For Illegal Immigrants," The Daily Caller , 4/16/15)

Clinton's Reversal Was A Part Of A Preemptive Effort To "Avoid The Pitfalls That Doomed" Her 2008 Campaign

Clinton's Flip Flop On Driver's Licenses For Illegal Immigrants "Is The Latest Example Of Clinton's Efforts To Avoid The Pitfalls That Doomed Her 2008 Bid For The Democratic Nomination." "The statement -- simple and straightforward as it is -- is the latest example of Clinton's effort to avoid the pitfalls that doomed her 2008 bid for the Democratic nomination. During that election, she came under fire from her opponents for giving a vague and contradictory answer about her position during a primary debate." (Jose DelReal, "This Time, Hillary Clinton Supports Giving Driver's Licenses To Undocumented Immigrants," The Washington Post , 4/16/15)

DURING THE 2008 ELECTION, CLINTON STRUGGLED WITH HOW TO ADDRESS THE ISSUE, LEADING HER TO TAKE POSITIONS ON BOTH SIDES OF THE ISSUE

When Former Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D-NY) Announced His Plan To Give Driver's Licenses To Illegal Immigrants In September 2007, Clinton Dodged The Issue

In September 2007, Clinton's Office Ignored Messages Asking Where She Stood On Gov. Eliot Spitzer's (D-NY) Plan To Give Illegal Immigrants Driver's Licenses. "New York's governor announced yesterday that illegal aliens will soon be able to get state driver's licenses, drawing a strong rebuke from families of victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks who said he is opening a window to another attack… The issue is also bound to get caught up in presidential politics, with two New Yorkers, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Democrat, and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a Republican, running for their parties' nominations. Neither candidate's office returned messages yesterday asking where they stood on the new plan." (Stephen Dinan, "N.Y. To Allow Illegals To Drive," The Washington Times, 9/22/07)

  • New York Post : Clinton Had No Comment On Spitzer's Proposal "Despite Repeated Calls" To Her Office. "Even as Gov. Spitzer has been widely criticized for his plan to allow illegal aliens to obtain drivers' licenses, many of his fellow top Democrats have refused to throw him a lifeline. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer had no comment on the controversial measure, despite repeated calls to their offices." (Kenneth Lovett, "Eliot 'Alien'-Ates Top Dems," New York Post, 10/1/07)

In October 2007, Clinton Told A New Hampshire Newspaper That Spitzer's Plan "Makes A Lot Of Sense"

In October 2007, Clinton Told The Nashua Telegraph's Editorial Board That She Thought Spitzer's Plan "Makes A Lot Of Sense." CLINTON: "I think it's important to bring everybody out of the shadows. To do the background checks. To deport those who have outstanding warrants or have committed crimes in the United States, and then to say to those who wish to stay here, you have to pay back taxes, you have to pay a fine, you have to learn English, and you have to wait in line. And I hate to see any state being pushed to try to take this into their own hands, because the federal government has failed. So I know exactly what Governor Spitzer's trying to do and it makes a lot of sense, because he's trying to get people out of the shadows. He's trying to say, 'O.K., come forward and we will give you this license.'" (Nicholas Confessore, "Clinton Takes Stand On Driver's License Issue (Sort Of)," The New York Times ' City Room Blog , 10/18/07)

Clinton Famously Failed To Keep Her Position Straight When Asked If She Supported Spitzer's Plan During A Primary Debate

In October 2007, Clinton Did Not Refute An Assertion By NBC's Tim Russert That She Supported Governor Spitzer's (D-NY) Plan To Give Illegal Immigrants A Driver's License. NBC'S TIM RUSSERT: "Senator Clinton, Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer has proposed giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. You told the Nashua, New Hampshire editorial board it makes a lot of sense. Why does it make a lot of sense to give an illegal immigrant a driver's license?" CLINTON: "Well, what Governor Spitzer is trying to do is fill the vacuum left by the failure of this administration to bring about comprehensive immigration reform. We know in New York we have several million at any one time who are in New York illegally. They are undocumented workers. They are driving on our roads. The possibility of them having an accident that harms themselves or others is just a matter of the odds. It's probability. So what Governor Spitzer is trying to do is to fill the vacuum. I believe we need to get back to comprehensive immigration reform because no state, no matter how well-intentioned, can fill this gap. There needs to be federal action on immigration reform." (Sen. Hillary Clinton, 2008 Democratic Primary Presidential Debate, Philadelphia, PA, 10/30/07)

Just Moments Later, Clinton Said "I Just Want To Add, I Did Not Say That [Giving Illegal Immigrants A Driver's License] Should Be Done, But I Certainly Recognize Why Governor Spitzer Is Trying To Do It." NBC'S TIM RUSSERT: "Does anyone here believe an illegal immigrant should not have a driver's license?" … CLINTON: "I just want to add, I did not say that it should be done, but I certainly recognize why Governor Spitzer is trying to do it. And we have failed…" SEN. CHRIS DODD: "Wait a minute. No, no, no. You said yes, you thought it made sense to do it." CLINTON: "No, I didn't, Chris. But the point is, what are we going to do with all these illegal immigrants who are (inaudible)?" (Sen. Hillary Clinton, 2008 Democratic Primary Presidential Debate, Philadelphia, PA, 10/30/07)

After Clinton's Flip-Flop, Russert Directly Asked Her If She Supported Spitzer's Proposal And Clinton Dodged The Question. NBC'S TIM RUSSERT: "Senator Clinton, I just want to make sure what I heard. Do you, the New York Senator Hillary Clinton, support the New York governor's plan to give illegal immigrants a driver's license? You told the Nashua, New Hampshire, paper it made a lot of sense. Do you support his plan?" CLINTON: "You know, Tim, this is where everybody plays gotcha. It makes a lot of sense. What is the governor supposed to do? He is dealing with a serious problem. We have failed, and George Bush has failed. Do I think this is the best thing for any governor to do? No. But do I understand the sense of real desperation, trying to get a handle on this? Remember, in New York we want to know who's in New York. We want people to come out of the shadows. He's making an honest effort to do it. We should have passed immigration reform." (Sen. Hillary Clinton, 2008 Democratic Primary Presidential Debate, Philadelphia, PA, 10/30/07)

Click To Watch

Clinton's Inability To Provide A Straightforward Response Was Immediately Met With Criticism From Her Democratic Opponents

Obama: "I Can't Tell Whether She Was For It Or Against It … Part Of Leadership Is Not Just Looking Backwards And Seeing What's Popular Or Trying To Gauge Popular Sentiment." OBAMA: "Well, I was confused on Senator Clinton's answer. I can't tell whether she was for it or against it, and I do think that is important. You know, one of the things that we have to do in this country is to be honest about the challenges that we face. Immigration is a difficult issue. But part of leadership is not just looking backwards and seeing what's popular, or trying to gauge popular sentiment. It's about setting a direction for the country, and that's what I intend to do as president." (Sen. Barack Obama, 2008 Democratic Primary Presidential Debate, Philadelphia, PA, 10/30/07)

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC): "Senator Clinton Said Two Different Things In The Course Of About Two Minutes Just A Few Minutes Ago, And I Think This A Real Issue For The Country." EDWARDS: "I want to add something that Chris Dodd just said a minute ago, because I don't want it to go unnoticed. Unless I missed something, Senator Clinton said two different things in the course of about two minutes just a few minutes ago, and I think this is a real issue for the country. I mean, America is looking for a president who will say the same thing, who will be consistent, who will be straight with them. Because what we've had for seven years is double-talk from Bush and from Cheney, and I think America deserves us to be straight." (Sen. John Edwards, 2008 Democratic Primary Presidential Debate, Philadelphia, PA, 10/30/07)

Former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT): "Wait A Minute. No, No, No. You Said Yes, You Thought It Made Sense To Do It." (Sen. Chris Dodd, 2008 Democratic Primary Presidential Debate, Philadelphia, PA, 10/30/07)

Clinton's Opponents Got "Tremendous Mileage" Out Of Her Muddled Responses. "It seems likely that the issue, as well as Mrs. Clinton's earlier, seemingly contradictory responses, will come up at the debate despite today's statement. And it seems unlikely that her rivals, who have gotten tremendous mileage out of her responses, will drop the line of attack that it opened up for them - that she does not give straightforward answers." (Katharine Q. Seelye, "Clinton Now Against Licenses For Illegal Immigrants," The New York Times, 11/14/07)

Over The Next Week, Clinton Continued To Waffle On The Issue

On November 5, 2007, Clinton Told Reporters That She "Broadly Supports What Governors Like Eliot Spitzer Are Trying To Do." "Asked by reporters Sunday why it's taken so long for clarification Clinton admitted she 'wasn't as clear as [she] should have been' but added, 'I broadly support what governors like Elliot Spitzer are trying to do.'" (Chris Welch, "Clinton 'Broadly Supports' States' Efforts To License Illegals," CNN's Political Ticker Blog, 11/5/07)

The Very Next Day, Clinton Said She Did Not Support Giving Driver's Licenses To Illegal Immigrants - Even In The Absence Of Comprehensive Reform. CNN'S CANDY CROWLEY: "If I wrote a story that said: 'Absent a broad illegal immigration bill, Hillary Clinton agrees about giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants,' is that correct?" CLINTON: "No. What I have said is that I support what governors are trying to do. And governors are on the front lines because of the failures to get comprehensive immigration reform." ( CNN's "The Situation Room," 11/6/07)

But Clinton Then Said Giving Illegal Immigrants Driver's Licenses Could Be A "Good Idea" Depending On The State. CNN'S CROWLEY: "So it's - I know it's not a yes or no question to you but you've had some time here and the problem is that people can't quite get a hold of is for a governor at this time, do you think it's a good idea for them to offer drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants?" CLINTON: "It depends upon what state they're in. It depends upon what they think the risks are." (Ben Smith, "Clinton Hedges On Licenses, Again," Politico's Ben Smith Blog, 11/6/07)

CNN's Candy Crowley Said Clinton's Answers Showed Why People Thought Clinton Was "Not Answering The Question." CLINTON: "There are already eight states that issues driver's licenses without any verification of citizenship. That is a decision that the governors and legislatures and the people of those states have made. I understand-" CNN'S CROWLEY: "But you see why people think -" CLINTON: "Well, but you know, Candy-" CROWLEY: "- that you are not answering the question." (CNN's "The Situation Room," 11/6/07)

Only After Spitzer Dropped His Proposal Did Clinton State That She Did Not Support Giving Driver's Licenses To Illegal Immigrants

A Week Later, Spitzer Removed His Proposal And Clinton Finally Articulated A Position On The Issue, Bluntly Stating That She Opposed Driver's Licenses For Illegal Immigrants. "Senator Hillary Clinton has come out firmly against giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, one day before a debate against her fellow Democrats, who have put her on the defensive on the issue. Her campaign issued a statement saying that she supported Gov. Eliot Spitzer's decision today to drop his plan for such licenses. ''I support Governor Spitzer's decision today to withdraw his proposal,' she said in the statement. 'As president, I will not support driver's licenses for undocumented people and will press for comprehensive immigration reform that deals with all of the issues around illegal immigration, including border security and fixing our broken system.'" (Katharine Q. Seelye, "Clinton Now Against Licenses For Illegal Immigrants," The New York Times, 11/14/07)

Clinton's "Vague And Contradictory Answer" On Driver's Licenses In 2007 Was Roundly Criticized

Clinton's Flip-Flop On The Issue "Remind[ed] Folks Of A Clinton White House That Specialized In Double-Talk And Dissembling." "Norman Hsu made donations to many Democrats, but it was Mrs. Clinton's cache that dominated the headlines, thanks to the 1990s fund-raising scandals. What campaign hasn't planted a question? Yet catching Mrs. Clinton in the act revived the stereotype of a calculating lawyer from Arkansas. Flubbing one policy question among hundreds (on immigrant drivers' licenses) shouldn't be a big deal. But it reminds folks of a Clinton White House that specialized in double-talk and dissembling." (Kimberly Strassel, "Mrs. Clinton's Real Campaign Weakness," Real Clear Politics, 11/23/07)

Clinton's "Vague And Contradictory Answer" On The Issue Of Driver's Licenses Was One That "Doomed Her 2008 Bid For The Democratic Nomination." "Hillary supports state policies to provide drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants. This is consistent with her support for the president's executive action," a Clinton campaign spokesperson told The Washington Post Thursday. The Huffington Post first reported on Clinton's position Thursday. The statement -- simple and straightforward as it is -- is the latest example of Clinton's effort to avoid the pitfalls that doomed her 2008 bid for the Democratic nomination. During that election, she came under fire from her opponents for giving a vague and contradictory answer about her position during a primary debate." (Jose DelReal, "This Time, Hillary Clinton Supports Giving Driver's Licenses To Undocumented Immigrants," The Washington Post , 4/16/15)

YEARS LATER SPITZER REVEALED HE KILLED HIS PROPOSAL TO GIVE ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS DRIVER'S LICENSES BECAUSE OF PRESSURE FROM THE CLINTON CAMPAIGN

Spitzer Revealed That Not Only Did Clinton Oppose The Proposal, But She Actively Encouraged Him To Withdraw It. "But Clinton went further than opposing the plan, Spitzer revealed on 'The Axe Files,' a podcast hosted by David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Barack Obama (who went on to defeat Clinton in 2008). In fact, the campaign asked Spitzer to drop the proposal altogether. Spitzer told Axelrod he yielded to that request, although heavy opposition from elsewhere also played a role." (Elise Foley, "Eliot Spitzer Says Hillary Clinton's 2008 Camp Urged Him Not To Give Driver's Licenses To Undocumented Immigrants," The Huffington Post , 10/29/15)

Spitzer Admitted That He Pulled The Proposal At The Request Of Clinton's Presidential Campaign. QUESTION: "You worked with Hillary when she was the Senator from New York and you were the governor. And this became an issue in the 2008 campaign, in late 2007. Around this time there was a debate in Philadelphia in which she and the other candidates were asked about a policy of yours to allow undocumented workers to get drivers licenses in New York State. And she had multiple answers in that debate to that question. What was your reaction? Were you watching that debate?" SPITZER: "I was watching. I was in my living room, pacing around the living room watching the TV, and then out of nowhere this question was posed. And I think President Obama, then Senator Obama…the question was do you support Governor Spitzer's, the New York governor's proposal to permit undocumented immigrants to get drivers licenses. Let me drop a footnote here. The backdrop to this is: it's good for law enforcement. It permits the folks to work. It had been a policy embraced by republican and democratic governors, but when I proposed it became a torrential outpouring of venom from Lou Dobbs and the right wing media. Ok that's the backdrop. Senator Obama on that stage was asked do you support. He gave a one word answer. Yes. When it came time to 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've just said three different things, what do you think? And she waffled and waffled and waffled. Subsequent thereto the next couple of day when the issue was gaining…" QUESTION: "Why did she react that way?" SPTIZER: "Well it was a politically tough issue. 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, very few people, it's the law of the land I think in California, in a slew of states. And it is 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. Again, 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. Now, the Clinton folks, as no doubt you remember, thought the issue was the problem. I thought the issue was a metaphor for her vacillation…" QUESTION: "Did they let you know that they thought it was a problem?" SPITZER: "Yeah, we heard from folks that said we want this issue gone." QUESTION: "And what was your reaction?" SPITZER: "You know, it's something I am ashamed of, we pulled the proposal. Now I don't want to suggest we pulled it exclusively because of that. If you were to go back and look at the newspapers of the time I had virtually no support in New York State. No elected official statewide would stand with me. It was a tough proposal, people were spitting at me in the streets and I'm embarrassed to say that after three weeks of fighting valiantly I said I'm not going to sacrifice my entire agenda to this..." QUESTION: "But you were also ceding to a request from the Clinton campaign." SPITZER: "Yeah." (Eliot Spitzer, Interview, 10/29/15)

Spitzer: Clinton's Folks "Wanted The Issue Gone." "'We heard from folks [on Clinton's campaign] who said they want this issue gone,' Spitzer said. 'I thought the issue was a metaphor for her vacillation.'" (Elise Foley, "Eliot Spitzer Says Hillary Clinton's 2008 Camp Urged Him Not To Give Driver's Licenses To Undocumented Immigrants," The Huffington Post , 10/29/15)


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