Week Of Damage Control For Jeb Bush And Hillary Clinton

May 16, 2015
Originally published on May 16, 2015 5:35 pm
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's been a tough week to be in front of the pack of presidential contenders. Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor that many consider the Republicans' best bet to be the next president, was asked a question you might've expected - would he have invaded Iraq in 2003 if he'd known that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction? He said yes, but, then spent the rest of the week working that answer all the way around to no.

And the week ended on a controversy for the leading Democratic candidate, too, Hillary Clinton, and her role in the Clinton Foundation. We're joined now by NPR senior editor and correspondent, Ron Elving. Ron thanks so much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: So on Monday night, as we say, Fox News's Megyn Kelly asked Mr. Bush this question that he must've known he'd get from somewhere. What happened?

ELVING: A storm broke overnight. The majority of the other Republican hopefuls said, what in the world is he saying that for? Everybody realizes now that there was no weapon of mass destruction. He wasn't developing the weapons of mass destruction. It was a mistake and we've moved on. That has become the conventional wisdom, politically and historically and it is also the preponderance of public opinion in the polls. But then not everyone else has for a brother the man who made the decision to go into Iraq. And clearly, Jeb Bush was feeling some kind of conflict.

SIMON: All right. He said he - first he said he misheard the question. Then he referred to it as a hypothetical question. Then he said of course it's easy to talk about things in hindsight and mention the faulty intelligence.

ELVING: And none of that worked. So on Thursday, he finally takes a question at a town hall in Arizona from an audience member. And finally he says, look, here's the deal - knowing what we know now, I would not have engaged. And then he forces himself to say the words, I would not have gone into Iraq.

SIMON: What's going on here? Is it simply a brotherly story at some level?

ELVING: It is the classic dynastic dilemma. People want to know if he would be different from the other Bush's. And he doesn't want to go there. He doesn't want to talk about it. He said it himself this week. He said, I'm not going to go into every decision my brother made or my dad made - that's hard for me, I love my family a lot. And he also doesn't want to be tied to a lot of those decisions.

SIMON: And this gets into some tricky territory for Hillary Clinton too because eight years ago, of course, she in the Democratic primaries was asked to explain her vote in favor of the war in Iraq. Her opponent then, obviously, the man who became President Obama, and he said of course he was against it from the first, and that's when his candidacy began to take flight.

ELVING: Some believe that Obama never would have overtaken Clinton in 2007, 2008 without this issue. It was his one great opportunity to differentiate himself from Hillary Clinton and to justify his candidacy against her. It had a lot to do with why he became president.

SIMON: And is it going to continue to be a problem for her now?

ELVING: Not in the same way. She long ago reversed herself. She called that vote she took in 2003 a mistake. She's made the clean break that Jeb Bush has found it so hard to make. So for her, it is a wound that has had years to heal. That being said, it's never going to be a subject she's eager to talk about, especially now she is working so hard to win-over the party's left, which deserted her on that issue eight years ago.

SIMON: And of course at the end of the week, ABC's chief anchor George Stephanopoulos said, maybe I should've disclosed this - I made $75,000 contribution to the Clinton Foundation.

ELVING: The pain from this is going to continue, especially for George Stephanopoulos. He's already apologized on the air. He has removed himself as the moderator of the ABC debate that was coming up early next year among the Republican candidates. And that's a big deal for him to do that. But how could he be the moderator for any debates if Clinton is involved - Democratic debates, debates between the candidates, between the parties? Can he really be the network's chief anchor and not cover the 2016 election? After 18 years at ABC, trying to separate himself from his time as their spokesman and advisor, so this story also just keeps the pot boiling for Clinton and her biggest vulnerability, which is her connection to the excesses and the rule bending and the non-disclosures that have been associated with the name Clinton in the past.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.