Eyeing 2016, Clinton selective on policy issues


WASHINGTON (AP) - Hillary Rodham Clinton offered praise for President Barack Obama's executive actions to stave off deportation for millions of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. But the Democrats' favored presidential hopeful has been less forthcoming on other issues in these early days of the 2016 contest.

Clinton is not, so far, a candidate, and she's limiting her commentary about the daily news cycle confronting Obama - a strategy that could keep down chatter about where she and the unpopular president agree and where they diverge.

The former secretary of state, senator and first lady is not talking about the Keystone XL pipeline, rejected by one vote in the final weeks of the Democrat-led Senate. She has yet to speak publicly about a sweeping climate change agreement between the U.S. and China, an extension of talks over Iran's nuclear program or the Senate's move to block a bill to end bulk collection of Americans' phone records by the National Security Agency.

When Obama announced his moves to prevent the deportations for nearly 5 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, Clinton quickly embraced the decision on Twitter. The president, she wrote, was "taking action on immigration in the face of inaction" in Congress. In doing so, she signaled that as a candidate, she would run against the Republican-led House and Senate that convenes next year. Clinton also drew a distinction from her would-be GOP opponents who have spoken of immigration reform in large part as a border security problem.

On other weighty policy matters, however, Clinton is mum.

"You've got to make choices if you're not a candidate," said Lanny Davis, a White House special counsel during the Clinton administration who attended law school with Bill and Hillary Clinton. "She is not a candidate for president. When she becomes a candidate, she has to start answering questions."

Nick Merrill, a Clinton spokesman, declined to comment.

Clinton is expected to make her political intentions known in the coming weeks, likely in early 2015. Her speeches are closely watched for signs of how she might offer a rationale for her candidacy.

Clinton campaigned for Democratic candidates during the fall, often pointing to pocketbook issues like equal pay for women, raising the minimum wage and expanded family leave policies. "A 20th century economy will not work for 21st century families," she said at an October rally.

Since then, Clinton has taken a more circumspect posture in public events, appearing at charity events and voicing support for issues related to her work at the Clinton Foundation. That approach allows her to stay above the political fray in the aftermath of Democrats' poor showing during the midterm elections.

Clinton has stayed close to Obama on immigration, releasing a statement that noted that previous presidents of both parties had taken similar steps.

The following night, in an interview at a New York Historical Society event, Clinton reiterated the need for Congress to act on a comprehensive immigration bill. She also put the issue in the context of families, saying the decision probably affected wait staff who were serving the dinner.

"There is probably no more pressing issue at this time than to fix this immigration system," said Alex Padilla, California's secretary of state-elect. "As a leader, it was right for her to speak up. A lot of people wanted to know what she thought."

Other policy issues carry more political risk.

Clinton has avoided weighing in on the Keystone XL pipeline, saying it wouldn't be appropriate for her since the environmental review by the State Department happened during her watch. The issue is tricky for Democrats because labor unions have supported the plan but environmentalists adamantly oppose it.

Clinton has called climate change the nation's "most consequential" issue but has yet to weigh in on the agreement Obama reached with China to set new targets for cutting emissions. The deal was negotiated by John Podesta, a Clinton White House chief of staff who is expected to play a prominent role in a Clinton presidential campaign.

Both issues could receive attention from Clinton on Monday, when she is scheduled to address the League of Conservation Voters in New York.

On NSA surveillance, Clinton has talked broadly about the need to balance the need for security without infringing upon Americans' privacy amid a debate over the government's collection of data. But she has kept a low profile on the issue.

Republicans contend Clinton is being overly political in the lead-up to a presidential campaign.

"Everything Hillary does is for political purposes," said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski, "which includes taking positions for political expediency and not answering tough questions for political reasons."


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