Bill Clinton defended his wife Hillary Clinton on Tuesday from the ridicule that’s followed her recent comments on the family’s personal finances.
Speaking at a forum in Denver hosted by his foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative, the former president insisted that his wife is “not out of touch” and said she was telling the truth when she claimed that the couple was “dead broke” when he left office in 2001.
“It is factually true that we were several million dollars in debt,” Bill Clinton said, as quoted by The Hill, adding that reporters “should put this in some sort of context.”
The “dead broke” remark has made the family’s wealth the primary focal point of a book tour that was supposed to serve as a springboard for Hillary Clinton’s anticipated 2016 White House bid. She later tried to clarify the comment, saying she appreciates “how hard life is for so many Americans today.”
“It is an issue that I have worked on and cared about my entire adult life,” she said.
But the “out of touch” narrative — pushed so aggressively throughout the book tour by Republicans and Fox News — was given even more oxygen on Sunday when The Guardian ran its own interview with the former secretary of state.
In the interview, Hillary Clinton explained why she’s qualified to address income inequality.
“But they don’t see me as part of the problem,” Clinton said, “because we pay ordinary income tax, unlike a lot of people who are truly well off, not to name names; and we’ve done it through dint of hard work.”
That particular line was quickly picked up by several different outlets, but some on the left wondered if it had been fairly characterized. Was she suggesting that she and her husband aren’t “truly well off”? Or was she including herself among the wealthy while pointing out that, unlike other fellow millionaires, she and the former president pay an “ordinary income tax”?
Eric Boehlert of the liberal watchdog Media Matters took several news outlets to task on Monday for saying “that Clinton was contrasting herself with the ‘truly well off.'”
“That’s inaccurate,” Boehlert wrote. “What Clinton told the Guardian was that unlike “a lot of people who are truly well off,” she and her husband “pay ordinary income tax.”
When reached by email on Monday, Ed Pilkington, The Guardian reporter who conducted the interview, said he couldn’t provide any clarity on the matter.
“I’m afraid I can’t help with this,” Pilkington told TPM. “It’s really for Clinton to clarify what she meant.”
A spokesperson for Clinton did not respond to TPM’s request for comment.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Bill Clinton said Tuesday at the forum that his wife didn’t “give the most adept answer” when asked about her personal finances, although it’s unclear to which particular response he was referring.