President Barack Obama said Hillary Clinton will go down “as one of the finest secretaries of state” as he sat next to her in their first joint interview Sunday night on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”
“The main thing is I just wanted to have a chance to publicly say ‘thank you,'” he said when asked why he wanted to do the interview with his former political foe.
“It has been a great collaboration over the last four years,” he continued. “I’m going to miss her, wish she was sticking around, but she has logged in so many miles I can’t begrudge her wanting to take it easy for a little bit.”
Nearly 1 million miles and 112 countries, in fact, she said Wednesday when she appeared before congressional committees to testify about last year’s attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Now, Clinton is set to depart the world stage – at least for now, as she has been floated as a presidential contender in 2016. She appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week in support of Sen. John Kerry, the man Obama tapped to replace her.
While Clinton has talked about the wear and tear of the job and recently had a health scare, she said in the “60 Minutes” interview that she found working with Obama and serving as her nation’s top diplomat extremely satisfying.
“This has been just an extraordinary opportunity to work with him as a partner and friend and to do our very best,” she said. “It’s something that I’m going to miss a great deal.”
While Clinton and Obama competed bitterly in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, the two have been highly complimentary of each other during the president’s first term. In the interview that aired Sunday, Clinton said such a public sit-down would have been “improbable” a few years ago because “we had that very long, hard primary campaign.”
“But, you know, I’ve gone around the world on behalf of the president and our country, and one of the things that I say to people – because I think it helps them understand – I say, look, in politics and in democracy, sometimes you win elections and sometimes you lose elections. And I worked very hard, but I lost. And then President Obama asked me to be secretary of state, and I said yes. And why did he ask me, and why did I say yes? Because we both love our country.”
Not only has Hillary Clinton played a big role in Obama’s first four years of office, but her husband and former President Bill Clinton also was a crucial part of Obama’s re-election bid last year. The 42nd president appeared on the stump for Obama in key swing states and had a prime-time speaking spot at the Democratic National Convention.
While admitting that their respective staffs may have had a difficult time getting over rancor from the 2008 primary, Obama said that it was not as hard for him.
The president said that even before they both ran for president, he had admired Clinton’s “discipline, her thoughtfulness, her ability to project and make issues that were clear.” Those attributes, as well as her standing as “already a world figure,” made her a smart choice for secretary of state – even if she didn’t initially jump at the opportunity.
“We’re both gluttons for punishment,” she said jokingly of her decision to take the job despite numerous global challenges and the president having his hands full dealing with an economic crisis at home.
Obama said he had always respected Clinton and knew she would excel, but what changed over the years is that they became “strong” friends.
It was a sentiment echoed by Clinton, who described her relationship with her boss as “very warm, close.”
“I think there’s a sense of understanding that sometimes doesn’t even take words,” she said.
As a former popular first lady, U.S. senator and now secretary of state, experts say Clinton is well-positioned to be the Democratic frontrunner if she seeks a White House bid in 2016. But presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said much of her decision will largely depend on her health.
“She needs rest. She’s exhausted,” he said Sunday on CNN’s Newsroom. Clinton returned to work earlier this month after being treated for illness, a concussion and blood clot near her brain. “She needs to work on a memoir, she’ll probably give speeches. At that point, in about 18 months or two years, they have a big decision to make.”
Brinkley described her as “somebody who does not lack ambition” and will be highly influenced by the “ability to break the glass ceiling and be the first female president.”
“The question is whether she’s up for the exhaustion of going to the Iowa caucus, in New Hampshire, in South Carolina and having (Monica) Lewinsky and other issues from the ’90s come back and haunt her in some ways,” Brinkley said. “Does she have that fight in her?”
– CNN’s Ashley Killough and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.
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