Under pressure to perform in big primaries Tuesday, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton turned into a gaffeaholic.
She misrepresented Nancy Reagan’s legacy on AIDS, threatened the livelihood of coal miners and glossed over the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi.
The string of missteps began last week and served as a jarring reminder of Mrs. Clinton’s often uneven gait on the campaign trail.
Ahead of the Midwest voting, Mrs. Clinton had to walk back her promise to “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,” which threatened to turn off voters in coal-dependent Missouri, Ohio and Illinois.
Mrs. Clinton made the comment Sunday on CNN as she touted her climate change and clean energy agenda.
“I’m the only candidate [who] has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity, using clean renewable energy as the key, into coal country. Because we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,” she said. “We’re going to make it clear that we don’t want to forget those people.”
She came under fire from the coal industry, which noted that coal keeps the lights on in Missouri, Ohio and Illinois, where Mrs. Clinton was locked in tight races with Mr. Sanders.
By Monday night Mrs. Clinton released a statement that reaffirmed her commitment to coal miners as she works to transform America into a “clean energy superpower.”
“I firmly believe that if you spent your life keeping the lights on for our country, we can’t leave you in the dark,” she said. “We need to use every tool we have to build a 21st century energy future that doesn’t leave anyone out or behind.”
The coal dustup came just hours after Mrs. Clinton boasted that no Americans died in Libya while she was secretary of state, despite the deaths of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in the 2012 terror attack on a U.S. diplomat outpost in Benghazi.
Defending her leading role advocating for U.S. intervention to help topple Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi, she said the outcome was much better than the bloody turmoil in Syria.
“Libya was a different kind of calculation. And we didn’t lose a single person. We didn’t have a problem in supporting our European and Arab allies in working with NATO,” Mrs. Clinton said Monday at a town hall hosted by MSNBC.
“Now, is Libya perfect? It isn’t,” she said. “But did they have two elections that were free and fair where they voted for moderates? Yes, they did.”
Republicans pounced on the remark, characterizing it as an affront to the families of the four Americans killed on her watch.
The Clinton campaign defended the remark as referring only to the narrow issue of U.S. air support for the revolution in Libya.
“It’s perfectly clear from her full comments that Hillary Clinton was saying not a single American life was lost during the Libyan intervention. We heeded the calls of our allies, our partners in the region and the Libyan people, and helped topple a murderous dictator who was prepared to massacre his own citizens, all without putting American boots on the ground,” Clinton campaign spokesman Jesse Lehrich told CNN.
“As she’s said before, with regard to the later attack in Benghazi, the tragic loss of her colleagues who were working so hard to help the Libyan people is something that constantly weighs on her,” he said.
Still, the gaffe was a glaring omission amid the ongoing controversy about Mrs. Clinton’s handling of security at the Benghazi compound and her response to the deadly attack, blaming it on a spontaneous riot in response to an anti-Islam video on YouTube.
The spate of gaffes began last week at the funeral for Nancy Reagan, when Mrs. Clinton lauded the former first lady for starting a “national conversation” about AIDS in the early days of the epidemic.
“It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS back in the 1980s,” Mrs. Clinton said in an interview on MSNBC. “And because of both President and Mrs. Reagan — in particular, Mrs. Reagan — we started a national conversation when before no one would talk about it, no one wanted to do anything about it.”
However, the reality is that the Reagans have been criticized for their slow response to the deadly epidemic that predominately affected homosexuals and drug addicts.
Mrs. Clinton later admitted that she misspoke.
“I said something inaccurate when speaking about the Reagans’ record on HIV and AIDS. Since then, I’ve heard from countless people who were devastated by the loss of friends and loved ones, and hurt and disappointed by what I said,” she said in a blog post. “As someone who has also lost friends and loved ones to AIDS, I understand why. I made a mistake, plain and simple.
“To be clear, the Reagans did not start a national conversation about HIV and AIDS,” she said. “That distinction belongs to generations of brave lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, along with straight allies, who started not just a conversation but a movement that continues to this day.”
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