Deeply confident that she would perform better as the president than as a political candidate, Hillary Clinton wants to pursue an entirely new approach at the White House to try to break through years of partisan gridlock.
Should she win the presidency, Hillary Clinton would quickly try to find common ground with Republicans on an immigration overhaul and infrastructure spending, risking the wrath of liberals who would like nothing more than to twist the knife in a wounded opposition party.
In her first 100 days, she also would tap women to make up half her Cabinet in hopes of bringing a new tone and collaborative sensibility to Washington, while also looking past Wall Street to places like Silicon Valley for talent — perhaps wooing Sheryl Sandberg from Facebook and maybe asking Tim Cook from Apple to become the first openly gay Cabinet secretary.
Former President Bill Clinton would keep a low public profile, granting few interviews and avoiding any moves that could create headaches for his wife, like his recent meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch during the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email practices.
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Hillary Clinton would even schmooze differently than the past few presidents have. Not one to do business over golf or basketball, she would bring back the intimate style of former presidents Reagan and Lyndon Johnson, negotiating over drinks. Picture a steady stream of senators, congressmen and other leaders raising a glass and talking policy in the Oval Office with her and her likely chief of staff, John Podesta, as her husband pops in with a quick thought or a disarming compliment.
Deeply confident that she would perform better as the president than as a political candidate, Clinton wants to pursue an entirely new approach at the White House to try to break through years of partisan gridlock, according to a dozen campaign advisers and allies who described her goals and outlook. From policy goals and personnel to her instinct for patiently cultivating the enemy, Clinton thinks she would be a better dealmaker than President Obama if she finds willing partners on the other side.
Her opening might be a narrow one. She faces skepticism on the right about her willingness to compromise and her potential use of executive actions, and there is outright suspicion on the left that she might sell out progressive goals for the sake of bipartisan action with Republicans.
Still, Democrats close to her say she has a real touch with power brokers in both parties that could yield surprising results.
“Her greatest strength is that she really listens to people, she understands what their political and policy needs are, and she tries to find that space where you can compromise,” said Neera Tanden, a former top domestic-policy adviser to Hillary Clinton who is now the president of the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning policy institute.
“To be crystal clear: She has led many battles where you can’t compromise on principle,” Tanden added. “But she also loves socializing, loves having people and spouses over, and really loves talking over drinks.”
In May, The New York Times examined Donald Trump’s plans for his first 100 days, during which he said he would focus on divisive campaign promises like building a border wall with Mexico. By contrast, The Times found in its reporting on plans for Clinton’s 100 days that she would look to push issues that might be broadly popular, like infrastructure jobs and a breakthrough on immigration.
Her calculation is that she will be dealing with a Republican Party that is deeply fractured and demoralized after the defeat of Trump, whose leaders will be searching for ways to show they can govern and to court Hispanics if Trump loses badly with them. Clinton also thinks a huge Democratic turnout this fall would put the Senate back in her party’s hands, while Speaker Paul Ryan and the Republicans would have a reduced majority in the House.
What Hillary and Bill Clinton do not know — but regularly explore in conversations, according to friends — is whether Republican leaders, even if their power is diminished, would be in a mood to cooperate.
Hillary Clinton has been a lightning rod for their base for two decades. Much of her budget plan — about $1.4 trillion in new spending over the next decade and $1.2 trillion in tax increases aimed mostly at the wealthy, according to a recent independent report — is noxious to House and Senate Republicans.
Yet some of them are open to her two early priorities: $275 billion in infrastructure spending, and an immigration bill with a path to citizenship like the one already passed by the Senate. Given how deeply immigration has divided the Republican Party, no other issue would probably reveal more about the ability of a President Hillary Clinton and a Republican-led House to work together.
“Pro-amnesty Republicans may use Hillary’s election as a pretext to do a deal,” said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates a tough stance on illegal immigration. “Or maybe Republicans will grow a spine because she is so repellent, and they’ll want to show that the Republican Party is still alive and willing to be a line of defense against Hillary.”
Clinton allies say they could imagine her, as president-elect, going to Ryan’s office this year to start talking about immigration. She believes in gestures: When Hillary Clinton was working on the health-care-overhaul bill during her husband’s first term, John Kasich, then a ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, asked one of her aides if she would ever consider coming over to Capitol Hill to talk to Republicans about her ideas.
“I said I’d ask her, and she was eager to go, which I think shows a willingness to get things done,” said the aide, Melanne Verveer, who became Hillary Clinton’s White House chief of staff.
But many Republicans are not sure how she would use power, given that they think she abused her authority and was overly secretive by using a private email server as secretary of state. Clinton has already indicated that she is willing to take executive action on issues if Republicans do not work with her, like expanding background checks for gun sales and ending corporate inversions aimed at avoiding taxes. Executive actions were a flash point between Obama and Republicans; several said Clinton would have a hard time getting them over for cocktails if she shoved executive actions down their throats.
“She can be extremely charming, and she can be the opposite,” said Tom Davis, a former senior House Republican from Virginia. “But I think she’ll want to build some bridges right away and get back some of the trust that’s been missing between the parties for the last 15 years.”
Allies of House and Senate Republican leaders said they would be more inclined to work with a President Hillary Clinton if she showed a willingness to compromise on priorities for many fiscal conservatives like overhauling Social Security. Yet Clinton, like many in her party, opposes Republican proposals to cut benefits and raise the retirement age, and she has said she is open to raising the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes. Should she deviate from those positions, leaders of liberal groups — not to mention her primary race opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and his full-throated supporters — would pounce on her.
“She’s campaigning on expanding Social Security, not cutting it,” said Ilya Sheyman, executive director of MoveOn.org, a progressive organizing group that endorsed Sanders in the primaries. “It will be incumbent on a President Clinton very early in 2017 to force Republicans to accept big, bold ideas or else have them pay the consequences.”
Some liberals think Trump will be so destructive to the Republican Party that it will be severely weakened after the November election — and that Hillary Clinton, as the Democratic leader, should keep her boot on its neck rather than try to play nice and find compromises.
She hopes to reassure progressives with her executive actions, which would include new protections for unauthorized immigrant parents, as well as her personnel appointments. Having women make up half her Cabinet would be historic (in recent years, a quarter to a third of Cabinet positions have been held by women), and Democrats close to Clinton say she may decide to retain Lynch, the nation’s first black woman to be attorney general, who took office in April 2015.
These Democrats, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential conversations with Clinton and her advisers, said that Podesta, her campaign chairman, would have the right of first refusal on becoming her chief of staff, a job he held under Bill Clinton. If he turns it down, Clinton would look at appointing a woman to that job, which has been held only by men.
“There’s that old saying, ‘Nothing about us without us,’ ” said Jennifer Granholm, a former Democratic governor of Michigan who supports Clinton. “I mean, a woman as chief of staff, Treasury secretary, a woman at Defense — it would be incredible.” (Granholm is often mentioned as a possible Cabinet pick for the Energy Department or another post, but she waved off a question about her interest.)
Clinton has assigned three top aides — Ann O’Leary, Ed Meier and Sara Latham — to oversee transition planning, reporting to Podesta. Clinton advisers say they do not expect Bill Clinton to be constantly visible in the early months beyond whatever duties Hillary Clinton gives him on economic policy and foreign affairs. The Clintons’ priority is that he does not do anything that distracts from her agenda or overshadows her as the country gets used to having a former president (and a man) in the role of first spouse.