With Talk of Building Ties, Clinton Draws Subtle Contrast With Obama

NYT FDMaggie Haberman March 21, 2015

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Good Friday morning from Washington, where the National Cherry Blossom Festival officially begins despite a forecast of flurries. Congress is busy finding creative new ways to approve spending without voting, and there’s a very good chance a potential presidential candidate is streaming live video right now on an app called Meerkat. If that sounds too “Back to the Future” for you, at least one person who might like to move back to the White House is yearning for the good old days of bipartisanship.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, a Washingtonian for more than two decades, is increasingly discussing her memories of a gentler era of legislative deal-making in a positive light.

It’s a topic Mrs. Clinton discussed at length on Thursday while speaking at an American Camp Association conference in Atlantic City, and one that is directed mostly at the Republican Congress. But her wistfulness for a time when people put down their swords and cut deals also contains an implicit contrast to President Obama, who is often criticized a lack of bridge-building on Capitol Hill.

“It used to be in Washington, you could not escape your adversaries on the political other side because you were always together,” Mrs. Clinton said, recalling her own eight years as a United States senator from New York. “I realized that I might be opposed to somebody’s bill today and then working with that person tomorrow.”

Mrs. Clinton even fondly recalled her time as first lady when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich would skewer her and her husband publicly, then come to the White House at night to find common ground.

This is not a new approach for Mrs. Clinton, who has been warning of the dangers of partisan standoffs since long before the government shutdown. And once she makes the campaign announcement that is expected in the next few weeks, she will most likely hold up her history of working with Republicans when she was a senator.

Describing herself as a consensus-builder in the mold of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, is also a subtle way to differentiate herself from Mr. Obama. Many of Mr. Obama’s top advisers view Mrs. Clinton as the best hope for preserving critical elements of his legacy, and they anticipate that she will seek separation from him in certain ways.

Still, Mrs. Clinton’s nostalgia comes with risks. While her experience is likely to be a bigger asset than it was in 2008, there is a downside to reminding voters of her time in Washington, where there is enough disgust with the dysfunction to go around.