By Amie Parnes - 06/25/14 06:00 AM EDT
DENVER — Team Clinton is doing damage control on a series of comments by Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump: Clinton 'started the birther movement' Trump expresses openness to raising minimum wage Nevada governor says he'll vote Trump MORE about the former first couple’s wealth.
Former President Bill ClintonBill ClintonShellshocked GOP donors give Trump a second look Bill Clinton: 'It’s been a long time’ since a woman praised my looks Clinton slams Trump, but stops short of calling him racist or sexist MORE on Tuesday defended his wife as “not out of touch,” and lashed out at the criticism during an appearance at the Clinton Global Initiative America conference.
He also criticized reporters for not including context in stories about the former first lady’s discussion of her work to help the less fortunate during her career, previewing a message Clinton supporters say the couple needs to harp on in the weeks and months ahead.
In response to questions from NBC’s David Gregory, Bill Clinton said his wife had once offered legal assistance to people who couldn’t afford it and fought for paid leave for pregnant mothers in the 1970s. He also said that he and the former secretary of State go to their local grocery store on the weekends and talk to “people in our town.”
“We know what’s going on,” the former president said.
Several longtime Clinton allies said they weren’t sure his comments would end the criticism, which came on the heels of several stumbles in which Hillary Clinton tried to explain away her finances.
The comments have left even some allies of the Clintons bewildered.
“I don’t want to acknowledge that it’s been a problem, but it’s been a problem,” said one former Clinton aide who maintains ties with those in the former New York senator’s inner circle.
The former aide said Hillary Clinton needs to refine her message on the issue, particularly in the months ahead when she will campaign for Democrats in the midterm elections.
“It’s tricky for someone to be promoting a memoir, where they need to be talking about themselves, but talk about other people instead,” the former Clinton staffer said. “But she needs to use these opportunities to tell stories about the people she’s met. She needs to say, ‘When I was here I met X and she did Y and that’s led to Z,’ which has framed her policy thinking. She needs to ground the conversation.”
Hillary Clinton made the “dead broke” comment during her first interview to promote her book Hard Choices. The remark, to ABC’s Diane Sawyer, overshadowed the opening days of her book tour.
And this past weekend, Clinton inadvertently highlighted her finances again when she told The Guardian that “unlike the truly well off,” she and the former president “pay ordinary income tax,” and their wealth only came “through dint of hard work.”
The comments have provided an opening for Republicans to criticize Clinton ahead of a possible 2016 run for the White House.
“The Clintons still feel the need to feign that they are still in touch with the struggles of regular Americans,” said Tim Miller, the communications director for America Rising. “He laments being the president with the ‘lowest net worth’ which is akin to saying his floors are made of the cheapest marble. Then he goes on to say that they talk with people in their town. They live in one of the most elite, moneyed towns in America.
“The Clintons have lived in a 1 percent bubble for so long, their experience has become warped, and that’s a major problem in a presidential campaign,” Miller added. The couple’s home is in Chappaqua, N.Y.
As the book tour winds down, supporters of the couple say Hillary Clinton has to speak more about her foundation work — on women’s and girls’ issues — and her work as a senator, when she devoted much of her time working on issues in upstate New York.
“She’s gotta tell stories,” the former aide continued. “It’s a skill to answer a question about yourself by talking about someone else. And she’s got to find a way to incorporate some of that. It shouldn’t be an add-on. It should be the central thing she’s doing. “
Bill Clinton on Tuesday tried to hammer home his wife’s long-running work on behalf of the working class.
He said Americans don’t “resent somebody else doing well. They resent that they’re not getting a fair deal.”
“You just have to be transparent and tell the truth,” he said.
Another former longtime Clinton aide who also still advises Hillaryland from time to time, said that the No. 1 thing the Clinton camp can do is “don’t panic.”
“A lot of this stuff comes and goes and some things stick and other things don’t,” the former aide said. “I don’t see it being a long-term personal problem because in a personal sense she’s not disconnected to everyday people. It actually very much defines who she is.”
The former adviser said the comparisons to former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney are different because “people didn’t know him that well.”
“That narrative was part of their introduction to him,” the adviser said.