Though Hillary Clinton is no stranger to Tina Brown’s Women in the World Summit — she’s headlined a number of past conferences, including in 2017, when she made her first public appearance after losing the 2016 election — the audience at the 10th edition of the event in New York City was delightfully surprised to learn Friday that the former Democratic presidential candidate would be this year’s surprise drop-in guest.
Clinton was greeted with a standing ovation, and once the applause settled down, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria jumped into questions about Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan, the Mueller Report and more.
But, first, Zakaria pointed out that on this very day in 2015, Clinton announced her second presidential bid.
“I think of what an amazing experience it was traveling the country; talking to people, listening to people, making a case for the kind of America I want for my children and grandchildren,” Clinton said. “But I also think about what I said at the very end of that campaign when I addressed all the little girls and told them to keep dreaming and told them to be powerful, be ready to take on risks, be brave.”
Zakaria brought up a recent comment from Democratic 2020 hopeful Pete Buttigieg, in which he said, per the Washington Post Magazine, “Donald Trump got elected because, in his twisted way, he pointed out the huge troubles in our economy and our democracy. At least he didn’t go around saying that America was already great, like Hillary did.”
“I don’t want to comment on any of the candidates. Like I said, I think they have a lot to contribute not only to the Democratic party, but to the country. And it will be up to voters to decide who our nominee is,” Clinton responded. “But I would say this, I really do believe that we always have to appeal to our better selves. Because the wolf is at the door, my friends. Grief, despair, anxiety, resentment, anger, prejudice — that’s part of human nature, and the job of a leader is to appeal to us to be more than we can be on our own.”
Though Clinton didn’t delve into the specifics of the current race, she did recommend that the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates do two things simultaneously: “You have to be able to counter and ignore where possible [and] respond where necessary to the diversion and distraction that we see, unfortunately, working by the current incumbent in the White House. So you have to do that balancing act, and I think that we have excellent candidates who are demonstrating their ability to do that.”
Clinton also praised Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand prime minister who gained notoriety for her response to at least 50 people being killed in a mass shooting attack on two mosques in March.
“She showed the heart not only of a leader but of a mother,” Clinton said, explaining the two met last year when Ardern was pregnant. “Her reaching out to the Muslim community in New Zealand sent a message about how leaders should behave in the face of horrific violence conducted for ideological reasons. And I think that that was as strong a signal as we can get that, given the chance, many women will govern and lead differently.”
When Clinton’s former rival — running again for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 — Bernie Sanders’ recently announced Medicare for All plan was mentioned, Clinton launched into a passionate defense of the Affordable Care Act, though she did say she’s “all in favor of setting the goal” of universal health care for every single American.
“The specifics, though, matter,” Clinton said. “What are the details? How do we pay for it? Who is going to get what they need? There are a lot of complicated questions.”
She ultimately urged Democrats to both defend the ACA and set bigger goals.
The talk ended on a positive note, with Zakaria asking, “Do you think the world would be different if it were led by women?”
“Of course!” Clinton responded, prompting roaring applause.