Three Areas Where Hillary Clinton Is Running Against Her Husband's Legacy

The politics of immigration, marriage, and crime have changed a lot since the 1990s.

Hillary Clinton called for changes to the criminal justice system last week in a speech at Columbia University that rejected the "tough on crime" agenda pushed by her husband and centrist Democrats and Republicans in the 1990s.

But that's not the only area where Clinton has moved to the left of her husband's legacy. Some of the shifts, like her position on same-sex marriage, reflect an overall shift in the Democratic Party — and in the country — but many of the issues were ones her husband used to win political battles during his 1996 re-election campaign and presidency.

Here's a look at three issues that Hillary Clinton's campaign is focused on that rejects policies her husband pushed and campaigned on.


About a week after he signed the Defense of Marriage Act, in September 1996, Bill Clinton signed an appropriations bill that included measures meant to reduce illegal immigration.

Among these were enhancements to border security, a 12-month deadline to submit asylum applications, and a rule banning undocumented immigrants who had spent over a year in the country from returning to the United States for 10 years after leaving or being deported. Bill Clinton said then that the bill "strengthens the rule of law by cracking down on illegal immigration at the border, in the workplace, and in the criminal justice system — without punishing those living in the United States legally."

The month before, the president had signed a welfare package that blocked some legal immigrants from receiving food stamps.

At the time, public opinion in much of the country was in line with these positions.

Clinton's campaign ad touted his signing of "a tough anti-illegal immigration law," his record-setting deportations, and the increase of border patrol agents during his first term:

During an appearance on C-SPAN near the end of the campaign in 1996, Hillary Clinton discussed her husband's immigration policy noting what he had done "to stem the flow of illegal immigrants," including his efforts to beef up the border.

Hillary: "The United States is a nation of immigrants and I think all of us should recognize that and be grateful for it. You know, my grandparents on both sides of my family immigrated to the United States. And I think that the President has been absolutely right in saying that we should honor and respect our immigrant tradition and we should do all we can to make sure people come here legally. Because that is the important difference between those who wish to come and choose to come legally and those who do not. But that legal immigrants should not be denied the services and the opportunities that are available to people living in our country. And illegal immigrants—we should stop the influx of illegal immigrants. But there are certain services and needs that people have whether or not they are illegal or legal immigrants and I think the President is right that we have to be very careful about cutting off healthcare and educational opportunities for the children of illegal immigrants, while we try to do a better job, which the President has actually been able to do in the last four years, to stem the flow of illegal immigrants."

Interviewer: "A better job than any previous administration."

Hillary: "That's right. I mean, he has taken very seriously the efforts to try to beef up our border patrols, put more people on the borders. We were in San Diego just a few days ago for the debates and talked with the people there who are working and their very pleased at the kind of effort that's been undertaken to prevent people from coming illegally into the United States and that has to continue."

Here's the video:

Clinton also notably repeated a claim about all her grandparents immigrating to the United States. Her campaign recently admitted that claim was incorrect and said that "her grandparents always spoke about the immigrant experience..."

"The United States is a nation of immigrants and I think all of us should recognize that and be grateful for it. You know, my grandparents on both sides of my family immigrated to the United States.

During one speech, she noted that Bill signed an executive order "to revoke the federal contracts of businesses that hire illegal workers."

"He also said that he would issue an executive order to revoke the federal contracts of businesses that hire illegal workers. Everyone who does business with the United States government should obey the laws."

Bill Clinton's 1996 website noted the same theme of increasing deportations and hiring more border agents that his ad talked about.

It also noted he would streamline the deportation process and increase deportations the following year:


Speaking in Las Vegas this week Hillary Clinton moved to the left on immigration in an anticipated event where she outlined an agenda which included a a path to citizenship and protections for parents of DREAMers. Clinton left open the option of going further than the White House's expanded policy of deferred deportation for undocumented immigrants.

During her 2008 campaign, Clinton also supported "a path to legalization" if undocumented immigrants attempted to learn English and paid back taxes.

Maybe the first glimpse of a Clinton softening on immigration came in 2000, when the president signed a law that reopened the cases of thousands of immigrants seeking amnesty. The law, which was drafted by the GOP, also granted visas to spouses and children of some legal immigrants, regardless of whether their family members had been previously living in the country legally.

Same-sex marriage and the Defense of Marriage Act

When Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in September 1996, he was careful to argue that the law did not condone "discrimination of any kind." Yet, the law, which was overturned in June 2013, barred federal recognition of same-sex marriage and permitted each state to ignore them if the couple was married in another state.

That July, the White House denounced the law as "gay-baiting, pure and simple," and "a classic use of wedge politics designed to provoke anxieties and fears." But press secretary Michael McCurry pledged that the president would sign it anyway, because of his "very strong personal views" that marriage was between a man and a woman.

DOMA passed with overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate. In 1996, fewer than 30 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage. By 2014, that number had risen to 55 percent, according to Gallup.

In the 1996 election, after signing DOMA, Clinton ran this ad touting that he signed DOMA and was "protecting religious freedom." The ad ran on religious radio stations.

Protecting religious freedom, it's the foundation of our nation. When the Justice Department went after a church to gather the parishioners' tithing money, the government was stopped cold because President Clinton overturned the government's policy and protected us. It's not the only time he's defended our values. Don't be misled by Bob Dole's attack ads. President Clinton wants a complete ban on late-term abortions except when the mother's life is in danger or faces severe health risks, such as the inability to have another child. The president signed the Defense of Marriage Act, supports curfews and school uniforms to teach our children discipline. The president enacted the v-chip to block out violent TV programs. His crime bill expanded the death penalty for drug kingpins. Bob Dole opposed him and is resorting to untrue negative attacks. President Clinton has fought for our values and America is better for it.

During her 2000 campaign for Senate, Clinton said she supported her husband signing DOMA and would have voted for had she been in the Senate.

Clinton added same-sex couples should have the same rights extended to heterosexual couples.

"Marriage has got historic, religious and moral content that goes back to the beginning of time, and I think a marriage is as a marriage has always been, between a man and a woman," the First Lady said in White Plains. "But I also believe that people in committed gay marriages, as they believe them to be, should be given rights under the law that recognize and respect their relationship."


"Hillary Clinton supports marriage equality and hopes the Supreme Court will come down on the side of same-sex couples being guaranteed that constitutional right," Adrienne Elrod, spokesperson, Hillary for America, recently told BuzzFeed News about the landmark same-sex marriage case before the Court.

Clinton included two same-sex couples in her two-minute-long campaign announcement video last month. She supported leaving the issue of same-sex marriage to the states in her 2008 campaign and supported civil unions. She announced her support for same-sex marriage in 2013.

In 2013 her husband also penned the op-ed, "It's time to overturn DOMA" for the Washington Post

See a comprehensive timeline of her position on the issue here.


The crime bill President Clinton signed in September 1994 sought to add 100,000 officers to the police force and offered federal money to states to build new prisons, on the condition that they agreed to force inmates to serve out their whole sentences.

The bill passed with bipartisan support. Only one Democratic senator voted against it. (Since the law's passage, there has been a significant, bipartisan shift on the issues of incarceration and drug policy, particularly among progressive and libertarian-influenced politicians.)

As president, Clinton also signed the Brady bill in 1993 and a ban on assault weapons in 1994. The Brady bill mandated that buyers of handguns undergo background checks, while the weapons ban expired in 2004.

During the 1996 campaign, Hillary Clinton boasted about all three laws in touting her husband as a candidate who was "tough on crime." A position she would advocate repeatedly throughout years, including in her 1996 book It Takes A Village

In 1994, speaking to a conference for female police officers, Hillary Clinton spoke favorably of the crime bill's efforts to build more prisons as well as the "three strikes and you're out" policy.

"We will be able to say, loudly and clearly, that for repeat, violent, criminal offenders — three strikes and you're out. We are tired of putting you back in through the revolving door," noted Clinton at one point.

Clinton added noted that the crime bill would help build more prisons.

"We will also finally understand that fighting crime is not just a question of punishment, although there are many dollars in the crime bill to build more prisons," she said. "It is also a question of prevention. We want to give police officers the tools to help young people stay out of trouble. We want to begin to give young people something to say yes to, not just to have to face the bleak, alienated streets that too often push them in the wrong direction."

Speaking to C-SPAN in 1994 as well, Clinton called the crime bill “both smart and tough.”

“I think as more Americans focus on the fact that this bill would have put more police on the street, would have locked up violent offenders so they could never get out a again,” she said. “Would have given more prison construction money available to the states as well as the federal government. But also would have dealt with prevention, giving young people something to say yes to. It’s a very well thought out crime bill that is both smart and tough. ”

Clinton in 1996 argued her husband's policy was working so "why would we go back?"

View this video on YouTube

"I think we've made progress. The President against extraordinary opposition that was marshaled against his efforts was able to pass an anti-crime bill that is putting more police on the street and has begun taking guns off the streets and out of the hands of felons and fugitives and stalkers. The ban on assault weapons has made a difference. The Brady bill has made a difference. And not many people know this but the President's proposal to expand the Brady bill was actually passed so that people convicted of domestic violence will also be prevented from buying handguns. So we are seeing the results of the President's anti-crime strategy. I just don't want that set back. I don't want to elect a President or Congress who don't believe in the Brady bill, don't believe in the assault weapons ban, don't believe in putting police on the streets. You know, it's working, why would we go back?"

In one speech that year, she called kids in gangs "super-predators" with "no conscience, no empathy."

"But we also have to have an organized effort against gangs, just as in a previous generation we had an organized effort against the mob. We need to take these people on. They are often connected to big drug cartels. They are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called 'super-predators.' No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way but first we have to bring them to heel and the President has asked the FBI to launch a very concerted effort against gangs everywhere."

In the same speech, Clinton argued the crime bill was helping local law enforcement make "progress" in the "challenge" to "take back our streets from crime, gangs, and drugs."

"The fourth challenge is to take back our streets from crime, gangs, and drugs. And we have actually been making progress on this count as a nation because of what local law enforcement officials are doing, because of what citizens and neighborhood patrols are doing, we're making some progress. Much of it is related to the initiative called 'community policing.' Because we have actually gotten more police officers on the streets, that was one of the goals that the President had when he pushed the crime bill that was passed in 1994. He promised 100,000 police. We're moving in that direction, but we can see it already makes a difference. Because if we see more police interacting with people, having them on the streets, we can prevent crimes, we can prevent petty crimes from turning into something worse."

In her columns (in which she repeatedly spoke positively of the law), Clinton further argued in the column that “the same approach can work” for juveniles as for adults and condoned policies wherein “young people who break the law are held accountable.”

"This same approach can work for juvenile crime. Communities all across the country are abandoning rhetoric for prosecution and prevention strategies that show real results.

San Diego County is attacking this problem with a comprehensive plan in which law enforcement, schools, public agencies and communities work together. There is zero tolerance for guns and drugs in school. Young people who break the law are held accountable. Families in trouble are directed to a wide array of support services. And at-risk youth are steered into a variety of after-school activities."


Hillary Clinton last week called for changes to the criminal justice system including mandatory body cameras for police and an end to the "era of mass incarceration."

"We have to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America," she said.

Read the full details on recent speech her criminal justice policy here.

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