One of the more controversial aspects of Hillary Clinton’s pre-campaign — her penchant for paid speeches — came to an end on Thursday with a speech that focused on the need for bipartisanship in Washington and (jokingly) adult camp for the rest of the nation.
During an address to the New York and New Jersey chapter of the American Camp Association in Atlantic City, Clinton cast herself as a bipartisan dealmaker and touted her work with Republicans like former President George W. Bush.
“If you don’t build relationship with people and all you do is show up to argue or show up to point fingers, you can’t get anything done,” Clinton said. “There has been too much of that in the last years.”
The paid speech was a staple of Clinton’s last two years, both a way of staying in the public eye but also a target for critics. Commanding an average fee between $200,000 and $300,000, Clinton spoke to a mix of other groups groups: There was the scrap metal and recycling conference in Las Vegas, the automobile dealers association in New Orleans and the National Association of Convenience Stores in Atlanta.
Clinton headlined events at colleges and universities as well, including Simmons College in Boston, the University of Miami in Florida and the University at Buffalo in New York. And also went abroad, delivering paid speeches in Canada and Mexico.
The appearance to the large meeting of professional camp counselors is the last paid speech on Clinton’s known calendar ahead of what is expected to be her April presidential campaign announcement. To a largely apolitical audience, Clinton decried partisanship in Washington, arguing lawmakers need to spend more time building relationships to overcome their dysfunction.
“From my perspective, you can’t do enough of the relationship building.” Clinton continued Thursday. “I did a lot of reaching across the aisle, working with people who had a lot of political differences with me. I saw my husband do that.”
The former secretary of state regularly positions herself as someone willing to bridge political divides, but Thursday’s remarks come just weeks before Clinton is expected to announce a presidential campaign and likely mirror how she will portray herself on the trail.
The remarks also could also be taken as a slight to President Barack Obama, who many political watchers feel has spent too little time building relationships. Obama aides have vehemently disputed that charge in the past, but even some Democrats on Capitol Hill have lamented the fact Obama is not like Clinton’s husband — former President Bill Clinton — when it comes to relationship building.
Clinton also directed some of her criticism at Congress, a target the likely 2016 candidate has become fond of in the last few days.
“People who claim proudly never to comprise should not be in the Congress of the United States because I don’t think I or anybody have all the answers,” she said. “I think we can actually learn things from each other.”
Thursday’s event — which featured 3,000 camp professionals — was a unique event for Clinton. She said that she had never been to sleep away camp, but did try to relate to the audience with stories about how her daughter — Chelsea — wanted to go to go to German language camp when she was young.
Clinton jokingly said that “adults need camp, too,” because America currently has “a huge fun deficit.” Sending adults to camp, Clinton argued, could even help bridge political divides.
Clinton’s paid speeches were often controversial, with both Democrats and Republicans questioning why she would deliver paid speeches ahead of a presidential bid. Clinton aides argued that the speaking fees from universities and some nonprofits went to the The Clinton Foundation, not directly to Clinton’s pocket, but the explanation failed to halt concerns.
When Clinton spoke at the University of Nevada Las Vegas in October, students protested the fact that their school was paying Clinton a $225,000 fee at the same time that UNLV was raising tuition.
While controversial, the speeches served a purpose for Clinton in addition to collecting a paycheck: They provided the former secretary of state with a ready-made opportunity comment on the biggest news story of the moment in a controlled environment where media were kept hundreds of feet away.
In December, Clinton stood with those protesting the deaths of two unarmed black males at the hands of law enforcement when she told a Boston audience that “our country deserves a full and fair accounting” of what happened. In August, she first commented on other protests over the death of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, saying that the United States “can do better.” And in April, Clinton publicly acknowledged that she was “thinking about” running for president in 2016.
All of these moments came at paid speeches.
The people who invited Clinton to speak were not nearly as scandalized by her speaking fees, too. In general, event organizers who invited Clinton were happy to pay her fee because it increased excitement around their event and significantly upped the media attention for the group. Many organizers raised money off of Clinton’s appearances, including by giving their top supporters the opportunity to get a photo with the former first lady.
Clinton’s appearance Thursday will follow a familiar format for her paid appearances. The former secretary of state will deliver a 25-30 minute speech, followed by 30 minutes of moderated question and answer on stage.
Event organizers would not divulge who would be interviewing Clinton, but did say that it was a member of the camp counselor organization.
Susie Lupert, the group’s executive director, told CNN, “Yes, just like most nonprofits and conferences, she is being paid for her appearance.” But she would not confirm how much Clinton was being paid.
Clinton has two events next week in Washington, D.C. (neither are paid), but noticeably has no public events in April, the month she is expected to announce her presidential campaign.
Aside from brief moments focused on politics, Clinton’s appearance was filled with light subjects and questions.
Clinton said she had not finished — but planned to binge watch — “House of Cards,” a popular political show on Netflix.
And asked to describe her perfect camp day, Clinton said, “I would love to hike and swim and be outdoors learning about the environment, maybe doing a project.”