In Miami speech, Hillary Clinton mum on 2016 presidential ambitions

Seen here in a file photo, Hillary Clinton, when what it would take for the United States to elect its first female leader, Clinton was quick with a joke. "Well, it'll take a crazy person," she said.

Getty Images (2012)

Seen here in a file photo, Hillary Clinton, when what it would take for the United States to elect its first female leader, Clinton was quick with a joke. "Well, it'll take a crazy person," she said.

MIAMI — Hillary Clinton, a likely presidential-race frontrunner, quietly slipped into Miami to address a travel agents' convention Thursday in which the former secretary of state said little about troubles abroad or her future ambitions.

When the event moderator asked what it would take for the United States to elect its first female leader, Clinton was quick with a joke.

"Well, it'll take a crazy person," she said, drawing laughs from the crowd at the American Society of Travel Agents' global convention.

"I hope we break that final glass ceiling," she said, adding nothing about her plans.

Though ostensibly not political, Clinton's address had the makings of an introductory campaign speech, replete with personal anecdotes, stories of world leaders and veiled warnings about the dangers of partisanship and the fragility of American democracy.

"Compromise is not a dirty word," she said. "Compromise is only a dirty word if you think you own all the truth. And that's what I see in countries where people are punished and marginalized because of their race or their ethnicity or their tribe or their religion."

Clinton made the comments in recalling the deals her husband, President Bill Clinton, struck with Republicans to balance the budget and approve welfare reform — a sharp contrast to the looming fiscal fights between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans that could lead to a government shutdown for the first time since President Clinton's White House days.

Clinton's speech was tightly stage-managed.

At one point, a member of the audience, Andrew Rothberg, had his Galaxy Note II smartphone taken from him by security, which removed his picture of Clinton onstage and then gave his device back in front of a Miami Herald reporter in the auditorium stands.

"It's crazy," Rothberg said.

"That's American politics," said a docent, one of a handful of hotel security and volunteers who roamed the aisles looking for people taking pictures or making recordings. None was allowed.

"I wanted to take pictures for my girls; I have four girls," Rothberg, who was writing a piece about the conference for Boca Raton-based Grey Matters Magazine, told the Miami Herald. "I think Hillary Clinton, who is probably running for president in 2016, would want all the publicity she could get and I think it's kind of ironic they would take the camera away."

Rothberg said he was more puzzled than upset. He said he guessed at one point that Clinton's handlers might have wanted to control the event to keep activists from infiltrating the event and raising awareness about issues like the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012. But he wasn't sure.

Clinton's speech came a day after congressional Republicans led another hearing into the attacks and faulted her and the administrations preparations and response. Four Americans were killed in the attack, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Many members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee felt the Obama administration did little to prepare for an attack, not enough to respond and nothing significant by failing to fire or even cut the pay of anyone associated with the failures.

"It is, indeed, pathetic that still no one has been held accountable for the disastrous decisions that were made at the State Department before, during, and after this terrorist attack," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, said during the hearing.

"State continues to merely shuffle the deck chairs and employ officials who were part of the management deficiencies and systematic failures that were tragically made."

Democrats have called the criticisms a partisan show, noting that at least 13 U.S. embassies and consulates were attacked during President George W. Bush's term, leading to the loss of at least 96 lives, at least 10 of whom were American.

The Benghazi drumbeat, though, hasn't hurt Clinton's early poll numbers, which show she's a frontrunner nationwide and in must-win Florida. Polls indicate she'd even best Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush in the Republicans' home state.

Clinton said nothing about Benghazi or Syria's civil war tensions over its chemical weapons.

Speaking engagingly and without notes, the crowd sat with rapt attention as Clinton gave an address for about 30 minutes and then answered a few pre-screened questions from the moderator, Nikki Grossman, CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Grossman presented Clinton with a gift: a volleyball-sized glass globe filled with sand and shells.

"In some cities you get a key to the city or a plaque. In greater Fort Lauderdale, we have balls," Grossman said. "And I don't think there's a person in this room, or perhaps in this world, who doesn't think you do, too."

The crowd exploded with laughs and applauded. Clinton's smile and blush were visible in the upper-deck of the Hyatt Regency Miami auditorium.

"However, this one is full of sand, shells and love from the people of Greater Fort Lauderdale and South Florida," Grossman said.

Clinton's speech to the travel agents was tailored to them. She stressed the importance of travel — name-dropping countries like Togo and sharing personal anecdotes about Nelson Mandela or generals from Burma who told her they were learning about democracy from watching NBC's The West Wing, which aired from 1999-2006.

Clinton, though, credits the country's move away from a dictatorship to the fact that its generals went abroad and saw the rest of the world.

"I am convinced that travel helped change minds in the military dictatorship of Burma," Clinton said.

She also fondly recalled the first time she met and traveled with Bill Clinton, whom she described as "this long haired guy I was dating at the time" in 1973.

And Clinton fretted about the future and current state of the United States.

"The confidence of Americans in most of our important institutions have fallen to historic lows," she said. "Americans have lost loss faith in the press, churches, banks, sports heroes, you name it. … Majorities across all partisan and demographic groups certainly express little or no trust in government at any level."

In Miami speech, Hillary Clinton mum on 2016 presidential ambitions 09/19/13 [Last modified: Thursday, September 19, 2013 8:14pm]

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