Hillary Clinton’s day on Martha’s Vineyard: signing books, promises of hugs

August 13, 2014

VINEYARD HAVEN, Mass. - Hillary Clinton swept onto Martha's Vineyard Wednesday amid drenching downpours -- and a flood of speculation ahead of her first meeting with President Obama after her criticism of his foreign policy earlier this week.

And if the skies hadn't exactly cleared over the island, both the Clinton and Obama camps insisted the storm clouds that seemed to loom over her relationship with the president after she disparaged his foreign policy philosophy in an interview with The Atlantic had parted.

At Clinton's first stop, the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore, hundreds lined up outside for hours in the rain to meet the former Secretary of State. They were treated to a brief explanation of her interview comments -- and a personal confirmation that she would, as her spokesman had promised, "hug it out" with Obama at a party here tonight.

"Absolutely," Clinton said, when asked about the much-anticipated embrace. "Yeah. Looking forward to it. Going to be there tonight."

Clinton said the decision to call Obama after the interview and apologize wasn't a difficult one.

"We agree," she said. "We are committed to the values and the interests of the security of our country together. We have disagreements as any partners and friends, as we are, might very well have."

Obama has articulated his foreign policy as such: don't do stupid stuff. Clinton said in the Atlantic interview that it wasn't enough.

“Great nations need organizing principles — and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle," Clinton said in her Atlantic interview.

Asked at the bookstore Wednesday if she disagrees with Obama's policy on Iraq, Clinton decided to answer a different question entirely.

"I'm excited about signing books," she said.

That would seem to be a prerequisite for an event like this one: The bookstore said it had ordered 1,000 copies of "Hard Choices," the number Clinton's people have said she can sign in two hours. Clinton, sporting a dusty rose-colored textured jacket, greeted people who shuffled by the table where she was signing. As each person -- many of them sporting ponchos or soaking wet hair -- filed by, an aide slid a copy of "Hard Choices" to Clinton, the front cover open.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denied friction with President Obama at a book signing on Martha's Vineyard on Wednesday. (Reuters)

"I'll be voting for you," a woman said to Clinton.

"Bless your heart," she replied.

Clinton made small talk about Martha's Vineyard, telling one attendee that she is "not here long enough," and trying to get a high-five out of six-year-old Audrey Lamb-Wilson when the girl wouldn't take a photo with her. Audrey obliged.

"Thank you for coming, staying out in the rain," Clinton said to the crowd, some of whom were sporting "Ready for Hillary" stickers.

"The potential to meet the first woman president of the United States!" Audrey's mother, Alycia Lamb of Seattle, said. "It's pretty monumental."

Quentin Heyward of Philadelphia shuffled toward the exit after meeting Clinton, who he said had "re-energized" him.

"She is the Merkel of the Americas," Heyward said. "She's cutting edge, she's respected, she's trusted."

There was little mention of the other major political figure on the island: President Obama, here for a two-week vacation.

Over the days since Clinton's initial comments, speculation in Washington has run rampant: How would Obama respond? Would it affect their relationship? Are they friends, or enemies -- or a bit of both? And exactly how awkward would their first post-comment meeting, and the promised Hug of Reconciliation, really be?

"Pool reporter better get in there with a tape measure to determine official hug distance," tweeted Democratic strategist Donna Brazile mockingly in the hours before the event. "We have a right to know. Agree? #huganalysis"

The frenzy over the Clinton comments, and looming embrace, reached fever pitch at the White House press briefing Wednesday, where reporters pressed deputy White House press secretary Eric Schultz over the state of the Obama-Clinton relationship -- and pushed for access to the pair's formal rapprochement.

"They have a close and resilient relationship," insisted Schultz, who added that Obama had "appreciated" Clinton's call. "...I’m not sure anyone in this room would contest that [not] doing stupid stuff is a good idea, but I also don’t think anyone at the White House would assert that that is the -- how we would describe our approach to foreign policy."

Schultz did concede that Obama and Clinton have disagreed on several fronts, including the question of whether and when to arm Syrian rebels -- but he downplayed the distance between them. "They continue to agree on a broad majority of issues confronting our country, even if they have the occasional policy difference," Schultz said. 

As to the hugs: No big deal, he insisted -- the two have been there before.

"I believe the president and Secretary Clinton have had many hugs over the past few years," Schultz said, informing reporters that the latest embrace would go undocumented. "I suspect many of them have been caught on camera."



Katie Zezima covers the White House for Post Politics and The Fix.
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