Hillary Clinton will end a nearly-two-year hiatus from Fox News Channel on Monday when she joins rival Bernie Sanders for a Democratic presidential town hall event in Detroit, moderated by Bret Baier.
Clinton originally declined Fox News’s invitation to participate, just as she has turned down every interview request from the network during the campaign. Two weeks ago, “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace criticized the former secretary of state for ducking his program, in particular; all other candidates have been guests on the network’s Sunday talk show.
Clinton reversed course last Friday and said she would attend the town hall, after all. What should we expect from her first Fox News appearance since June 2014? Baier previewed the session in a conversation with The Fix on Sunday afternoon, hours before a Democratic debate in Flint, Mich., on CNN. The following is an edited transcript of that exchange.
THE FIX: How did this thing come together? I don’t imagine Clinton just woke up one day and said, “I think I’ll go on Fox.”
BAIER: I can’t speak for the Clinton camp, but I can tell you what we’ve been trying to do. We wanted to have a Democratic debate, first of all, but the [Democratic National Committee] has not allowed that to happen. Then we were trying to do town halls. I reached out to the Bernie Sanders campaign early on and had interest from them. They confirmed, and then we had been reaching out to the Hillary Clinton campaign. They said they had scheduling issues; they couldn’t do the Monday that Sanders had agreed to. Then we had our debate [last Thursday with the Republican candidates]. We had continued to reach out, and I guess they had a change of heart.
THE FIX: Do you think the praise you got for the way you handled the last debate — how tough you were on Donald Trump — was a factor in her reconsidering? That she saw that and thought she’d get a fair shake?
BAIER: Well, I hope that’s part of the equation. I don’t know. I think it's also about Michigan, [which holds its primary on Tuesday]. If Bernie Sanders does well in Michigan, that's not a great thing for Hillary Clinton. I think this is a good opportunity for both sides.
THE FIX: What, if any, restrictions did she put on her appearance? Do you have free reign to ask and press as you see fit?
BAIER: Yeah, there are no restrictions on the questions — what I ask or what the audience asks. We don't have any guidelines or restrictions from either campaign. It's a wide-open town hall.
THE FIX: So what's on your priority list?
BAIER: My priority is to make sure that we cover all the main issues. There's obviously a debate [Sunday night], and we'll be watching that closely. There will be key issues that we'll be focusing on and maybe others that haven't been covered. We're still formulating.
THE FIX: Coming off a debate the night before, should we expect that you'll try to fill in gaps that were undercovered, in your mind?
BAIER: I think so. That's a fair assumption. I think we'll look at the debate and what's left to be followed up on. And, of course, we'll have our own line of inquiry too.
THE FIX: Any one or two topics that haven't gotten the attention they deserve that you want to be sure to get to?
BAIER: I don't want to show too much leg.
THE FIX: How conscious are you of the difficult situation you're walking into? You can almost guarantee that on one side, you'll be criticized for going after her, and that others will say you let her off the hook.
BAIER: You know, this is an issue in every big interview. We get criticized from the left, from the right, from all over. If we can do solid journalism, like I think our debate performances have shown, people will come around.
THE FIX: What do you want to learn from Sanders? Clinton's return to Fox is the headline here, and a lot of folks are getting close to writing Sanders off.
BAIER: His path is always interesting — how does he think he's going to get [to the nomination.] And if he doesn't get there, what's the main thing that he wants to take away? What's the policy thing he wants to make sure — if he's not the nominee — that Democrats include on their platform? I also think explaining, as he has before, how he's going to pay for things. That's a question that I'm sure will come up.
THE FIX: Will you have slides for Bernie's budget, as well?
BAIER: Are you trying to make me give away all my secrets? You never know. Maybe Chris Wallace will let me use his full-screens.
THE FIX: Is it your sense that this is a one-off thing with Clinton, or is this an easing of tensions, and we'll start seeing her more often on Fox News?
BAIER: As you get closer to a nomination, closer to a general election, your strategists would probably advise that it's worth looking into doing more. We hope that's the case. We hope the dam is breaking.