HARI SREENIVASAN, NEWSHOUR ANCHOR: Hillary Clinton has spent roughly half of her nearly 69 years old life in public life — as First Lady of Arkansas and the United States, as a U.S. Senator from New York, and perhaps most importantly for the office she seeks — as Secretary of State. And, from the investigation of the Clintons' investment in the Whitewater real estate deal in Arkansas to the more recent FBI probe of her use of private email server while serving as Secretary of State, the whiff of scandal has lingered – fairly or unfairly – over many chapters in Mrs. Clinton's career.
As we head into the Democratic National Convention on Monday, opinion polls continue to reflect that Hillary Clinton is, to some extent like her Republican opponent, a polarizing figure. She has topped the annual Gallup poll of "most admired woman" each of the last 14 years and 20 times overall. However, the Real Clear Politics average of polls finds 56 percent of Americans have an unfavorable view of her, and 62 percent of Americans told a CBS news poll last month they do not find her honest or trustworthy.
To examine her record of service as First Lady, in the Senate, and at the State Department, I sat down this week with the authors of two books about Hillary Clinton. Michael Tomasky wrote "Hillary's Turn: Inside Her Improbable, Victorious Senate Campaign," and New York Times White House correspondent Mark Landler wrote "Alter Egos: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the twilight struggle over American power."
HARI SREENIVASAN: Back in 1992, Bill Clinton said, "You're going to get two for the price of one." She's going to be part of my policies. Was head of the health care reform task force; it didn't do well in Congress. What's her lasting legacy from that era?
MICHAEL TOMASKY, AUTHOR: She was the first professional First Lady, the first feminist First Lady, the first First Lady from the ‘60s generation, the first First Lady who was the breadwinner in the family. A lot of America liked and admired that. Some other parts of America found that unappetizing and even kind of threatening. So she became a flashpoint simply for who she was.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Picking up on that women's rights theme, one of the things that she did was in '95, she famously spoke out.
HILLARY CLINTON: "It is no longer acceptable to discuss women's rights as separate from human rights."
MARK LANDLER, NEW YORK TIMES: If you remember, it was right after the health care debacle. So she goes to Beijing, delivers this by all accounts just fervent speech, and even to this day many years later, it's probably in the top five if not the top three speeches she's ever delivered. And it also really was the speech that catapulted her onto the global stage and kind of set the stage for the next chapter of her career, which was as a sort of a global figure, a global stateswoman.
HARI SREENIVASAN: After Bill Clinton's presidency, after he's impeached in '99, Hillary Clinton decides to run in a state she does not live in, something that her opponents picked up very quickly, label her the carpetbagger. How did she win with those odds stacked against her?
MICHAEL TOMASKY: Four days after the 1998 election, Pat Moynihan, the long-time revered New York senator, announced that he was going to retire. He was up for reelection in 2000.
New York Democrats were casting about, who are we going to run? Because the Republicans had Rudy Giuliani and George Pataki, at the time both quite formidable figures. And the Democrats didn't really have anyone of that stature. So they approached her and said, ‘Why don't you consider doing this?' And at first she said, ‘What are you talking about, I'm not a New Yorker.' How she finally did it? Perseverance and steady, you know, somewhat boring stick-to-itiveness.
She just kept her head down and went and gave her speech about the issues, and ultimately she won over people, won their respect.
HARI SREENIVASAN: If you had to compress her legislative achievements in the Senate, what would those be?
MICHAEL TOMASKY: She was in the Senate for eight years. She had a part in a number of pieces of legislation, and of course she was the senator from New York when 9/11 happened, so she and Chuck Schumer were by all accounts that I know of, very active in helping first responders and other victims of the 9/11 attack. So I think she would probably point to that as a high point, a few things she did on education. There is no big legislation that bears her name, and that's true of a lot of senators.
MARK LANDLER: She really transformed herself into a national security expert. She decided to join the Senate Armed Services Committee, and she became a real military wonk. She was famous for going to every subcommittee hearing and methodically questioning every lieutenant colonel from the Pentagon about defense procurement or selective service benefits. So that's where she really began to carve out and hone this reputation as a hawk that I think has followed her through the secretary of state years and then into the presidential campaign.
MICHAEL TOMASKY: We'd be remiss not to note her Iraq War vote.
MARK LANDLER: Of course.
MICHAEL TOMASKY: Which she cast probably because she had her eye on the presidency. So that one has hung around her neck and not stood the test of time.
HARI SREENIVASAN: More for political calculation than for whether or not she felt like troops should be there?
MICHAEL TOMASKY: Well, her defense has always been that she voted for authorization as a way to pressure Saddam Hussein to come clean on the weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to have existed. But it's probably not a coincidence that she and John Kerry and John Edwards, all three who were looking at the presidency, voted for that war.
MARK LANDLER: And if you then go through her record as Secretary of State, whether it was the troop surge in Afghanistan, the military intervention in Libya, the debate over arming the rebels in Syria, she fairly generally came down on the hawkish end of the spectrum. Now there's been a continuing debate over whether she does that because it's borne of principle or whether she does that for political calculation, and I think as with everything with Hillary Clinton, it's probably some complicated mixture of the two. But I think that there's no question that she has generally been more comfortable with exercising military power to advance American interests, certainly than the President she served as Secretary of State.
HARI SREENIVASAN: She was also pretty instrumental in driving the Obama administration into the coalition in Libya. President Obama and Hillary Clinton are getting an earful of blame. There was almost an entire night devoted to her, and Chris Christie even essentially prosecuted her fictitiously on stage. How much of the decisions of the administration can be attributed to the impact that Hillary Clinton had on Barack Obama?
MARK LANDLER: I think the Libya decision, she was an important voice, perhaps the important voice in turning around the President. He was extremely skeptical about going into Libya, as honestly was she at the very beginning. She, through her diplomatic travels, was persuaded that it could be done with a broad coalition, and that it was worth doing. If you look at other ones though, for example Syria, she and General Petraeus, who was then head of the CIA, argued fairly fervently for arming the rebels. And they were turned down when they made their pitch. The president later came around to the idea in sort of a half-hearted way and ended up sending a small number of weapons to the rebels. The relationship with Russia, the Iran nuclear negotiation — these are areas where President Obama played a very strong role himself, and her battle was less to win the debate than to carve out some territory in those issues for herself.
HARI SREENIVASAN: In the context of Libya, Benghazi is the word that the Republicans have clung onto for really the past couple of years, hung it around her neck and said that she is solely responsible. Literally we've seen the mother of one of the soldiers that were killed there speaking at the Republican National Convention. Sort of two questions. Why are Republicans still talking about it, and two, what is she responsible for?
MICHAEL TOMASKY: I'm sure on some level, many Republicans are generally aghast at the loss of life there, but she's genuinely aghast at that loss of life too. She was a friend of Chris Stevens, a good friend of Chris Stevens. I think they're doing it largely to tarnish her politically. And there have been numerous investigations of it, none of which has ever placed any particular culpability right at her door.
MARK LANDLER: I think the bigger issue for her, frankly, is to talk about Libya more broadly. What did go wrong in Libya, what real lesson should we learn from what was by all accounts a misbegotten intervention, and if she were president and faced a similar decision, how would she think of it differently, how would she act differently, how can Americans solve this whole question of intervention. We either seem to intervene in too gigantic a way as we did in Iraq, or we don't intervene adequately enough, and allow a situation to fall into a mayhem as we did in Libya. So I think those are the substantive issues that I think she'll have to contend within the general election debate.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Where does she walk lockstep with the President, and where has she broken with him?
MICHAEL TOMASKY: There are certain positions that she has had to take that she has not taken in that past that are opposite of Obama or against Obama, because of this movement of the Democratic Party to a populist left economic posture that Bernie Sanders represents. So the most obvious thing I'm talking about here is trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which she now opposes, and which Obama is still for, and I think will continue to push for, and will probably try to get a vote in a lame duck session of Congress.
HARI SREENIVASAN: What would Hillary Clinton's foreign policy be? If there was a doctrine, would it be "Strength With Caution?"
MARK LANDLER: I think what it would be is a sort of a very pragmatic approach. And the way I like to think of it is that I think President Obama came into office with a very strong idea that he'd been elected to wean this country away from the military excesses of the George W. Bush years. I don't think she necessarily comes into office with another big idea. So I think really what she would do is weigh each problem as it came up piecemeal, look for a pragmatic solution. She'd emphasize diplomacy first, but if diplomacy failed, I think she'd be more willing to consider military force as sort of a last resort.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Last week we had a couple of Trump biographers on. They said one of the qualities they liked about him was his resiliency — that he can bounce back. Can the same be said of Hillary Clinton?
MICHAEL TOMASKY: Oh sure. She has been investigated I don't know how many times from Whitewater and all these things going back to the 1990s, many of them during her husband's administration, and then continuing into her time at State. It could have beaten down a person who wasn't quite as tough as she, driven them from public life. She had every reason to think in 1999, forget this, I'm going to go off and run a huge foundation and make a lot of money and not worry about this anymore. But no, she stayed in it, and now she's on the precipice of maybe of being the President. If she's anything, it's resilient.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Mark Landler, Michael Tomasky, thanks so much.