Hillary Clinton had a targeted mission on Capitol Hill Tuesday.
As the former secretary of State shuffled between half a dozen meetings in the House and Senate, Clinton intended to give Democratic members of Congress a candid glimpse not just of her agenda, but of how she might interact with her allies in Congress if she were their president.
After more than six years living with the Obama administration, which has often been blasted for relying on Democrats on the Hill only in the 11th hour of crucial negotiations, members leaped at the chance to have the ear of a former colleague and potential future president. Clinton came ready to listen.
"I have never had a relationship with President Obama to speak of. I have had a relationship with President Clinton and first lady Clinton and then Secretary Clinton," Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia said.
Clinton met Tuesday with the House Democratic Caucus, Senate Democrats, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. At each meeting, she came ready with extensive knowledge of their priorities.
During her more than hour-long lunch with Senate Democrats, Clinton found time to deliver brief remarks endorsing the Obama administration's historic nuclear deal with Iran, but she was more interested in taking advice and questions.
She engaged in a back-and-forth on the growing prescription-drug epidemic with Manchin and tried to brainstorm ways that senators and her campaign could work together during the 2016 election.
Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said Sen. Jon Tester, who leads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, asked Clinton to "think extra special" about how her message might affect lawmakers on the ballot in 2016.
"There are warm, warm feelings in that room for her," Kaine said. "She knows she is going to be running in 2016 when there are a whole bunch of competitive Senate races, and she said, 'I want to campaign with ya. I want to be standing on a stage with ya, and if you do that, you'll help me, and if I do that, I'll help you.' ... There was a very nice teamwork message that was part of the speech today."
In contrast to the way the current administration often handles Hill business, Clinton didn't explicitly ask for support nor did she simply run through her agenda. The meetings were intended to show members she was not disconnected, but rather up to date with what they were working on.
"She's so informed about everyone's bills that it's kind of refreshing," Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota told National Journal. "She would refer to people all the time. "¦ She must have referenced 10 different senators in relation to different bills and things they were working on. It was pretty impressive."
Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii said he also was impressed with Clinton's command of the issues and who was the expert on what, talking directly with senators on issues that deeply concern them and their constituents. "She was able to talk to Joe Manchin about coal country, she was able to talk to Martin Heinrich about climate, and to Ben Cardin about foreign affairs," Schatz said. "She has those relationships, and she has that understanding of the system that I think gives us confidence that maybe she'll help us to make the system work a little better."
Clinton, unlike Obama, has the advantage of a long history in Washington. And that, many lawmakers say, will give her the edge when it comes to building support for her agenda.
"She has genuine friendships with members of the Senate that are very rare. Put aside the relationship President Obama had with Congress. As a matter of personality and style, she is genuinely a person who reaches out and wants to engage people," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
Many of the Democratic members Clinton met with are already lining up behind her campaign, but her attentiveness to legislators only made them more committed.
"There's nobody smarter, more experienced, more passionate—man or woman—running for president of the United States than Hillary Clinton. She would be a terrific president," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.
Clinton even assured members that she would follow up on the issues that came up in their private meetings.
In a discussion with the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus that ran roughly 30 minutes, the conversation turned from the appointment of Asian Pacific Islanders in high-ranking federal positions, to immigration reform, to Filipino veterans and more. Clinton assured members she would have her policy staff follow up.
"Secretary Clinton was very receptive. She actually had quite a bit of familiarity with the issues," Rep. Judy Chu of California, the caucus chairwoman, told National Journal after the meeting. "She pledged to continue working with us, and in fact said that we would be meeting with her policy team very soon."
But Clinton's visit was not just straight policy. She did not shy away from showing a more personal side with members than she has often done on the campaign trail. Comfortable with her audience during her first meeting with House Democrats, Clinton recounted a revelation she had about immigration and family. She said she had volunteered through a church to babysit the children of farm workers and was reminded of what unites everyone when she watched the children running toward their parents when they'd arrive home.
"She realized we are all alike," Rep. Maxine Waters of California recalled Clinton saying. "There is no difference between the children of farm hands and myself."
Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona said the story exemplifies how strong Clinton can be as a candidate.
"I think sometimes in these manufactured campaigns that we see these days, you don't get to see that very human side. It was good to see," he said.
During a meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Clinton described how her mother, growing up in the 1920s, would attend school with scant food, and how the teacher would share her personal food with Clinton's mother. It was an anecdote that Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina called "touching," and one that speaks to issues close to the Congressional Black Caucus: poverty and food insecurity.
And once again, Clinton was up to speed with what the Congressional Black Caucus was invested in. She highlighted the 10-20-30 plan, which recommends that at least 10 percent of certain federal funds go toward areas that have had a poverty rate of 20 percent for the last 30 years.
"She was very well-briefed on 10-20-30," Butterfield said. "We have a pledge from Mrs. Clinton that she, if elected president, will work untiringly to address the question of poverty."
Clinton may not be in the White House yet, but her command of Congress left many Democrats on Capitol Hill hoping she'll get there soon.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
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