ATHENS, Ohio (CBSNewYork/AP) — Bill Clinton is trying to avoid muddling his message again as he campaigns for his wife in battleground Ohio a day after he described President Barack Obama’s signature health care law and the resulting insurance markets as “the craziest thing in the world.”
This time, Bill Clinton only briefly mentioned health care as he spoke for 45 minutes Tuesday at Ohio University. The former president lamented that too many Americans “can’t get affordable health insurance premiums in a lot of places” if they don’t work for large companies, and he said his wife offers solutions.
It was a far cry from his remarks Monday in Flint, Michigan.
“You’ve got this crazy system where all the sudden 25 million more people have health care and then the people are out there busting it, sometimes 60 hours a week, wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half,” Bill Clinton said then. “It’s the craziest thing in the world.”
The former president made no reference Tuesday to those earlier statements even as they continued to reverberate, prompting responses from the White House, his wife’s top aides and Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Angel Urena, a spokesman for Bill Clinton, said the former president’s comments were taken out of context.
“President Clinton spoke about the importance of the ACA and the good it has done to expand coverage for millions of Americans,” Urena told CBS News. “And while he was slightly short-handed, it’s clear to everyone, including President Obama, that improvements are needed.”
Campaigning in Arizona, Trump said, “President Bill Clinton came out and told the truth about Obamacare.” Trump added that Clinton “absolutely trashed” Obama’s signature legislative achievement. The GOP nominee also thanked the former president for being “honest.”
Trump also said Bill Clinton “went through hell last night.”
“Can you imagine what he went through after making that statement? He went through hell, but you know, honestly, there have been many nights where he’s gone through hell with Hillary in all fairness,” Trump said.
Separately on Tuesday, Bill Clinton also sidestepped reporters’ questions about Trump bringing up his marital infidelity.
“He’s been making those attacks from the beginning of this campaign, so I don’t think that’s anything new,” Clinton said in Marietta, Ohio.
Bill Clinton’s relationship with a White House intern was the subject of his 1998 impeachment. Bill Clinton did not respond to specific questions about Trump’s recent suggestion that Hillary Clinton also was not “loyal” to her husband.
Seemingly aware that he should avoid fanning the flames, Bill Clinton told reporters, “My job is very limited: I’m supposed to tell people why she’s the best choice to be president.”
The exchanges are the latest reminder that the 42nd president is both a tremendous asset and a wild card for his wife’s candidacy.
He draws enthusiastic crowds eager to a see a former president who is anything but a normal political spouse, but he’s also generated unwanted stories, including this summer when he approached Attorney General Loretta Lynch for a private meeting at an airport. The meeting was days before the FBI announced that it would not recommend any charges against Hillary Clinton related to her use of a private email server while she served as Obama’s secretary of state.
John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, tried to tamp down any controversy. “We need to fix the problems, and I think that’s what President Clinton was referring to,” Podesta said.
Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, told “CBS This Morning” the former president was talking about how the health care system used to work.
“Well, what he was referring to was the health care system both as it used to be and then sometimes what happens in some of these markets, you know, where basically the marketplace skews the cost,” Mook explained. “This is exactly why we’ve got to do something about premium increases.”
At the White House, Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said it was not “exactly clear what argument” Bill Clinton was making in Michigan. Earnest said Obama still has “strong confidence” in the law, and he cited subsidies that still allow “the vast majority” of shoppers in the individual policy market to find affordable coverage.
“President Obama has of course acknowledged that with cooperation from Democrats and Republicans in Congress, there are some things that could be done to further strengthen the law,” Earnest said, adding that “Secretary Clinton has vowed to pursue” the same course.
In his Ohio remarks, Bill Clinton told the mostly student crowd Tuesday that Hillary Clinton supports a so-called “public option,” a government insurance plan to compete alongside private plans marketed in Affordable Care Act exchanges.
The former president also deflected a heckler. As he began to speak, a man yelled at him for signing a 1994 crime law that included stiffer sentences for many federal crimes. Clinton told the man “Hillary didn’t vote for the crime bill,” but noted “Senator Sanders” did, referring to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.
Clinton’s overall remarks focused on why Hillary Clinton would be better for the economy than Trump. Bill Clinton said the GOP nominee plays on working class voters’ economic frustrations with lies and empty promises.
“Answers work better than anger,” he said. “Empowerment better than resentment. Bridges work better than walls.”
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