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Hillary Clinton To Address Economic Issues In Campaign Speech


Hillary Clinton is holding her first big campaign rally tomorrow in New York City. She's expected to give an unusually personal speech about her upbringing and how it forged her commitment to helping others. Then, in the days ahead, Clinton is expected to begin filling in the blanks, laying out positions on a broad range of economic policy questions. NPR's Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hillary Clinton's campaign for president is about to enter a new phase. In the past few months, we've learned her positions on immigration, campaign finance reform, voting rights and gay marriage. But we don't know yet what she wants to do about the number one economic issue of the 2016 campaign, stagnating middle class incomes.

NEERA TANDEN: I'm waiting to hear her address the big challenges the country's facing.

LIASSON: That's Neera Tanden, an informal adviser to Clinton and the president of the Center for American Progress.

TANDEN: Paramount is how we're going to have an economy that grows for everyone, that's inclusive, which middle-class families and people striving to get into the middle class can get ahead as the economy grows.

LIASSON: Clinton does talk about this a lot on the campaign trail but so far, only in broad strokes. She says she wants everyone to have the same chances she had, but...


PRES CAND HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Here in Washington, we know that unfortunately, the deck is still being stacked for those at the top.

LIASSON: She says that her job is to take the deck and, quote, "reshuffle the cards." But what does that mean? Would she address economic inequality the way Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders proposed, by breaking up the big banks or increasing Social Security benefits? Right now, says former Clinton White House aide Bill Galston, it's really not clear.

BILL GALSTON: Secretary Clinton has very deliberately appropriated progressive, populist phrases from the Warren wing of the Democratic Party. That leaves entirely unanswered the question of what the full economic narrative will be when she spells it out.

LIASSON: She'll start spelling it all out tomorrow in her big kickoff speech. Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta says that's when Clinton will talk about the conditions of the economy and...

JOHN PODESTA: Why people haven't seen their wages rise, even as we've seen private-sector job growth come back in this country, and want she wants to do to make sure that people get ahead and stay ahead. She'll lay out a template for that. And then through the course of the summer and into the fall, she'll get specific about what policies she thinks that she can achieve that will help people succeed in life.

LIASSON: In those summer and fall speeches, Clinton will lay out her plans for college affordability, early childhood education, Wall Street reform and paid family leave. At some point, she will say exactly how high she wants the minimum wage to be and how she'd finance big investments in infrastructure. And her aides say she'll also eventually explain how she plans to solve one part of the income inequality puzzle, that even when profits and productivity go up, wages do not follow.


CLINTON: The hard work, the productivity that you contribute to the profitability and success of the businesses that you work for, should be reflected in those paychecks so that people feel that the work ethic is really paying off for them.

LIASSON: Exactly how Clinton proposes to get productivity and wage growth back in sync will depend on why she thinks the middle class is struggling. There's a big debate about this going on inside the Democratic Party. The Elizabeth Warren wing thinks the middle class is suffering because the top 1 percent grab more than their share. On the other side are Democrats who believe the deck is not just stacked; it's been transformed by the big forces of global competition and technology. According to Podesta, Clinton doesn't believe those dueling narratives are mutually exclusive. And, he says, she will make that very clear.

PODESTA: By the time that people are going to the polls and voting, people will know exactly what she wants to do - and I think offer a vision that will be appealing to a broad section of Americans.

LIASSON: Many of her supporters say the sooner she lays out that vision, the better. Her unfavorable ratings have been growing, and majorities of voters tell pollsters that she is not honest and trustworthy. Neera Tanden thinks the best way to address this political problem is with a robust policy agenda. And it has the added benefit of playing to Clinton's authentic political strengths. As Tanden points out, Clinton is first and foremost a workhorse and a policy wonk.

TANDEN: That has always been an asset for her. And a campaign in which you are continually discussing the way you want to solve people's problems is another way to communicate how you are on their side and care about their concerns.

LIASSON: So the question the Clinton campaign would like to ask is not whether she is honest and trustworthy, but whether voters can trust her to fight for them and their families. Mara Liasson, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.
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