Hillary Clinton popped up in Washington, not far from her old stomping grounds at the State Department, to hand out awards to women leaders advancing global peace on Friday. She also had a message for the Trump administration, which is pushing for steep cuts in funding for American diplomacy and foreign aid programs around the world. It's another example of the former secretary of state and first lady re-entering the public conversation after largely hiding from view in the months following her devastating presidential election loss.
Warning of an “alarming” retreat on women’s rights, human rights and humanitarian causes, the Democrats’ 2016 presidential nominee argued that “turning our back on diplomacy won’t make our country safer. It will undermine our security and our standing in the world.”
Clinton continued: “I am pleading that our government will continue its leadership role on behalf of peace in the world, because the world must continue this work with or without U.S. involvement.”
The White House on March 16 released what it called a blueprint for the 2018 fiscal year budget, outlining how it would like to see government spending doled out. It envisions a $50 billion–plus bump in defense spending and billions of dollars more for border security, balanced out with unprecedented cuts to domestic programs and the State Department—including slashing U.S. contributions to multinational organizations like the United Nations. The full budget proposal, expected in May, is not binding, and members of Congress across the political spectrum immediately dismissed many of President Donald Trump’s most draconian proposals. What can't be dismissed is that the budget sends signals about where the president’s priorities lie—and it’s not with international development or humanitarian work.
Clinton’s priorities could not have been more different when she served as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. She first made a splash in international affairs even earlier, with her famous 1995 speech in Beijing declaring “women’s rights are human rights,” earning the then–first lady global headlines. And Clinton was quick to elevate the issue when she came to Foggy Bottom, even establishing a new high-ranking State Department position, ambassador-at-large for women’s issues. Her first appointee to that role, Melanne Verveer, now heads the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, which hosted the awards ceremony on Friday. Clinton is an honorary founding chair.
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Trump’s State Department, helmed by reclusive former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, has shown no signs it plans to continue that emphasis. And while the president has been eager to host photo ops with female leaders and to tout his plans to promote gender equality in the United States, he’s filled his Cabinet and top adviser posts almost entirely with men. Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, have pushed forward with efforts to block funding for women’s health services offered by abortion provider Planned Parenthood, to the chagrin of progressive women’s groups like EMILY’s List.
On Friday, Clinton's speech honoring women involved in forging Colombia’s 2016 peace agreement with FARC guerillas was laced with arguments for why the United States should remain at the forefront of women’s rights. It’s not just a moral issue, she said, “this is strategic and necessary for matters of peace prosperity and security.” And it shouldn’t be “a partisan issue,” she added.
Georgetown was friendly territory for Clinton, who received thunderous applause from an audience filled largely with college students. The two-time presidential candidate—and first woman ever nominated for president by a major U.S. party—has kept a mostly low profile since her stunning loss to Trump in November. But in a handful of recent public appearances, she’s begun to lay out a series of critiques of the current commander in chief and his embattled administration. Clinton never mentioned Trump by name, nor did she allude to her devastating 2016 defeat. But she did nod a few times to the partisan battle scars she picked up along the way.
As she began presenting the evidence for why promoting women’s rights is good foreign policy, Clinton noted that “studies show…,” and then paused for a beat. “Here I go again talking about research, evidence and facts,” she said with a laugh, and the crowd went wild before she continued with the research findings.
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