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October 21, 2014

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Hillary Clinton says she understands ‘hard life’

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Bebeto Matthews / AP

HiIlary Rodham Clinton listens before signing a copy of her new book for a wheelchair-bound woman Tuesday, June 10, 2014, at Barnes & Noble in New York.

WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that she and former President Bill Clinton "fully appreciate how hard life is for so many Americans," seeking to refine remarks she made about the pair being "dead broke" when they left the White House.

The remarks came amid a series of interviews and Clinton's book tour throughout which the former secretary of state has dropped hints that she's seriously considering running for president in 2016. She said Republican inquiries over the 2012 attack on Americans in Benghazi gave her "more of a reason" to run. In an interview Monday with ABC News, Clinton said she and husband Bill were "dead broke" at the end of his presidency, with legal bills that dwarfed their income. Republicans pounced, calling her out-of-touch with average Americans who struggle with personal finances.

Clinton's tour for "Hard Choices" began Tuesday morning in the friendliest possible setting: A sold out autographing event at a Barnes & Noble in Manhattan's Union Square. Around 1,000 people, some of whom slept on the sidewalk the night before, lined up for an autograph and the chance to shake her hand and say hello. The crowd was a politician's dream of young and old, male and female, white and nonwhite. Many wore "Ready for Hillary" buttons or stickers and counted down the hours, then the minutes, until she arrived and briefly told the crowd about her book.

"It's written for anybody who wants to think about, and learn about, what is happening in the world today — why America matters, and why the world matters to America," she said. "And we have a lot of hard choices ahead of us in our country to make it as brave and as strong as it should be."

Earlier, she told ABC's "Good Morning America" that she and her husband left the White House roughly $12 million in debt at the end of his second term in early 2001. But she also acknowledged that "we've continued to be blessed in the last 14 years."

She said the couple have "gone through some of the same challenges that many people have" and that they "understand what that struggle is."

In response to a question, Clinton told anchor Robin Roberts she wants "to use the talent and resources that I have to make sure" others have the same opportunities.

Clinton's Senate financial disclosure forms, filed for 2000, show assets between $781,000 and almost $1.8 million. The forms allow senators to report assets in broad ranges. The same form, however, showed that the Clintons owed between $2.3 million and $10.6 million in legal bills to four firms for work performed on investigations into the couple's financial dealings during Bill Clinton's two presidential terms.

"I think she's been out of touch with average people for a long time," said Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, pointing to Clinton's estimated $200,000-per-speech speaking fees and million-dollar book advances. "Whether she was flat broke or not is not the issue. It's tone deaf to average people."

Clinton's remarks about helping people to find greater economic opportunities marked the second time in as many days that she suggested an interest in making a second run for the presidency in 2016.

Clinton had said in an earlier interview with ABC News that Republican inquiries into her handling of the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, gave her more of an incentive to run. While she said she's still undecided about her political future, Clinton cited the Benghazi probe as an example of a dysfunctional Congress.

"It's more of a reason to run, because I do not believe our great country should be playing minor league ball. We ought to be in the majors," Clinton said emphatically, leaning forward in her chair during her interview aired Monday with ABC's Diane Sawyer. "I view this as really apart from, even a diversion from, the hard work that the Congress should be doing about the problems facing our country and the world."

On Benghazi, Clinton said Tuesday she believed "there were some systemic problems within the State Department. And if we had known that earlier, perhaps we could have done some changes."

But she also said, "You can't always sit in an office in Washington and say this and that will happen."

Clinton said she has no lingering health issues from a concussion she suffered last year. And she also said "no" when asked if she would have to distance herself from some of President Barack Obama's foreign policy decisions if she runs for the White House. Clinton said she made clear in the book there were areas where she and Obama disagreed. In a campaign scenario, she said, "I will be clear" where she disagrees with Obama.

In another interview, Clinton revealed that shortly after Sarah Palin was nominated as the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate, the Obama campaign proposed that Clinton go on the attack against her. Clinton said she refused.

"The Obama campaign did contact me and asked me if I would attack her," Clinton told NBC in an interview that aired on the "Today" show Tuesday. "I said, 'Attack her for what, for being a woman? Attack her for being on a ticket that's ... trying to draw attention?'"

Clinton said she told the campaign, "There'll be plenty of time to do what I think you should do in politics, which is draw distinctions."

On Monday, Palin tweeted a page from Clinton's new book that contained Clinton's description of the episode. In it, Clinton says that the Obama campaign suspected Palin's nomination "was a blatant attempt to scuttle their hope of welcoming the women who had vigorously supported me" in Clinton's own unsuccessful presidential campaign.

"They immediately issued a dismissive statement and reached out to me in hopes I would follow suit," Clinton writes. "But I wouldn't. I was not going to attack Palin just for being a woman appealing for support from other women. I didn't think that made political sense and it didn't feel right. So I said no, telling them there'd be plenty of time for criticism. A few hours later the Obama campaign reversed itself and congratulated Governor Palin."

That page prompted Palin, the former Alaska governor, on Monday to tweet: "Look who fired the 1st shot in the real "war on women". Hint: it wasn't the GOP. See this excerpt from Hillary's book."

Associated Press writer Hillel Italie in New York contributed to this report.

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