STEUBENVILLE, Ohio – Bill Clinton tried to avoid muddling his message again as he campaigned for his wife in battleground Ohio a day after he described President Barack Obama’s health care law and the resulting insurance markets as “the craziest thing in the world.”
This time, Bill Clinton only briefly mentioned health care in multiple appearances Tuesday in eastern Ohio, clearly stating his support for the law and arguing that more still must be done to expand access to insurance.
It was a far cry from the former president’s Monday remarks that continued to reverberate, prompting responses from Hillary Clinton, the White House and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“You’ve got this crazy system where all the sudden 25 million more people have health care,” Bill Clinton said in Flint, Michigan, “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. It’s the craziest thing in the world.”
In Ohio on Tuesday, the former president didn’t mention his earlier riff but tacitly clarified himself. “I supported the Affordable Care Act,” he said at a Steubenville rally, while adding that continued gaps in coverage “must be fixed.”
He noted Hillary Clinton’s support for a public option” insurance plan to compete with policies from for-profit insurers, while allowing extending Medicare eligibility to anyone 55 or older.
For her part, Hillary Clinton told reporters Tuesday she’d “fix what’s broken, keep what works,” and she noted Republicans who control Congress want to repeal the law altogether — a political reality that has made it impossible for Obama himself to attempt changes in the law that he signed in 2010, since any alterations require willing partners on Capitol Hill.
Nonethless, Trump pounced. “President Bill Clinton came out and told the truth about Obamacare,” he said in Arizona, adding that Clinton “absolutely trashed” Obama’s signature legislative achievement. He thanked Bill Clinton for being “honest.”
Separately on Tuesday, the former president 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. He did not respond to specific questions about Trump’s recent suggestion that Hillary Clinton also was not “loyal” in her marriage.
“My job is very limited: I’m supposed to tell people why she’s the best choice to be president,” Bill Clinton said, seemingly aware he should avoid fanning the flames. Later, he joked in Steubenville, Ohio, “You need your Miranda warnings every time you open your mouth, because anything you say can be held against you.”
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 conversation occurred 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.
Bill Clinton’s aides worked to tamp down the latest flap, casting him as enthusiastically supportive of the health-care law but eager to address lingering gaps in the insurance markets.
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 co-operation 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.
The former president’s overall pitch Tuesday 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. Trump, he said, impossibly pledges to recreate a bygone manufacturing-and-coal economy, while Hillary Clinton wants new investments in infrastructure, technology and new energy sources.
“Answers work better than anger,” Bill Clinton said. “Empowerment better than resentment. Bridges work better than walls.”
Associated Press reporters Nancy Benac at the White House, Catherine Lucey in Washington, and Jonathan Lemire in Prescott Valley, Arizona, contributed to this report.
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