Hillary Clinton is ready to go to the White House. But the question looms: Is now the right time?
She checks her watch. “It’s 12:04? Oh, geez. I’m supposed to be there!” the former Secretary of State says with a note of mild panic. “I’m having lunch with the President, so I can’t keep him waiting.” With that, Clinton prepares to depart her stately house off Embassy Row to head to her former home of eight years. In her wake, bigger questions linger: Is it time for a second President Clinton? Is it time for the country’s first female Chief Executive? Is it time for Hillary?
After 16 months, it seems retirement from public office is already getting old. She and husband Bill, she says, “totally binge-watched” House of Cards. “I know that sounds kind of devoid of content,” she chuckles. And in honor of her late mother, a Dancing with the Stars fan, she caught up on that show too. She didn’t make time to read Monica Lewinsky’s recent essay (“I’ve moved on”). But she has organized her closets (“very calming”), done water aerobics and yoga (“not as much as I should”) and kept enough of a hand in Washington to justify hanging on to this elegant second home, which she bought when she transitioned from First Lady to U.S. senator in 2000. “I’m just too active and involved,” says Clinton, now 66.
More significantly, she recently finished writing Hard Choices, a memoir of her four years as the nation’s top diplomat. The book, which she wrote long-hand, is part foreign-relations tome, part political platform, and sprinkled with personal tidbits (like the time Obama pulled her out of a meeting under the guise of urgent business only to whisper, “You’ve got something in your teeth”). While an independent group of 2 million called Ready for Hillary plans to follow her book tour in a splashy 37-ft. RV registering voters, Clinton isn’t campaigning – yet. But when she sat down at home with PEOPLE’s Sandra Sobieraj Westfall on May 29, she was ready to discuss her own hard choices: Go for the White House again or work with the Clinton Foundation and get ready to be a grandparent – daughter Chelsea and husband Marc Mezvinsky are expecting a baby later this year. “Everything’s clicking and in balance for Hill right now,” says a friend since their Chicago childhood, Betsy Ebeling, adding that even her inner circle is torn over a Clinton run. “We’d hate to lose the funny, crazy friend we just got back.”
These past two years are the first since 1983 that you and your husband are both out of office. What’s that been like for your marriage?
Well, we spent a lot of time together over the years. We always have stories to tell, jokes to share. We started this conversation 40-plus years ago, and it just keeps going. Bill called me last night – he’s in London – and we talked nonstop for, like, 35 minutes.
Of course, you’re also working together at the Clinton Foundation.
Getting deeply involved in the work that Bill started and Chelsea joined him in was immensely rewarding. To start my own projects on women, early-childhood development and youth unemployment has been great. I love doing work that I think can break down barriers to people fulfilling their God-given potential.
What about your God-given potential?
[Laughs] I’m still waiting for the word.
Do you think about whether to run for President all the time?
No, I don’t. I know I have a decision to make. With the extra added joy of “I’m about to become a grandmother,” I want to live in the moment. At the same time I am concerned about what I see happening in the country and in the world. Through the next months, I will think more about what role I can or, in my mind, should play.
Do you feel any obligation to those who see you as the best hope for a female President? Is there pressure?
I wouldn’t describe it as pressure. I do feel it because it is often how people express their encouragement for me to take the plunge again. I am deeply touched by that because it’s so heartfelt. I think it reflects a desire on the part of a lot of Americans, not just women, that we have unfinished business. I’m certainly in the camp that says we need to break down that highest, hardest glass ceiling in American politics. To have a woman President is something I would love to see happen, but I’ll just have to make my own decision about what I think is right for me.
Is it something you talk with friends about, pray about?
I don’t think the most important questions are “Are you going to run?” and “Can you win?” I’m not having those conversations. The important questions are “What’s your vision for America?” and “Do you think you can lead our country there?”
Is it sexist to ask how becoming a grandmother affects your thinking?
It will affect my being, not just my thinking! I hope grandfathers feel the same way; I know my husband does. Having that next generation right there and thinking about everything you want to do both personally – but in our cases, publicly and professionally – to give that child the best chance in life, that is profoundly moving to me. So, of course, I’m going to be thinking about this child. How that affects what I am and what I do.
What kind of grandma will you be?
I want to be for my grandchild what my mother was for her grandchildren. She was emotionally supportive but also clear in setting expectations. Like, “I think you can do that.” And I want to babysit any chance I get!
What would your mother say about your getting back into politics?
That’s a really astute question. Because I would come home and I would be exhausted. The maternal worry machine: how tired I was; was I eating right? Questions one would expect from your mother, even though I was clearly a grown-up. She was very proud of me.
You didn’t get to finish out at State the way you hoped.
Well, we got close. When I fell and got a concussion in early December, I didn’t get to do everything I wanted to do. But I was determined to do as much as I could, and that included testifying before Congress [about Benghazi]. I was able to do that, which was the most important thing to me.
You didn’t write about the injury in the book. Any lingering effects?
No. I did have a concussion and some effects in the aftermath of it, mostly dizziness, double vision. Those all dissipated. Blood thinners are my continuing treatment for the blood clot. It was funny: At the Inauguration for President Obama’s second term, I was standing [with] Paul Ryan. I said, “Congressman, I read that you’re a great athlete. Have you ever had a concussion?” “Oh, yeah. Three at least.” I said, “Were they serious?” He said, “One was really serious. I’m so grateful to my mother, because she said, ‘You’re grounded. You’re going to rest until it goes away.’ And of course it did.” We haven’t, until recently, taken this seriously for athletes, soldiers, accident victims. People have basically been told to shake it off. I could’ve shaken it off. But at what cost? I rested and went back to work after the first of the year. I’m really conscious of how other people don’t get that care.
How is Bill’s health? He’s so thin and has a little tremor in his hand …
He’s had that tremor for years – it’s nothing serious, just some sort of nerve pinch. People say that he’s too thin. He doesn’t think so, and he has an enormous amount of energy.
Did you read Monica Lewinsky’s essay about her life after the scandal?
No. I dealt with all of that in my book Living History. That was a long time ago. I certainly have moved on.
Do you regret at all, now, calling her a “narcissistic loony toon”?
I’m not going to comment on what did or didn’t happen. I think everybody needs to look to the future.
Your hair comes up a lot in the book. Do you have a hair strategy for 2016?
[Laughs] Hair strategies are essential to everything in life, we know that. I’m at an age where I can pretty much do what I want: Here I am, whether you like my hair or not.
Do you feel you’re held to a different standard because you’re a woman?
There’s a double standard. In some places, it results in oppression and abuse of women. In others, it’s less visible but erodes confidence among, particularly, young women because they’re judged by their appearance or demeanor with standards that are very gender-linked as opposed to individually assessed. But I don’t feel the sexism anymore, I observe it. I don’t worry about it for me.