The former president on immigration....his international work...but NOT on the future of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.)
CNN’s Larry King Live
Interview with Former President Bill Clinton
Friday, March 31, 2006
LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, former President Bill Clinton on his global
initiative raising billions to try and solve the world's problems. Plus his
take on Iraq, the immigration debate and more. One-on-one with former
President Clinton is next on LARRY KING LIVE.
It's always a great pleasure to welcome to LARRY KING LIVE the former president
of the United States, the 42nd President Bill Clinton. He was last on this
program six months ago when his global initiative began gathering experts from
everywhere to do a lot. How's that going?
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's going great, Larry. We had a meeting today in New York to see how we were at the six month period. Virtually everybody is keeping their commitments. We've already had a
phenomenal amount of positive activity in all kinds of ways, new businesses
being started in developing countries, a lot of very interesting religious
reconciliation work, including an Israeli-Palestinian basketball tournament on
the West Bank. And then a lot of serious work in the health care area, so I'm
encouraged by what's being done.
KING: How did you get this disparate group together?
CLINTON: Well we -- we invited them last year at the opening of the U.N. My
whole idea was if we could get the political leaders, the business leaders, the
philanthropists and then the leaders of non-governmental groups, the civic
groups both in the developing world and in the wealthy country, if we got them
all together they'd come up with a bunch of things we never thought of to solve
problems and save lives. So that's what's happening.
There have been some amazing things. One doctor organized taking surplus
medical equipment and supplies in America and distributing them all over the
world in poor countries and it's amazing what has been done.
There have been a lot of important environmental things that have happened.
I've been stunned by it. But I just thought well if I got all these people
together they'd figure out what they could do to solve a lot of problems.
KING: I hear about three female philanthropists called -- they got Vital
Voices, Global Partnership.
KING: Got $170,000 to help women in the Middle East.
CLINTON: Yes. I think that's important. Vital Voices was a group that
Hillary helped to establish that sprang up in Northern Ireland where Protestant
and Catholic women work together on peace and on development.
And then they worked a lot in Africa. When I was president, Hillary went over
there and met with women of different tribes and there were relatively few at
that time male supporters and they worked on issues like getting girls in
school, ending female genital mutilation.
So now they want to go to the Middle East and there's no question in my mind
based on what I've seen them do elsewhere that if we can find the funding for
this, Vital Voices will make a big difference in minimizing the religious and
KING: What's the modus operandi, like how often do you meet? Where's the
headquarters? What's the set up?
CLINTON: Well, the set up is we try to get everybody to work first of all one-
on-one with each other. We try to make -- put people in touch with each
other. Then we have a website, Clinton -- excuse me,
clintonglobalinitiative.org, that everybody can communicate with each other on
and find out what the status of these projects are.
Then I have a commitments staff for the Clinton Global Initiative, that is
people that work full time on helping people even if they just need information
but they're fully funded or, in the few cases where we need funding, like in
this Vital Voices project where we still need to find some money to do it all
the way, we help them to find funding if we can.
So, we just -- we've got a staff that works on that. We've got a website that
people can log onto and then figure out how they can participate in. And then
we have these meetings like this one today, our six month update. But it's
amazing. We raised $2.5 billion with over 300 commitments involving hundreds
of people who came there and now more and more people who didn't come.
And today we had a new commitment, our first one of 2006, from a group
associated with Citigroup to help promote economic education and financing of
new business ventures around the world. So, it's really exciting.
KING: How do you think you got the conservatives and liberals, Democrats and
Republicans to come together under this flag?
CLINTON: Well I think they agreed with the objectives that we had to do
something about global poverty and it had to involve more than just increasing
aid. We had to teach people how to work themselves out of poverty and to lift
the fortunes of countries that we had to do something about climate change in a
way that generated jobs and opportunity.
We had to do something about the global health crisis. And we had to deal with
the religious differences. And, a lot of people know that government is
essential to this but never will be enough, so we got a lot of people together.
And, I talked to a lot of the Republicans that I invited and said, "Look, you
know, I'm not going to give a big speech here. Neither is anybody else. I
just want to know whether we can agree on doing something."
I've reached the age now, you know, and I'm not running for anything where
speeches are far less important to me than action. I'm just trying to get
people together to agree on a course of action and I think that was appealing
to a lot of Republicans and Democrats, a lot of liberals and conservatives who
don't like the shouting matches and are yearning to be called to do something
KING: Was this your idea?
CLINTON: It was. Well, it was. The idea of having a meeting that brought
everybody together for action was my idea. Actually a young man who worked for
me once suggested that we use the opening of the U.N. to bring people together
the way Davos did and he got me to thinking about it.
And I said, "Well, if I did this, I wouldn't want to do it just to make money
for the foundation. I would want to do it to galvanize people into action."
So, because I've been to a zillion of these meetings over the last 30 years and
the thing I liked, for example, when I was a governor about going to the
governor's conferences that we actually came up with ideas which we could then
go home and act on. So, I thought, OK, if we're going to do this that's what I
want to do here.
KING: The gathering last year drew 800 people at about $15,000 a person. What
do you expect at today's?
CLINTON: Well, if the people who have ordered before they've been invited
ordered seats we're going to have a hard time containing them. I don't know
what to do. Some people who came last year won't come back because they didn't
make commitments and they know they won't be invited.
But of the 800 who came, I suppose most of them were eligible to make
commitments; that is, we didn't ask the president of a country to make a
commitment because that job is a commitment in itself.
But I think that most of the people who came last year will seek to come again
and I know that there's a big increase. So, we can take a few more people but
I don't want to take so many that people lose the sense of intimacy they had
Last time, you know, everybody was sitting around tables actually talking to
each other. Nobody gave a speech last time except the secretary-general gave
about a five minute speech. Everybody else was on a panel, in a conversation
sitting around a table. This was not about speechifying. It was about
searching for understanding and solutions and then picking one that you were
going to push.
KING: Would you say that thus far it's met your expectations?
CLINTON: Oh, yes. If you had told me when we started that in the first
meeting we'd get $2.5 billion worth of commitments from 300 different sources
encompassing about 500 of our delegates, I would not have believed it.
I had no earthly idea but it was like this huge penned up demand. People said
OK instead of giving speeches, they're asking me to learn something and do
something so -- and that will be interesting to see whether we can do that well
again this year.
We'll just have to rear back and see because a lot of these commitments, this
$2.5 billion, it wasn't like people wrote a check right away. Some of these
are multi-year commitments, so I'm going to be very interested to see what the
second year's commitments look like.
KING: A few more on this in a little while. I want to touch some other
In 1996, you signed a border crackdown bill. Now there are meetings in
Cancun. What's your read on this whole immigration debate?
CLINTON: That first of all it's an exceedingly complicated question,
particularly as it relates to our border along the Rio Grande River. Keep in
mind that Mexico and the U.S. have a very long border. Only the Canadian
border is a longer unguarded border of any countries anywhere in the world.
So, we have to guard our border there because we have narcotics problems as
well as illegal immigration problems. On the other hand, our country has been
immensely enriched by immigrants coming up from Mexico.
And, the real trick now it seems to me is how do you recognize some harsh
realities? Number one, as long as America has a higher standard of living than
our near neighbors the ones from poor countries who are enterprising and
hardworking will try to find a way to get in.
Number two, the overwhelming majority of these people are good, decent, law
abiding people who would never become terrorist threats. Number three, the
same border does give people an opportunity to disguise themselves if they're
terrorists and also to run drugs across, which does happen.
CLINTON: So the real dilemma is here how can we avoid being foolishly
xenophobic trying to be cruel to hardworking people who are paying taxes and
doing jobs other people wouldn't do in America, giving them a reasonable path
to citizenship without punishing people who wait in line and obey the law and
still trying to make sure that through technology and other means we do a
better job to protect our borders from potential terrorists, from narcotics and
other things that are real trouble.
I mean it's a -- in other words, it's complicated but I know that the bill
that's making its way through the Senate seems to me to be closer to what I
think should be done. I have no problem in the world having more border patrol
guards and stiffer border enforcement for security reasons.
But I don't think it is practical or wise for us to try to denigrate or
demonize a lot of the undocumented immigrants who came here and are working
hard paying taxes and making a contribution and sending the money back home to
KING: So, are you saying you generally support President Bush?
CLINTON: I think the president has a good idea in terms of wanting to give
people a path to citizenship and have increased border enforcement. That's
also the idea behind the bill sponsored by Senator McCain and Senator Kennedy
in the Senate. I think the House provisions have by and large been too
Now, the one thing I would say and the Senators have emphasized I don't think
this guest worker program that the president supports should be totally
unlimited, either in -- in other words, I think if there's just no limit on it
then it's going to be very difficult for us to enforce the existing labor
laws. That's the other thing I would say.
For people who are worried about whether this affects their jobs and their
incomes, I think the president and perhaps the Congress ought to offer as a
provision of this a more vigorous enforcement of the existing labor laws of
America on minimum wage, minimum hours, working conditions and things like that
because that would tend to minimize the number of people who would be brought
in to abuse the existing system.
But I don't feel that immigration is a threat to America's future. I think
it's key to America's future. I do think that when people wait in line then
they ought to be able to become citizens more quickly than people who come here
even if they've been undocumented for a long time and worked hard. So, I think
the Senate bill and where the president is, I think they're trying to get to
the right place.
KING: We'll spend a few more moments with President Bill Clinton right after
KING: We're back on the six month anniversary of the Clinton Global Initiative
which has been a roaring success and they're having another big meeting today
and have had one in New York.
We're talking with the former president. A couple of other items and a couple
of items on the global initiative and get him on with his very busy day. Is it
a civil war in Iraq?
CLINTON: Oh, I don't know that you can call it that yet because they're all
still I think somewhat jockeying for position. What I hope will happen is that
all those people who voted in huge numbers, they voted they thought to
constitute a government which would function, hold the country together, be
able to keep peace and guarantee each of their groups a reasonable share of the
country's oil and other wealth.
That's what I still hope can happen and if it doesn't happen in addition to
civil war you may have the Sunni section becoming a launching pad for terrorism
in the region. That did occur with the al Qaeda Jordan group, Mr. Zarqawi's
group when they blew up those hotels in Jordan recently.
So, I hope it's not a civil war. I don't think we're there yet but I think the
real question is whether the political process which has been pretty drawn out
since that election, remember they had a huge turnout in the election of all
the groups. They all voted wanting to influence a civil government.
So, I still think the vast majority of people would prefer non-violence, don't
want a civil war but I think that there's not a great deal of time to put this
kind of government together.
And, as long as they've got a coherent effort, if they're working together,
then the United States can help them. We can draw down our troop presence,
reconstitute it, put in safer areas and give them a few more months to try to
make this work.
I worry if the whole thing is just allowed to disintegrate. Then we could have
it not only terrible for the Iraqis but also being a base of terrorist
operations, something which it was not before the invasion. So, I'm not giving
up yet but it's not pleasant. It's tough.
KING: Do you see an end game? Do you see an end game?
CLINTON: I do. I think if they can get a government that's genuinely
representative and has enough authority and moral authority to hold the country
together, then my view is that we should start turning over more of the
security functions to the thousands and thousands of people that have been
trained who actually are capable of doing a lot of that work.
We should leave behind in more secure areas perhaps a smaller number of people
who have Special Forces capability, language capability, intelligence
capability, and then try to work out way down from there as they're able to
hold the country together and protect themselves against terror and other
I think we can do that but first we've got to get a government that has enough
support from all these leaders that are part of these insurgencies to stop that
level of violence and that's why I hope we can get a government that can
function at that level soon. I think that's been the big problem for the last
KING: After the Dubai controversy over the protection of the ports, one New
York newspaper reported that you have to clear public pronouncements with your
wife based on upcoming campaigns, any truth to that?
CLINTON: No. No but, you know, I try never to do anything that causes her any
problems. In this case, a lot of the press reports, initial press reports were
false. I did not know about the legislation she'd introduced, although I have
no problem with it, I support it, because I was in an airplane flying from
Pakistan to India when she introduce it.
I did talk to the Dubai ports people but I didn't know that company existed
until they -- until this whole thing happened. I advised them to offer
measures to increase port security if they really wanted to pursue this avenue.
But I think the main thing I think has been lost here is that Americans need to
improve port security and that most of us who did not favor this deal are not
opposed to either Dubai or to foreign investment in America.
I think Dubai has been a great partner for the United States in the war against
terror. I think it represents a new Middle East that I hope will spread like
wildfire across the region and I'm quite comfortable with having them be
heavily invested in the United States.
I opposed this deal because I don't think we should do anything to compromise
or raise questions even about the security of our ports until we dramatically
improve it but that doesn't mean that I think that we're into this period where
we won't have any foreign investment and don't need it and don't need friends
in the Middle East.
I think we do and I think the people in Dubai, the Dubai people are quite
sophisticated and they will understand that the opposition in America had much
more to do with our own failure to provide port security and take care of our
own business than being generally opposed to them or to foreign investment.
KING: More to come with President Clinton. Stay right there.
KING: A couple of other things. I know I'll see you next week here in L.A.
How's your health?
CLINTON: As far as I know it's fine. You know I've been to 12 or 13 countries
this year already so I'm kicking along and the spring allergies are coming but
I don't see any recurrence of any of the heart problems and my doctors say I'm
KING: Do you want to be commissioner of the NFL?
CLINTON: No. It would be fun. I'm a big football fan and I have a very high
regard for a couple of the owners that I've known for many years. But I don't
think I could pursue my mission.
You know my mission is to do what I'm doing. I should be out here solving
problems, saving lives, helping people see the future. There are any number of
people who could be magnificent commissioners in the NFL. It's an honor to be
considered and like I said I love football and I like a lot of the players and
the owners I know but it's not something I should do.
KING: Two other things. What do you think of the steroid investigation in
CLINTON: Well I have mixed feelings about it. First of all, keep in mind that
as I understand it Major League Baseball did not adopt a clear, unequivocal ban
on steroid use with consequences, like the Olympics has had for years until
CLINTON: So, I think that for years people acted like the baseball players
should not do this as long as we were looking down our nose at them but not
doing anything. Well, my experience is in politics and everything else if
you're in a great contest with high stakes, people will do what it takes to win
within the framework of the rules.
So, I think a distinction needs to be made about steroid use before Major
League Baseball clearly and unequivocally ban it with consequences and
afterward. Secondly, I think the timing looks a little funny that we're doing
it after some fellow published a book. I don't know that we know a thing more
or less than we did before that book was published.
And so, I think that we ought to be a little -- it's clear now that there is an
overwhelming, perhaps unanimous consensus among the owners and the players and
the representatives and the media that steroid use is not only bad for the
players it's bad for the game and it's wrong and it should be banned and there
should be consequences for violating the ban.
CLINTON: But I think we have to be careful looking back before that was the
rule and even before that was the consensus and, you know, for me I trust
George Mitchell. He's a good man. He's a smart man. He'll be fair. He'll
try to find out what happened.
But when the rest of us decide what we think should be done about whatever is
found we need to remember that baseball itself was highly ambivalent about
doing anything about this, facing the truth and having strict rules for years
and years and years.
So now we have the rules. Let's go forward and enforce them. But I think, you
know, looking back and looking down on people who -- and trying to claim that,
you know, things that happened five, ten years ago in their careers weren't
real because they did this, I think that's a little hypocritical. Where were
we then and why didn't we ban it then if that's the way we feel?
KING: We got to let you go. Quickly, who's going to win the NCAA?
CLINTON: I can't tell. I've watched as many games as I could and if I could
tell I would but, you know, I've been a little -- I was amazed by George Mason
but they're better than everybody thought they were. And, I'm impressed that
LSU, a team that beat my little Arkansas team only narrowly twice, has used its
size to such dominance and I didn't think UCLA could get that far.
So, you know, they're all just doing really, really well and it's going to be
interesting to see. All four of those teams could win and that makes it good.
I like it. I don't have a single -- in my office pool none of my teams
survived to the final four, so I get to watch it and appreciate the basketball.
KING: Thank you, Mr. President, continued good luck with the global initiative
CLINTON: Thank you, Larry.
KING: We'll see you next week.
CLINTON: Bye bye.
KING: Former President Bill Clinton.
We'll be back with more of LARRY KING LIVE right after this.