WHEN: Today, Monday, March 7th
WHERE: CNBC.com's Speakeasy with John Harwood
Hillary Clinton — former First Lady, U.S. Senator from New York, Secretary of State — is the most experienced, credentialed candidate now running for president. But voter discontent makes 2016 an unusually poor year for political credentials. At a time when most Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction, Clinton seeks a third consecutive term for Democrats in the White House. Adding to her challenge are an ongoing FBI probe into her email practices, and questions about her ability to inspire enthusiasm even among fellow Democrats. Her primary rival Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist, has galvanized the support of young Democrats — even young women — despite the prospect that Clinton could become America's first female president. Just days before Michigan's March 8 primary, Clinton sat down with me at a manufacturing plant here where she announced a new proposal to crack down on companies shipping jobs overseas.
A partial transcript from Speakeasy with John Harwood featuring Hillary Clinton follows. All references must be sourced to CNBC.com:
JOHN HARWOOD: When I talk to people who are sympathetic with your point of view about, "What's your critique of Hillary Clinton's economic plan?" What they say is too cautious, doesn't really go for it. Given the extended stagnation, isn't this a time to flip over the table and be aggressive across a wide range of fronts, more aggressive than you've been?
HILLARY CLINTON: I think I've been really aggressive. And you know, on Super Tuesday more people voted for me than anybody else running on either side. And so somehow my message is communicating with people who are really thinking about what they want to vote for, what they want to see in their next president. You know, I do think that we've got to set some big goals. I want us to deploy half a billion more solar panels by the end of my first term and enough clean energy to power every home by the end of my second term. Those are big goals. And I think we can get there. And when we get there, we'll put a lot of people to work. I want to invest far more in infrastructure.
JOHN HARWOOD: But that gets to the point that I was raising. Larry Summers, who served your husband's administration, served President Obama, he has called for infrastructure investments twice as large as you've proposed and said when money is so cheap, it is a no-brainer for a government to borrow a lot more money and spend on infrastructure. Why not go as far as he's talked about?
HILLARY CLINTON: Well look, I've gone as far as I think the political, you know, equation will sustain. I agree.
JOHN HARWOOD: So that's not a substantive thing? That is a political calculation?
HILLARY CLINTON: No, it – well it has to be both. I want to propose things I can get done. I don't want to make promises I can't keep. Look, I was in favor of a much bigger stimulus package. I was in favor with quantitative easing of, you know, figuring out how to make some investments in infrastructure. What I'm proposing is on top of what the Congress finally got around to passing. Look how long it took them to pass the Highway Bill.
JOHN HARWOOD: Another example, Neel Kashkari, the president of the Minneapolis Fed, said, "You know what? We should break up the big banks." That's what Bernie Sanders has called for. If a statewide Republican candidate in California former Goldman Sachs thinks that's a good idea, why don't you?
HILLARY CLINTON: I haven't said that it wasn't a good idea. I'm on record, John, as saying that we now have the tools under Dodd-Frank, tools that did not exist prior to the passage –
JOHN HARWOOD: Are you proposing, like Sanders, to break up the big banks?
HILLARY CLINTON: I am proposing we follow the law. We have a process under Dodd-Frank. If any bank—
JOHN HARWOOD: You're talking about the wind down process?
HILLARY CLINTON: Yes. If any bank poses a systemic risk, it can be broken up. And I—
JOHN HARWOOD: But Sanders wants to do it preemptively.
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, but we have a law. You know what? We are a nation of laws. We have passed a law which sets forth a process. Now, you know, if you want to claim you can do it without following the law, that seems pretty radical to me. But what I have said is I would support breaking up any bank that posed a systemic risk to the economy. And we have a process now in place, thanks to Dodd-Frank, thanks to President Obama, we've got the tools. I say that all the time because, you know, my opponent acts like he's gonna create this. We passed a law, and the law gave us the tools. And if we meet the criteria, we should act. And I'm committed to acting.
JOHN HARWOOD: As you know, he campaigns on the idea of a political revolution. Is it your view that a political revolution is not necessary or not possible?
HILLARY CLINTON: Look, I'm going to let him run his campaign. I'm talking about what I stand for, what I want to do—
JOHN HARWOOD: But from your point of view.
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, but from my point of view I've laid out my plans and my policies. I've talked about the kind of bold proposals that I have put forward. I've laid out a lot of very specific plans. Because I want to be held accountable. You know, when you-- when you run for president, and we're seeing it-- very much in the other side-- people make all these claims. And it's hard for voters to really evaluate how do they decide is this person, you know, being smart? Are they just over promising? Are they way out in left field or right field? Who knows? That's why I've tried to say, "Look, here's what I will do. Here's how I will do it. Here's how much it will cost." I think that's pretty revolutionary because I want us to get back to having elections that are about agendas and asking voters not just to vote for a candidate, but to vote for an agenda. I think that will strengthen my hand in dealing with the Congress.
JOHN HARWOOD: Secretary Clinton, thanks so much.
HILLARY CLINTON: Thank you.
JOHN HARWOOD: Really great.
HILLARY CLINTON: Good to talk to you.
CLINTON ON LEADERSHIP
JOHN HARWOOD: Last question, and it's not about email, but it's about what led to email. A lot of people think that your guard's up after a very long time in public life. You say they've been coming at you forever, lot of scar tissue there. Is it possible that you've accumulated so much scar tissue, back and forth with political opponents that has you girding for it all the time that makes it difficult for you to lead effectively, interact effectively with people on the other side there's a mask up and you can't –
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, all I can tell you is that there's no evidence of that in my public career. As first lady, I worked with Republicans. We got the Children's Health Insurance Program passed. I worked with Tom DeLay to reform adoption and foster care. I got to the Senate. I worked with nearly all the Republicans. In the Secretary of State's Office I worked with Republicans. I had to round up the votes to pass the treaty to lower nuclear weapons with Russia. So you know, when I am working with people, they say a lot of nice things about me. In fact, we have a whole archive. Perhaps we'll see that during the general election.
JOHN HARWOOD: I suspect we will.
HILLARY CLINTON: I think you will. So no, I mean it's just when I'm running that they know I mean what I say, and I will do the best I can to achieve what I have proposed. And so look, you know, it's a contest, and they want to win it. I want to win it. So yeah, we're going to have—
JOHN HARWOOD: But you don't think your defensive instincts are going to inhibit you as a leader?
HILLARY CLINTON: No, no. No, not at all. Not at all. I mean, that's just not that's just not the evidence from, you know, my years working with Republicans. I've said I'll go anywhere to meet with anybody to find common ground, and I will.
CLINTON ON TRUMP
JOHN HARWOOD: Donald Trump has been, if anything, a completely unpredictable candidate. He said the other day, "Yeah, Hillary came at me. She accused me of sexism, and I came back hard and talked about her husband, and she's never going to do that again." Are you worried this campaign is going to get rhetorically out of control?
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, the Republicans already are, aren't they? You know, the rhetoric they've been using, the insults they engage in is, I think, distressing to a lot of voters. I'm not going to jump ahead to think about what I might do—
JOHN HARWOOD: Does it make you nervous, though?
HILLARY CLINTON: No. No, it doesn't make me nervous. I mean, look, one of the reasons why I feel very confident about the race that I'm running, and I hope to be so fortunate as to be the Democratic nominee and then to go run against whoever the Republicans nominate is – they've been after me for years. And nothing new about that to me.
JOHN HARWOOD: You've talked the other night about we need to make America whole.
HILLARY CLINTON: Right.
JOHN HARWOOD: When I step back and look at the way the two primary campaigns on each side have progressed, Donald Trump has been appealing to white voters. You are being salvaged in your campaign after a big push by Sanders by the support of non-white voters. Are you concerned that we are looking at a fall campaign that could be polarized by race in a way that we haven't seen in our politics before and that would make the idea of making the nation whole extremely difficult?
HILLARY CLINTON: No, I'm not. You know, I'm proud and grateful for everybody who supports me. If you analyze the returns from Super Tuesday, I won the white vote in the Super Tuesday states of people who voted in the Democratic primaries. And I'm very grateful because I do want to make America whole. I do want to unify the country. I do want us to work together to find common ground. And I will reach out to every voter. I don't expect to win them all, but I'm going to reach out to everybody, and I'm going to continue to tell people what I will do. Because I think the over promising, I think a lot of the claims that are being made in this campaign are not going to wear well. And so what I want to do is just be there day in and day out talking about what I will do as president, how what I will do will help Americans of every kind. I'm the only candidate with a plan for Coal Country. I'm focused on actually producing results, knocking down the barriers that stand in the way of people getting ahead. And I think that will be a very positive message in the general election.
CLINTON ON TAXES
JOHN HARWOOD: Let me ask you about your approach to top end taxation. Everybody wants to know how, where the top marginal rates are going to come out. You came out, I think, at 43% at your top rate. Sanders has gone higher, just over 50%. But you set that top rate at a very high level of income, I believe $5 million. Why so high? That – it looks like you set it so high so that you could – so that nobody would accuse you of raising taxes on anybody who could be thought of as middle class. But you could've done that at $3 million too.
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, but I've got several proposals. Number one, I'd like to apply the Buffett Rule on anybody at a million or more so that we avoid what Warren Buffett rightly points out as the anomaly and the unfairness of, you know, he paying a lower tax rate than his secretary. And then, I have a 4% surcharge on top of income at 5 million because I want to try to stop the gaming of the system. We're going after where we think the real money is. As we say, follow the money. And the tax system has been, in my view, not effective in capturing money from people who are very successful. And we need to do a better job.
JOHN HARWOOD: Fundamental tax reform is something that gets talked about a lot on the other side, but also by some on your side. Ben Cardin, your former colleague in the Senate's got a progressive consumption tax. A lot of economists think consumption taxes, if you could shift the basis of the American tax system that way, would encourage savings and investment and produce more growth over the long run. You don't seem to have given much thought to that idea, or maybe you thought about it and rejected it. Tell me what.
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, look, I think it's important that we have a really robust debate about corporate taxes and we also entertain good ideas that come from people, as long as they're on the progressive side of the ledger. Because I think our progressive tax system was one of the real accomplishments of the United States. There's been a concerted effort to try to undermine it, to dismiss it which I hear a lot from the Republican candidates. So I'm open to ideas as long as they are progressive ideas and as long as they are ones that will actually work in practice, not just on paper, and that we have a commitment to paying for whatever we invest in. And that's why I've been really careful in saying here's how I will pay for everything I've proposed.
JOHN HARWOOD: I believe the attitude of the Obama White House toward fundamental tax reform has been, "Sounds great. Nice idea. In our current political alignment it's just not happening, and therefore, it's not worth wasting a lot of time on." Is that also your view?
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, look, I hope we can win back the Senate. We have really great candidates running. If we have a Democratic Senate, then I think we have more leverage to have a sensible discussion about fundamental tax reform. There've been some Republicans who have worked with Democrats to come up with some plans over the last few years.
JOHN HARWOOD: Do you think you could work with Paul Ryan on fundamental tax reform?
HILLARY CLINTON: I would hope so. I would hope so. And look, I am open to working very hard on these key issues that we have to address as a nation, that being one of them. So I'm not going to give up on it before we've even tried to do it.
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