Bill Clinton, not Hillary, is the star at the Clinton Global Initiative

Former President Bill Clinton says his Clinton Global Initiative forum is his life now.

Story highlights

  • Bill Clinton is the focus of the Clinton family at CGI, not necessarily elsewhere
  • Former president will keep foundation even if Hillary Clinton campaigns for White House
  • "This is my life now, this foundation," Bill Clinton told CNN
Bill Clinton is not possibly planning a presidential run, as his wife may be doing, and he's not about to have a baby, as his daughter is, but for the last three days in New York City, the former president has been the focal point of the Clinton orbit.
While the Clinton Global Initiative features the labors of all three Clintons, the 2014 conference -- which came at a time when the former president is somewhat the third string of his own family -- made clear that Bill Clinton is still the charity's chief campaigner and star attraction, and he's not about to let his "baby" go.
The former president's closing remarks -- which had Hillary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton and an audience full of celebrities, thought leaders and big-money donors wrapped around his finger -- made this clear.
The president-turned-philanthropist-in-chief detailed to a rapt audience Wednesday night why his 10-year old endeavor continues to matter.
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Quoting the late Nelson Mandela -- whose widow, Graca Machel, sat in the front row -- Clinton said, "I realized they could take everything from me, except my mind and my heart, those things I would have to give away."
"Much has been taken from her," he added, looking at Machel. "So why is she up here still giving?"
Answering his own question, the former president worked to the crescendo of his speech: "Because like Nelson Mandela, it is what she chose to do with her mind and with her heart. ... If somebody ever asks you why you came here, whether it was worth the time, tell them that is why you did. In the end, that is why the things we believe in will prevail."
At that, the crowd jumped to its feet, and Clinton greeted his smiling wife at the base of the stage before shaking hands with anyone and everyone he could. The spotlight was bright and Bill Clinton was relishing it.
The CGI -- an initiative of the larger Clinton Foundation -- was founded in 2005 to bring together world leaders to discuss and implement solutions to the world's problems, Clinton said at the time. The product has changed over the years, weathered some controversy and made substantial changes, but one thing has remained constant: Bill Clinton's role in pushing the program.
When Clinton's wife ran for president and became secretary of state in 2008 and 2009, the focus on the Clinton Foundation increased. In an agreement with the Obama transition team, the foundation agreed to not hold its flagship CGI event overseas and disclose more of its donors in an effort to deflect possible conflict-of-interest charges.
With Hillary Clinton thinking about another run at the presidency, there are questions about what this means for CGI.
Although multiple Clinton Foundation aides say there have been no meetings to plan for a possible Clinton bid, there is a quiet acknowledgment that a Hillary 2016 run would force the organization to change.
One thing that every foundation aide made clear, though, was that Bill Clinton does not want to give up the CGI.
The former president said as much in interviews before the annual meeting.
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"This is my life now, this foundation," Clinton told CNN before the conference. "And I have poured my heart into it for 14 years... It's my life now."
"I would bend over backwards to do whatever was necessary," Clinton told the Atlantic about what he would do to keep CGI if his wife ran for president.
And that's for good reason: Bill Clinton is the star of CGI.
It was he who introduced President Barack Obama when he spoke on Tuesday. It was he who opened and closed the event. And, yes, it was he who gave a short speech at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday night, long after the Ashley Judds, Carlos Slims and Tina Browns of the world had left for swankier digs.
Bill Clinton likes to joke that when Hillary Clinton joined the Clinton Foundation and Chelsea Clinton was named vice chair of the board in 2013, he did it because he wanted them to "join the family business."
"I wanted them to do more of the heavy lifting," he said with a laugh at the forum's opening. "You know, I am not a young guy anymore."
The line, though, was a joke. Bill Clinton, no matter how old, is all in on CGI.