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Tough Choices: Hillary's Town Hall
03:19 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

After nearly three decades in public eye, there's much still to be known about Hillary Clinton

Clinton takes questions Tuesday in a CNN Town Hall in Washington

After four years as secretary of state, there are many questions on foreign policy hot spots

Washington CNN  — 

Hillary Clinton did at CNN’s town hall meeting on Tuesday what most politicians do: She staked out a position on some issues, catered to her base in others and avoided some questions altogether.

There were comments during her hour-long interview with CNN International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour and a studio audience at the Newseum as well as Tumblr that are sure to make the base happy.

Those included how far Clinton went to attack pro-gun activists and her states-rights approach to marijuana, which was a departure from her earlier position.

Between the answers and dodges, though, Clinton sounded, acted and presented herself very much like a candidate, not solely as a former secretary of state.

She was careful, at times, about not going too far on an issue and when asked about forward looking policy questions, she regularly used the word “we.”

Clinton also entertained questions about 2016.

She said she’s “not going to be rushed to” decide on whether to run for president and that she was not moving any closer to making a decision.

Here are six key moments where citizen Clinton sounded like candidate Clinton.

1. Benghazi: Since leaving the State Department in 2013, the deadly Benghazi terror attack has been the most talked about question around Clinton.

Conservatives see it as her biggest weakness, while liberals say it shows how worried the right is about a Clinton presidency.

On Tuesday, Clinton said she’s “very pleased” that special forces captured Ahmed Abu Khatallah, a militia leader alleged to have been a mastermind of the armed assault on the U.S. diplomatic compound in eastern Libya in September 2012 that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Her comments lined up with much of what she has said previously. She defended the fact that Americans were in Benghazi in the first place but said not everything around what occurred is clear yet.

“There are answers, not all of them, not enough, frankly,” Clinton said. “I’m still looking for answers, because it was a confusing and difficult time.”

Asked specifically what she wants to know, Clinton said: “There’s a lot we don’t know,” such as who was behind the attack and what was their motivation.

Clinton has long said Benghazi was her biggest regret from her tenure at State and regularly says that the decisions of the day were made “based on imperfect information,” and that despite the right intentions come with “unforeseen consequences, unpredictable twists and turns.”

Clinton’s regret at State

Asked if she should have ordered Stevens to leave Libya, given that it was the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Clinton said, “If any of us had known, we would have certainly cautioned and maybe even directed people to shelter in place … and wait to see what was going to happen.”

2. Guns, minorities terrorizing majorities: Clinton said on Tuesday that the United States needs to have “a more thoughtful conversation” on guns and blasted gun rights activists.

“We cannot let a minority of people – and that’s what it is, it is a minority of people – hold a viewpoint that terrorizes the majority of people,” she said.

Those comments are the strongest she has made in favor of gun control during her book tour and plant Clinton firmly with those who support tougher restrictions.

“We’re going to have to do a better job protecting the vast majority of our citizens, including our children, from that very, very, very small group that is unfortunately prone to violence and now with automatic weapons can wreak so much more violence than they ever could have before,” Clinton said.

Clinton has said during her paid speaking tour over the past six months that the United States needs “to rein in what has become an almost article of faith that anybody can have a gun, anywhere, anytime.”

In the weeks and months after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Democrats – led by President Barack Obama – looked to spearhead efforts to strengthen gun laws and expand background checks of firearm sales.

Despite public support for the background check provision, a compromise plan failed to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate in April of last year, and efforts since then have been minimal.

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Clinton has backed those efforts and during the town hall, she backed reinstating the ban on assault weapons and banning high-capacity magazines.

3. Deportation: During her book tour, Clinton had come out firmly in support of immigration reform and even bashed its opponents, labeling them as people who “don’t seem to understand one of our strongest and most important attributes is that we are still a nation of immigrants.”

But on Tuesday, Clinton gave an answer that is sure to rile some in her base when she defended Obama’s deportation practices.

“We have to understand the difficulty that President Obama finds himself in because there are laws that impose certain obligations on him,” Clinton said in response to a questioner who called Obama the “deporter-in-chief.”

But she was pressed by Amanpour about tens of thousands of children fleeing Central American countries and crossing the southern border into the United States. It’s become a major problem that some liken to a humanitarian crisis.

The Obama administration has stepped up efforts to begin deportation proceedings, and Clinton supports sending them home, if possible.

“They should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who responsible adults in their families are, because there are concerns whether all of them should be sent back,” Clinton said. “But I think all of them who can be should be reunited with their families.”

On this problem particularly, Clinton later said, “We have so to send a clear message, just because your child gets across the border, that doesn’t mean the child gets to stay. So, we don’t want to send a message that is contrary to our laws or will encourage more children to make that dangerous journey.”

4. Marijuana and another Clinton evolution: While campaigning for president in 2007, Clinton was positively against decriminalizing marijuana.

“I don’t think we should decriminalize it,” Clinton said at the time. “But we ought to do research (into) what, if any, benefits it has.”

After Tuesday’s town hall, it appears Clinton has evolved on the issue, though.

“On recreational, you know, states are the laboratories of democracy,” Clinton said. “We have at least two states that are experimenting with that right now. I want to wait and see what the evidence is.”

In 2012, voters in Washington and Colorado passed ballot initiatives that legalized small amounts of marijuana for recreational use. Other states have allowed usage for medical reasons.

Clinton said Tuesday that she doesn’t think “we’ve done enough research yet” on medical marijuana questions, but said that “there should be availability (of marijuana) under appropriate circumstances.”

As for smoking pot herself, Clinton declined. “I didn’t do it when I was young. I’m not going to start now,” she said with a laugh.

Marijuana now joins same-sex marriage as another issue on which Clinton has evolved as the country’s opinion has.

According to a January CNN/ORC International poll on marijuana, 55% of those questioned nationally said marijuana should be made legal, with 44% disagreeing. In 1987, only 16% of Americans backed legalization.

Clinton backed same-sex marriage in 2013, just weeks after leaving the State Department. At that time, public opinion on the issue had began to shift toward allowing same-sex marriage and Clinton adjusted her position after most in her party had.

The change seemed to win over some in the crowd, too. “I think she has evolved a lot,” said Daniel Cohen of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

5. Breaking with Obama: As Clinton’s book was about to hit stores, both Obama and Clinton aides wanted no daylight between the former rivals. The messaging was that Obama’s team of rivals was unrivaled during Clinton’s four years at State.

But at the town hall – as well as in her book – Clinton distanced herself from Obama, particularly on the approach to the civil war in Syria.

“We pushed very hard,” Clinton said about her view that the United States should arm and help rebels that were fighting Syrian government forces. “But as I say in my book, I believe that Harry Truman was right, the buck stops with the president.”

Clinton added that she told Obama that the United States “should have” armed rebels “you know, two plus years ago.”

Asked if the White House’s decision not to get involved in Syria beyond the limited help that has been given to rebels was a failure, Clinton said she thinks it is “too soon to tell.”

In the past, though, Clinton has said that the rise of terrorist groups in Syria has allowed for the rise of Islamists in Iraq.

While Clinton distanced herself from Obama on Syria, she also pulled herself closer and defended Obama on another issue.

6. Iran, American Jews and politics: Clinton firmly planted herself last week with the White House and those who say the United States should not provide military assistance – particularly airstrikes – to the Iraqi government in response to the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and other militants.

But the story has already moved.

Now Secretary of State John Kerry, Clinton’s successor, says the United States could end up cooperating with Iran to stop the militant threat.

On Tuesday, she cased doubt on cooperating with Iran in an answer that was as much foreign policy as it was political.

“I am not prepared to say that we go in with Iran right now, until we have a better idea what we’re getting ourselves into,” Clinton said. “What they (Iran) want to do in Baghdad is basically to envelop (Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki) in the Iranian embrace, maybe even use their own troops in Iraq, as they did in Syria. That is a very difficult position to put the United States in.”

The United States and Iran have held “very brief discussions” about Iraq.

A U.S.-Iran partnership would be problematic for Clinton. American Jews already have questions about Clinton’s State Department record and her work with Iran. Clinton has touted her ties to Israel and her mistrust of Iran in speeches to Jewish organizations.

Opinion: Does Hillary Clinton have to be so boring?