When the two presidential candidates address the National Urban League on Friday, they'll likely bring different messages
The conference comes after a year of growing racial tension
Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton come from the highest political pedigree in the United States. And despite the battles their two families have fought against each other, members of the Clintons and the Bushes have formed inextricable bonds.
But politics is politics, so when Clinton took the stage on Friday at the National Urban League conference in Fort Lauderdale - just minutes before Bush would address the same audience – the former secretary of state leveled some of her most direct attacks against the former Florida governor.
“I don’t think you can credibly say that everyone has a right to rise and then say you are for phasing out Medicare and repealing Obamacare,” Clinton said, using Bush’s “Right to Rise” super PAC name to indirectly – but clearly – hit the 2016 Republican candidate.
“They can’t rise if the minimum wage is too low to live on,” Clinton said. “You cannot seriously talk about the right to rise and support laws that deny the right to vote.”
Bush did not respond to Clinton’s comments when he took the same stage later Friday morning, only saying he was “pleased” to see the other candidates at the event and mentioned them all by name, including Clinton.
Spokesman Tim Miller, however, took Twitter to blast Clinton’s remarks.
“Clintonesque move to pass over chance to unite in favor of a false cheap shot. When you have no record of accomplishment to point to,” he wrote.
In her speech, Clinton cast herself a someone who has fought along side the Urban League for decades, not just someone who speaks at their conference and tells them what they want to hear.
“The real test of a candidates’ commitment is not whether we come to speak,” Clinton said, “it is whether we are still around after the cameras are gone and the votes are counted. It is whether our positions live up to our rhetoric and too often we see a mismatch between what some candidates say in venues like this and what they actually do when they are elected.”
Clinton did not use Bush’s name, but the lines were clear and some of the starkest attacks the former first lady has leveled against the former Florida governor.
The lines underscore Clinton and Bush’s different presidential platforms, particularly the way the candidates are positioning themselves with African American voters.
Friday’s scene is rare: Clinton and Bush are among the guests speaking at the conference, where a select group of Republican and Democratic candidates make their pitch for president before a predominately African-American crowd.
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, a Republican, along with Democratic candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley are also set to appear.
But all eyes are on Clinton and Bush, both of whom are running at or near the top of their fields for their respective party’s nomination. It’s the first time they’ll speak at the same event since announcing their White House bids.
The conference comes after a year of growing racial tension that has exploded into an emotional debate over the separate killings of black Americans at the hands of white police officers. That conflict has seen fresh attention after the death of a black woman, Sandra Bland, in a Texas jail after a traffic violation. Officials ruled the death a suicide.
Also in recent memory: The massacre of nine parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina, by a white male who told authorities he wanted to “shoot black people.” The tragedy sparked a passionate, bipartisan effort to have the Confederate Flag removed from state capitol grounds in Columbia, South Carolina.
Encapsulating their message in the slogan “black lives matter,” activists have sought to bring racial injustice to the forefront of the presidential debate, forcing politicians from both parties to face questions about how they would remedy racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
It’s been a difficult issue to navigate for many of the candidates. Confronted by activists in June, O’Malley responded: “Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter.” He later apologized, saying he did not “mean to be insensitive” to the “depth of feeling that all of us should be attaching to this issue.”
Bush, however, defended O’Malley, arguing that the Democratic candidate shouldn’t have to apologize for saying “all lives matter.”
“I know in the political context it’s a slogan, and should he have apologized? No. If he believes that white lives matter, which I hope he does, then he shouldn’t apologize to a group that seemed to disagree with it,” he said in New Hampshire last week.
Clinton had her own “black lives matter” misstep when she told an audience just miles from Ferguson, Missouri - where the shooting of Michael Brown sparked sustained protests – that “all lives matter.”
Since then, and with the benefit of watching her opponents stumble, Clinton has used the phrase “black lives matter” repeatedly.
“This is not just a slogan,” Clinton said of the phrase during a campaign stop in South Carolina. “This should be a guiding principle.”
Clinton also mentioned black lives matter in her Friday speech and outlined why, in her opinion, race still holds back African Americans in the United States.
“Race still plays a significant role in determining who gets ahead in America and who gets left behind,” she said.
Clinton – and her campaign aides who see the pathway to electoral victory through the Obama coalition – have made reaching out to African American voters an integral part of the campaign.
Her first speech as a candidate was on police reform, where she called for mandatory police body cameras across the nation. And after the Charleston shooting, Clinton said that the United States’ struggle with racism is “far from finished.”
“I know this is a difficult topic to talk about,” Clinton said earlier this year in San Francisco. “I know that so many of us hoped by electing our first black President we had turned the page on this chapter in our history. I know there are truths we don’t like to say out loud in discussions with our children, but we have to. That is the only way we can possibly move forward together.”
Clinton’s team has also engaged the activists behind Black Lives Matter. After the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year old boy who was shot by police in Cleveland, LaDavia Drane, Clinton’s African-American outreach director, had one-on-one meetings and group listening sessions with individuals involved in the Cleveland for the Movement for Black Lives.
While Bush hasn’t waded as far into the debate, he was asked earlier this week by a reporter why there’ve been so many questions or examples lately of police brutality. Shaking his head, he said he didn’t know.
“Maybe this has been going on a long while, but now because we capture everything in the digital world, perhaps that’s the reason that there’s been a larger number of these things,” he said.
Bush added there “ought to be some consideration of … expanding cameras (and) certainly more training,” but he also argued there needs “to be a recognition that being a police officer is a dangerous job. And they get it right a lot of times, too.”
More broadly on racial inequality, Bush has pledged to campaign in urban areas and push a message that Republicans have the right policies to bring people out of poverty.
Following Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential loss – in which he carried only 6% of the black vote – Republicans have stepped up their efforts to court minority voters. Bush is among a small slew of 2016 candidates who have portrayed themselves as White House hopefuls able to woo nontraditional Republican voters.
Education reform – a big issue for minority communities – was the overriding theme of Bush’s speech on Friday. He pointed to opening the first charter school in Florida and other reforms that promoted school choice, saying the country’s education disparity is “the worst inequality in America and the source of so many other inequalities.”
“I believe in the right to rise in this country. And a child is not rising if he’s not reading.”
On criminal justice, Bush said his administration expanded drug courts and prevention programs, and he signed an executive order to promote the hiring of ex-offenders.
“I took the view – as I would as president – that real justice in America has got to include restorative justice,” he said. “In this country, we shouldn’t be writing people off, denying them a second chance at a life of meaning.”
He also pointed to what he called the “breakdown of fatherhood in America,” saying government should “exert the positive societal pressures that can turn the tide.” He cited his work to double the collection of child support to 90% as governor.
Bush said it’s easy to see why there’s disillusionment when “trust in our vital institutions is at historic lows,” adding that it’s “up to all of us to work diligently to rebuild that trust.”
“One politician at a time. One police officer at a time. One community leader at a time,” he continued. “It begins with respect, dialogue, and the courage to reach out in peace.”
He also recalled moving the Confederate Flag from the Florida capitol state grounds to a museum as governor and increasing the number of African-Americans who work in the governor’s administration.
A fluent Spanish speaker, Bush’s outreach efforts have been primarily focused on Hispanics, but he featured a young African-American woman in his announcement video last month who benefited from a school choice initiative that he started as governor.
And on Thursday, the man he created the charter school with – T. Willard Fair, the president of the Urban League of Greater Miami –wrote a glowing opinion piece in the Sun Sentinel, saying Bush has been his “greatest partner” in doing “whatever was necessary to advance the progression of Black America towards Equal Opportunity.”
Such outreach efforts, however, have left some minority voters of both parties feeling taken for granted in the past. At an event with racially diverse pastors in Orlando on Monday, a black man asked Bush how he plans to serve minority communities in non-election years.
“Look, you can’t be everywhere every place,” Bush said. “But you need to show a commitment day in and day out.”
The last time Bush and Clinton shared the same stage was at The Globalization of Higher Education conference in Irving, Texas in March 2014. Before that, Clinton and Bush shared a stage was at the 2013 gala for the National Constitution Center, whose board Bush chaired. Bush bestowed the group’s Liberty Medal to Clinton, stating that she received it because she had “dedicated her life to serving and engaging people across the world in democracy.”