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Van Jones on Obama's $400k speech
01:27 - Source: CNN

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The debate over Obama's paid speeches echoes similar arguments about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016

Critics contend the speeches are emblematic of the too-cozy relationship between public officials and the business community

CNN  — 

Former President Barack Obama’s decision to give a pair of high-dollar speeches has set off a wave of criticism and Democratic hand-wringing.

And Van Jones, a former Obama aide and CNN political analyst, suggested Sunday that the former President could blunt some of the backlash by starting his post-presidency with a nationwide “poverty tour.”

Jones said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that it was unfair to impose a “second standard” for Obama when he gives paid speeches – something all his recent predecessors have done after their time in office – and argued that Obama “should not be the first president to have to be broke.”

But saying “we need a Bobby Kennedy in this country,” Jones suggested that Obama, who left office with a net worth of more than $12 million and subsequently inked a lucrative book deal, “do a tour, go to Appalachia, go to native American reservations where they are shoving these pipelines down their throats and they don’t even have clean water, go to South Central, go to the Arizona border, where you have a lot of poverty.”

“If [Obama] would do a poverty tour first, from a moral point of view, it would be great for him to do,” Jones said.

The debate over Obama’s paid speaking engagements, which reportedly will fetch him a cool $800,000, echoes similar arguments during the 2016 presidential campaign about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who was heavily criticized for her paid speeches to Wall Street banks.

Critics contend that the speeches are emblematic of the too-cozy relationship between public officials and the business sectors they are charged with regulating. That argument has been increasingly resonant in the wake of Democrats’ 2016 losses, as Clinton’s chief primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), and like-minded Democrats such as Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) – who, with Sanders, criticized Obama’s speaking fees – have seen their influence among liberals grow in the early months of the Trump presidency.