“I suppose it’s only fair to say, don’t you some day want to see a female president of the United States of America?” Clinton asked a roaring crowd.
EMILY’s List, which supports and raises money for pro-choice female Democrats, celebrated its 30th year with a star-studded lineup including actresses America Ferrera, Connie Britton, Lena Dunham, Padma Lakshmi, Anna Gunn, and Uzo Aduba, as well as Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Al Franken, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Boston City Council member Ayanna Pressley, and retired U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords and her husband, the astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly.
In her speech, Lakshmi called Clinton “our next president.” Pelosi said Clinton would be “the most qualified” candidate for president in U.S. history. And Franken told the story of his own grandchild, who he is teaching to call him “senator,” and said he told Bill Clinton that he should have daughter Chelsea’s new baby call former president Clinton “POTUS” — and, Franken said, the granddaughter should probably call Hillary “POTUS,” too.
The rest of Clinton’s speech made the case for a Democratic, and perhaps female, president. She touched on the changing American family, and an economy and social safety net that haven’t caught up, saying, “Let’s be honest here: Our families look different than they did a decade ago, and so do our jobs.”
And she struck a populist tone, perhaps trying to assuage the concerns of progressive Democrats who worry about Clinton’s ties to the financial industry and subtly reminding the audience of the economic boom when her husband was president. She gave a nod to both Elizabeth Warren, who some Democrats have suggested should run against Clinton (Warren has said no repeatedly), and to organized labor, which has been under attack most notably by Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who will likely run for president in the GOP primary.
“We’re not buying that old trickle-down economics that didn’t work before and can never work again,” Clinton said, referring to Reagan-era economic policies that many Democrats, including former president Bill Clinton, say hurt the poor and middle class. “Because it defies arithmetic and reality.”
Hillary also connected the economy to women’s rights.
“When women and girls have opportunities to participate fully, they lift up not just themselves but their economies, their families, their entire societies,” Clinton said.
Clinton also struck a humorous note after a photo montage highlighted her long career in politics. She wore a purple jacket and slacks last night, and told the crowd that while there has been a lot of talk about her pantsuits over the years, she wanted to clarify that “this outfit is not white and gold.”
Clinton did not address the ongoing controversy over her use of a personal email account during her time at the State Department.
Second to Clinton, the unexpected star of the night was Boston City Council member Ayanna Pressley. Pressley, the winner of the EMILY’s List “Rising Star” award given in honor of Gabrielle Giffords, is the first woman of color to serve on the Boston City Council, and gave a speech that left the audience alternately in stunned silence and on their feet. She talked about being raised by a single mother after her father was “stolen by addiction” and put into the prison system, surviving childhood sexual abuse, and being told no at every turn — and running for office anyway. Pressley’s speech topped off a conference featuring dozens of elected and hopeful politicians, and she had the room buzzing about what many observers predicted would be a quick rise to higher elected office in Massachusetts, if not the nation.
The night’s other celebrity was Barbara Mikulski, the first Democratic female senator elected in her own right — and with the help of then-brand-new EMILY’s List. Maryland voters put Mikulski in the Senate in 1987, and Mikulski announced this week that she will not seek reelection at the end of her term. Instead of spending the next two years raising money, she said, she’ll spend them “raising hell.”
Most of the speakers paid homage to Mikulski, crediting her with supporting her fellow female senators and blazing a trail for women in politics, and noting her direct and efficient style.
“I’m really gonna miss her,” Franken said. “Because she is the only member of the Senate who calls me, ‘Franken. Get out of the way.'”
Clinton also had warm words for both Mikulski and Barbara Boxer, the senator from California who is also retiring, saying, “It’s hard to believe we’re losing both Barbaras,” and saying she hopes their careers “will encourage more women to run to follow in their footsteps.”
And she gave a particular thanks to Mikulski who blazed trails not just as one of the first women in the Senate, but as the first woman to wear a pantsuit on the Senate floor.