Hillary Clinton, in her first formal appearance since conceding the presidential election, acknowledged Wednesday that the experience has been terribly painful but urged a gathering of child advocates to persevere with their work and press “the values we share.”
“I know over the past week a lot of people have asked themselves whether America is the country we thought it was,” Clinton said at an event hosted by the Children’s Defense Fund. “The divisions laid bare by this election run deep, but please listen to me when I say this: America is worth it, our children are worth it. Believe in our country, fight for our values, and never, ever give up.”
The Democratic nominee made no direct mention of Republican President-elect Donald Trump during her remarks, which were part of a program that honored children who had overcome poverty and other odds to find success in their lives.
An aide said Clinton had agreed to appear at the event prior to Election Day and wanted to honor her commitment regardless.
It was in many ways a poignant setting. Clinton went to work for the Children’s Defense Fund after graduating from law school and later served on its board. She has long considered Marian Wright Edelman, the organization’s founder, to be a mentor. And as Clinton noted Wednesday night, the first stop Bill Clinton made after winning the presidency in 1992 was the same awards program.
“I will admit, coming here tonight wasn’t the easiest thing for me,” Hillary Clinton told the crowd gathered in an auditorium at the Newseum, just a few blocks from the Capitol, where, in January, Trump will be sworn in. “There have been a few times this past week when all I wanted to do is just to curl up with a good book or our dogs and never leave the house again.”
She was greeted with thunderous applause and chants of “Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!” as she strode onto stage in a blue pantsuit and offered a broad wave.
Edelman, who introduced her, recounted Clinton’s achievements as first lady, a senator from New York and secretary of state.
And Edelman noted two distinctions Clinton holds as a woman: the first to be the nominee of a major political party in the United States and the first to win the popular vote in a U.S. presidential election — even if Trump prevailed in the electoral college.
“We’re going to say she is the people’s president,” Edelman said to great applause.
Clinton also noted in her remarks that some innovative work on children’s issues is taking place in Republican-led states and reminded her audience that passage of the Children’s Health Insurance Program while she was first lady would not have been possible without the help of some Republican lawmakers.
“Even if it may not seem like it right now, there is common ground to build upon,” Clinton said.
While Wednesday marked her first formal appearance since the election, Clinton has reached out to supporters on conference calls in recent days, including one Monday with Democratic lawmakers.
“No one is sorrier than me,” Clinton said on that call, according to a Democrat who participated. “Heartbreaks don’t heal overnight, and this one won’t.”
Clinton started working for the Children’s Defense Fund in 1973, after she graduated from Yale Law School. Her early work included going door-to-door in poverty-stricken parts of Bedford, Mass., to collect data.
During her campaign, Clinton frequently brought up that service, citing Edelman as a mentor who taught her that standing up against injustice was her “North Star.”
The relationship between the two women has endured some rough patches, most notably in 1996 when President Bill Clinton signed a welfare reform bill, legislation Edelman saw as punitive toward children.
Edelman’s husband, Peter Edelman, quit his Clinton administration job in protest over the bill, and the tensions lingered for years. During Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, Edelman told an interviewer that the Clintons were “not friends in politics.”
None of that past tension was evident Wednesday night.
After Clinton waved goodbye as she walked off stage, Edelman paid her a final tribute.
“I just thank Hillary for just who she is and what she’s done and she’s going to continue to do,” she said. “And so thank you. We love you. We love you.”