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At Democratic Convention, Making The Case For Hillary Clinton's Readiness


And I'm David Greene at member station WHYY Philadelphia. Last night was a big night for big names at the Democratic convention. All this week, we've been sampling the speeches from the night before. I am with NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea here in Philadelphia. And, in Washington, joining us is NPR national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly. Good morning again to you both.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Glad to be here.


GREENE: Let's get right to it. President Obama last night - the end of the night, the highlight of the night for many Democrats in that convention hall. He could not have sounded more enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And no matter how daunting the odds, no matter how much people try to knock her down, she never, ever quits.


OBAMA: That is the Hillary I know. That's the Hillary I've come to admire. And that's why I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman - not me, not Bill - nobody more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America.

GREENE: Ringing endorsement there, saying she's more qualified even than him, even than - than Bill Clinton. Don Gonyea, Republicans have a very different image and perception of Hillary Clinton.

GONYEA: As the president was speaking, my email box was filling up with their reaction to the speech.

GREENE: As it often does at this time - this time in an election year.

GONYEA: They - they added some superlatives of their own. The Democrats have nominated - formally nominated the most scandal-plagued and disliked candidate in the history of their party. You see words like unprincipled, flip-flopper, career D.C. insiders, speaking of both - both Clinton and her vice presidential nominee, Kaine. So that's - yeah, that's - it's the two Hillarys that we see, the two Hillary Clintons.

GREENE: Mary Louise Kelly, I mean, when - when we talk about qualifications for Hillary Clinton, one argument that - that the Democrats make is that she was secretary of state. She has a lot of foreign policy experience.

KELLY: Right.

GREENE: What - how do - how do Republicans see the other side of that?

KELLY: Well, I think, you know, Republicans will say that Hillary Clinton is the candidate of experience, that the threat has changed a lot since she was in office. I mean, think about - just take the threat of terrorism and ISIS. Most Americans had never heard of ISIS, I think, until the summer of 2014, which is when they declare a caliphate, they adopted the name Islamic State. And in the summer of 2014, Hillary Clinton had been out of office for a year and a half. Two years since that - since then, we're - now we see the rise of ISIS. And I think it's safe to say she's tracking developments closely. And what I think we'll hear from her tonight is her hitting hard her record. We heard President Obama say it last night. She was in the room. She was in the arena. That's her strength - that, as secretary of state, she visited 112 countries. She logged nearly a million travel miles.

GREENE: So the argument from Democrats is that she was in the room, very close, dealing with these threats. The argument from Republicans is that they were - you know, these threats grew under her watch or shortly after.

KELLY: And what she has to overcome is that what her strength is is also her vulnerability in an election where voters have surged towards - towards outsiders, like Bernie Sanders, like Donald Trump candidates, who have tried to portray themselves as outside the foreign-policy establishment.

GREENE: Well, speaking of one of those outsiders, who is the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, the Vice President Joe Biden really went after him last night. Let's listen.


VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Just listen to me a second without booing or cheering. I mean this sincerely. We should really think about this. His cynicism is unbounded. His lack of empathy and compassion can be summed up in the phrase that I suspect he's most proud of having made famous - you're fired. I mean, really. I'm not joking. Think about that. Think about that. Think about everything you learned as a child, no matter where you were raised. How can there be pleasure in saying you're fired? He's trying to tell us he cares about the middle class. Give me a break. That's a bunch of malarkey.

GREENE: And Joe Biden not the only one going after Donald Trump last night. Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton's running mate, had his own words.


TIM KAINE: You know who I don't trust? Hmm, I wonder. Donald Trump. Donald Trump. Trump is a guy who promises a lot. But you might have noticed, he's got a way of saying the same two words every time he makes his biggest, hugest promises - believe me. It's going to be great. Believe me. We're going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. Believe me. We're going to destroy ISIS so fast. Believe me. There's nothing suspicious in my tax returns. Believe me.


GREENE: Mary Louise Kelly, do we know how Donald Trump would destroy ISIS? I mean, Tim Kaine mocking that idea there.

KELLY: He has - Donald Trump has been very thin on specifics. He says we're going to get them. We're going to crush them. We're going to bomb them. But in terms of how, specifically, he would distinguish his approach to ISIS from what we have seen from President Obama, we've heard very few specifics so far on the Republican side.

GREENE: Don Gonyea, are the Democrats sort of reaching down to fight Donald Trump at his level, in a way, by going after him with comments like that from - from Tim Kaine?

GONYEA: Plain talk is what Trump supporters love. He tells it like it is. Joe Biden was very much Joe Biden there, using kind of very earthy, just basic language. And Tim Kaine was showing how he's going to play that vice presidential nominee's role of attack dog, but doing it in kind of a mocking tone. And he's got to go after Trump, and that's a preview.

GREENE: All right, well, let's bring in another voice here. And it is the person who is responsible for how Hillary Clinton will decide to go after Donald Trump in the months ahead. It is John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton's campaign. Mr. Podesta, good morning to you.

JOHN PODESTA: Good morning, David. And thanks for having me on.

GREENE: Well, thanks for coming on. I know you were probably up - up late last night listening to a speech or two. Could I just start with - with some of the news yesterday? Donald Trump suggested that Russia might be able to find thousands of emails from Secretary Clinton's email server that we've had so much - heard so much about - or hack to get them. Were you hoping this email issue was behind you?

PODESTA: Well, I think what Mr. Trump did was put a new issue on the table, which is that he has actually called on a foreign government to commit espionage, to hack into email systems in the United States. It is beyond outrageous what he has done. And I think that it is one more indication that he doesn't have the judgment to be president of the United States. I mean, I don't think the American people could have imagined a major party candidate suggesting that a foreign military intelligence agency should hack into systems of his political opponent of the opposite party.

GREENE: Although, we should say, he said he was - he said he was being sarcastic. And I wonder, I mean, is this a moment where you see a preview for the...

PODESTA: Well, people can judge that.

GREENE: People can judge that, obviously. But, I mean, from a political standpoint, I mean, is this an example of what you're up against in this campaign - that Donald Trump can find ways to really, you know, grab attention and do something like this?

PODESTA: Well, I think he's grabbed attention by saying outrageous things. I think, again, you'll hear reaction today from - from people at the convention tonight, including Hillary Clinton, about why he doesn't have the temperament, why he's unfit for office. And I think, from a national security perspective, you're seeing people - not just Democrats, not just people who have traditionally supported our party, but people across the board, people like Brent Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser - endorse Hillary Clinton because they don't believe that Donald Trump can be trusted...

GREENE: Scowcroft, of course...

PODESTA: ...To manage the national security affairs of the United States.

GREENE: But - but it - you know, winning over voters, I mean, is what you need to do in the election. I just want to play a piece of tape from - from Hillary Clinton herself from some months ago.


HILLARY CLINTON: I am not a natural politician, in case you haven't noticed, like my husband or President Obama. So I have a view that I just have to do the best I can, get the results I can, make a difference in people's lives.

GREENE: What is your plan if you have a person who admits that being a politician is not her strength going up against a candidate like Donald Trump?

PODESTA: Well, you know, I think you'll hear that tonight, David. I think that we've had a convention, I think, that began with - on Monday night with terrific speeches by Cory Booker, by Elizabeth Warren that culminated in a magnificent speech by Michelle Obama and then a full-throated endorsement from Bernie Sanders, all the way through the president - President Clinton's speech on Tuesday night talking about her life story and President Obama's speech talking about why he trusts her. Tonight is a culmination...

GREENE: But is there an argument that...

PODESTA: Tonight is a culmination of that. Let me just finish.

GREENE: We just have a few seconds left.


GREENE: Is there - is there an argument that you have to throw out the old playbook, though, against someone like Donald Trump? And are you thinking about - about doing that?

PODESTA: Well, you know, look, we're not going to get down to his level of just playing insults in 140 characters. She is going to lay out a case tonight about the constancy of the battles she's fought for children and families, about her own story, the people who have inspired her, those she's fought for. And she's going to lay out a vision that we're stronger together, not when we try to divide each other, not running a campaign of bigotry...


PODESTA: ...As Donald Trump has done. And we think that'll be effective.

GREENE: John Podesta, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it this morning.

PODESTA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.