By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton returned to the White House on Tuesday to speak at an arts event in what was her first public appearance at the U.S. presidential residence and workplace since her 2016 election loss to Donald Trump.
“It’s an honor to welcome you back to the White House,” first lady Jill Biden told Clinton in the mansion’s East Room at the start of an event to celebrate Praemium Imperiale Laureates, recipients of a global arts prize by the Japan Art Association for lifetime achievement in the arts.
A former senator and first lady, Clinton, a Democrat, was the first woman to be a major U.S. political party’s presidential nominee. Prior to that she served as the top U.S. diplomat under President Barack Obama.
The crowd roared in applause at her welcome.
“Wow. You are so loved,” the current first lady said to the former one.
Clinton, a U.S. adviser to Praemium Imperiale, thanked Jill Biden and President Joe Biden, who was not present, for their support for the arts.
The Japan Art Association’s 2023 awardees included Wynton Marsalis for music, Robert Wilson for theater/film, Vija Celmins for painting, Olafur Eliasson for sculpture and Diébédo Francis Kéré for architecture. Three of the laureates were present for the White House event.
Recipients of the arts award were first celebrated at the White House by President Bill Clinton and the then first lady in 1994.
Secretary Clinton noted that President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris had both recently traveled in Asia.
“That demonstrates, just as the event today does, this administration’s commitment to America’s engagement with Japan and the crucial Asia Pacific region, where so much of the history of the 21rst Century is being written,” she said.
Though she spent plenty of time at the White House during the Obama administration, Clinton did not return during Republican Trump’s four years in office.
With Joe Biden in the White House since 2021, Clinton has been back, but not to give public remarks. She attended a dinner to celebrate then outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel early in Biden’s tenure, and she met with Harris, the first woman to serve as vice president, as well.
Biden and Clinton describe themselves as friends. When he was vice president and she was secretary of state, the two had a weekly breakfast date to discuss world affairs, which Clinton referenced when praising Jill Biden’s dedication to teaching at a community college.
“I’ve gone back to teaching recently, after 50 years, and I can attest it’s a hard enough job without being first lady. But nothing could keep Dr. Biden from her students,” said Clinton, who is now a professor at Columbia University.
She said when she visited the Bidens’ residence for breakfast during the Obama years, “Dr. Biden would already be gone and in her classroom.”
Clinton endorsed Joe Biden’s 2020 candidacy and has been a vocal supporter during his time in office, while a critic of Trump, her former rival who Biden beat. Even when the president and his aides have avoided commenting on Trump’s legal troubles, Clinton has weighed in.
Trump faces multiple criminal charges as he seeks the Republican nomination to face Biden in the 2024 presidential election. He denies any wrongdoing.
Clinton could be called upon to help Biden, 80, in his re-election bid. She is popular with women and has been a leading voice in favor of abortion rights, a key issue for left-leaning voters after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v Wade, which recognized women’s right to abortion, last year. She won the popular vote in 2016.
But the former first lady’s standing within the Democratic Party is complicated by her loss to Trump, who bested her in the Electoral College, and a history of controversies throughout her public life, including her use of a private e-mail server during her time as secretary of state.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; editing by Miral Fahmy, Marguerita Choy and Richard Chang)