Hillary Clinton Gave a Very Confusing Answer About the Minimum Wage During Thursday’s Debate

Hillary Clinton at the presidential primary debate in Brooklyn on Thursday.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

So I’ve watched the tape a few times now. I’ve read and reread the transcript. For a moment during Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate, it really sounded to me like Hillary Clinton promised for the first time that she would sign a bill raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

That is apparently not her position.

A little background: Clinton has previously come out in favor of a $12 national minimum wage. This, obviously, has not satisfied those on the left who are pushing for a $15 wage floor. However, Clinton has voiced support for the workers and activists of the Fight for $15 movement and backed state- and local-level legislation for a $15 minimum.

This is a somewhat nuanced but coherent and, I’d argue, smart position. It’s completely reasonable to suggest that wealthy cities and states should have higher minimum than poorer regions of the country.

On Thursday, however, Clinton was asked flat-out whether she would sign a bill raising the national minimum to $15. She seemed to say yes, though she would prefer a tiered approach:

Moderator: You stood on the stage with Gov. Cuomo in support of new legislation to raise New York’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, but you do not support raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. As president, if a Democratic Congress put a $15 minimum wage bill on your desk, would you sign it?

Clinton: Of course I would. I have supported the Fight for $15. I’m proud to have the endorsement of most of the unions that have led the Fight for $15. I was proud to stand on the stage with Gov. Cuomo, with SEIU and others who have been leading this battle, and I will work as hard as I can to raise the minimum wage. I always have. I supported that when I was in the Senate. But what I have also said is we’ve got to be smart about it. Just the way Gov. Cuomo was here in New York. If you look at it, we moved more quickly to $15 in New York City, more deliberately toward $12, $12.50, upstate, then to $15. That is exactly my position. It’s a model for the nation. That’s what I will do as president. Go as quickly as possible to get to 15. [Italics mine.]

OK. So, she would sign a $15 minimum wage bill. But she thinks a tiered approach, like New York’s, should be the national model. Got it. Right?

Clinton: I have taken my cue from the Democrats in the Senate, led by Sen. Patty Murray and others like my good friend Kirsten Gillibrand, who has said we will set a national level of $12, and then urge any place that can go above it to go above it. Going from $7.25 to $12 is a huge difference. One in 4 working mothers will get a raise. I want to get something done. I think setting the goal to get to $12 is the way to go, encouraging others to get to $15, but if we have a Democratic Congress, we will go to $15. [Italics mine]

Maybe this is one of those pragmatism things? Perhaps she thinks a $12 minimum is a compromise Republicans can live with—seems unlikely, but whatever—and $15 is a goal she can achieve with a Democratic Congress?

Apparently not. Later, her press team blasted out a clarification: “Hillary Clinton supports a $12 federal minimum wage—but believes that the federal minimum is just that, and encourages states, cities, and workers through bargaining to go even higher, including a $15 minimum wage in places where it makes sense.”

So after a small journey, Clinton ended the night where she started.