University News

Q&A: Jennifer Klein ’87 talks Clinton, women’s issues

Senior Policy Advisor to Hillary Clinton discusses potential for another Clinton Administration

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Broaching subjects like health policy and women’s issues, Jennifer Klein ’87 has been an advisor to the Clinton family since President Bill Clinton’s first administration. Klein’s career has been multifaceted and at times “accidental,” she said.

Klein sat down with The Herald to discuss the developments on women’s rights she has witnessed over the span of her career, which has included a long collaboration with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The Herald: How did your time at Brown prepare you for your career?

Brown actually was a huge factor because it was really a Brown connection that got me to where I am today. When the Clintons announced they were doing healthcare reform early on in the administration they appointed Ira Magaziner ’69 to be the leader of their effort, so I said “Okay, I’m going to find my way to Ira Magaziner.”

I found my way to him through a friend from Brown, and he hired me as a volunteer to work on the reform. Maybe six or seven months into that I got a call from the First Lady’s office asking if I’d be interested in working with Hillary Clinton. Initially, I worked with her predominantly on healthcare, but immediately after the reform effort died in September 1993, I evolved with her to work on other issues including women’s issues.

Based on your experiences working with Clinton, what are some of the policies regarding women’s issues you’d expect her to enact if she wins the election?

Some items I’ve worked with Secretary Clinton on were things like paid family and medical leave, equal pay, minimum wage and childcare. So those are at the top of my list of things that I think are really important, and I would imagine that a Hillary Clinton administration would take those on fairly quickly.

It’s easy to see what she’s passionate about based on her record. So on the domestic side, I think it’s a lot of the issues that she cared about as First Lady, and if you look at the positions she took on the foreign side as Secretary of State, I think you can see the roadmap of what she would do if she was president.

How do you think the other candidates stack up against Secretary Clinton when it comes to addressing women’s issues?

The difference between Secretary Clinton and (U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-VT), is he hasn’t been a leader like she has. These are issues that have motivated her (for) her entire career, and I don’t think they’ve motivated him. But at the same time he’s voted right on all of them. I’d say he’s strong, but she’s stronger.

Don’t even ask me to weigh in on the Republican side. I worry deeply about some of these issues, and I obviously have my own opinions on each of the candidates. I worry that any single one of them left in the race would be harmful on every single one of these issues.

It’s been over 20 years since Clinton’s landmark speech on women’s issues in Beijing, China. How have women’s rights developed in that time and have they developed fast enough?

Never fast enough for me. Still, there’s been huge developments in areas like legal change where there are more constitutions and laws that actually protect women’s rights than there were in 1995. Also, if you look at particular issues like health and gender gaps in education, there’s been huge progress.

At the same time, progress can be uneven. In some places, for example, there are laws on paper, but there’s still a problem with implementation and enforcement of those laws. If you look at health on certain scales, maternal mortality has gone way down, but there are other really significant health issues. If you look at those issues generally, there’s been huge progress, but then there are people who are really lagging behind.

If you look particularly at the more marginalized women — women who have lower socioeconomic status and who live in places where they can’t access healthcare — they’re dying at levels that are too high. My highlight would be “progress, but …”

How do you think the United States stacks up against other countries when it comes to addressing these broader issues?

Of course, it depends on which issue you talk about. If you take paid leave, the (United States) is one of nine countries total and the only industrial country in the world that has no paid parental leave of any kind. If you look at childcare and even healthcare, we are often behind, especially if you narrow the list to high-income countries.

That said, if you look at the status of women in the (United States) as compared to others around the world, there are women and girls who are in dire circumstances that obviously most women in the (United States) aren’t facing. With things like child marriage and honor killings, there is a huge gap between what we face versus some of the issues they face, so I certainly wouldn’t want to gloss over that.

Do you have any advice for students who might be interested in joining careers in politics or public service?

I know this sounds corny, but the first thing I would say is, “follow your passion.” Something I learned not only from my own personal experience but also from watching people who make a difference is that they are most often doing what they feel most strongly about. You’ll figure out how to implement that as the time comes.

On the other hand, I’d say be flexible. Take opportunities as they come and take risks. I probably was not the smartest to leave a good job at a big law firm where I was getting paid a lot of money to come to Washington, (D.C.), but I felt it was worth the risk.

Brown is probably the most obvious example of a place where you should just explore, and you’ll be prepared for whatever career you end up choosing, within reason. Be someone who is willing to question and think hard, and you’ll be prepared to do any job in public service. Keep doing what you do in college, which is develop your intellectual curiosity and follow your passions. It sounds silly, but it’s true.