Former President Bill Clinton made a crowd laugh in the East Room of the White House on Thursday when he seemed to lose track of the speech notes that had been placed on the iconic lectern from which he had spoken so many times during his eight years at the post. .
The 42nd CEO was back in his old home three decades after signing his first law as president, a landmark bill then known as the Family Medical Leave Act, which guaranteed Americans the right to take up to six months of unpaid leave to care for a relative or deal with an illness.
After an introduction by Vice President Kamala Harris, Clinton stepped up to the microphone, but looked up shortly afterward and seemed a bit taken aback.
“Somewhere, I’m supposed to have some notes here,” he said. “These are from President Biden.”
Biden, who was sitting next to him next to Harris, intervened, telling Clinton: “Why don’t you hand over mine?”
The former president seemed to like the idea and asked: “Why don’t I give your speech and you can give mine?”
But Clinton found her own comments a short time later and launched into a brief history of the bill she signed in the Rose Garden three decades ago.
He also recalled how on his first trip back to Washington after his term ended in 2001, a flight attendant took him aside and told him how the FMLA allowed her and her sister to care for their dying parents.
Clinton recounted her remarks to the assembled dignitaries, a group that included former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd and House Speaker Emeritus Nancy Pelosi.
“She said, ‘I’ve heard all these politicians give speeches about family values… I know how your family, how your parents die, is an important family value,'” he said.
A short time later, Biden noted how during his time as a senator, he learned that a Senate Judiciary Committee staffer was coming to work instead of caring for a family member at home during the confirmation process for a member of the Senate. the Supreme Court. candidate. He remembered how he had told the staff member that if he went to work instead of taking care of his relative, he would be fired.
He told East Room aides he did so because he had been given the flexibility to include caring for his two children in his job as a new senator after his wife and young daughter were killed in a car accident just weeks ago. after he was first elected to the upper house.
“I was able to keep working and keep getting paid because… I had a very supportive family,” he said.
“Being there for your family is often the most important thing you can do.
The president said the FMLA gave “the majority of American workers” the ability to “take time off from work, take care of someone they love and take care of themselves, without fear of losing their job” and “have a bit of dignity when they needed it. most”.
Biden also noted that the US has more to do because it remains the only major country that does not guarantee workers paid sick or family leave. But he closed with another light-hearted joke directed at Clinton, who hinted that he had been kicked out of the Oval Office for the day.
“We have a lot of work to do, but I am very happy to be able to welcome my president to the capital of the United States, and he promised me that I will be able to sit at my desk. tomorrow,” he said.