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Former president Bill Clinton addressed the House Democrats’ annual retreat in Virginia on Friday, sharing his thoughts on how his party should pursue its legislative agenda in the 113th Congress.

While Clinton acknowledged that “we do have a long-term debt problem,” he stressed “that doesn’t mean that austerity now is the right response.” He also noted that Republicans only seem to push for harsh austerity cuts “when Democrats are president.”

“We need a jobs program,” Clinton argued. “We need a strategy to promote innovation…If you do not have growth, you cannot fix this debt problem.”

Clinton also urged Democrats to stand by their policies, singling out the Affordable Care Act. After pointing out that Democrats “now own the health reform issue,” he warned that “it really matters how [the law] is implemented.”

“If certain problems come up that need changing, you need to get caught trying to change it even if you can’t pass it,” Clinton said.

Clinton urged the representatives not to back down on immigration, saying “I would be as forward-leaning as I could on this issue,” and predicting that Democrats would pass a favorable bill.

On gun control, Clinton pushed back against the notion that the issue is too divisive to be solved. “I see this whole gun issue as an opportunity, not a toxic landmine. But it depends on how you do it,” he said, before telling the House Democrats to keep responsible gun owners in mind while crafting gun safety legislation.

“I think we ought to stay with this issue, but you can do it in a way that recognizes that there are people out there that aren’t supposed to be part of our demographic, they’re thinking about this too,” Clinton said. “They were sick from those children who were killed. I guarantee you, a lot of people from where I grew up were asking themselves this practical question: If that young man had had to load three times as often as he did, would all those children have been killed?”

Clinton was the third high-profile speaker to address the retreat. President Obama rallied the troops Thursday, predicting that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi would soon reclaim the Speaker’s gavel, and comedian Stephen Colbert — whose sister, Elizabeth Colbert-Busch, is running as a Democrat in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District — warmed up the crowd for Clinton.


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