Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton sowed some confusion in Thursday's debate when she said she would sign a bill setting a $15 federal minimum wage, despite saying in the past that $15 could be too aggressive for many parts of the country. On Sunday, she tried to clear things up.
In an interview on ABC's "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos, Clinton said she would sign a $15 minimum wage bill put forth by Democrats if it had certain stipulations in it. The new wage floor would have to be phased in gradually and the effects of the hike would have to be evaluated in areas with lower costs of living.
She said that she and her primary competitor, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), weren't as far apart on the issue as it seemed. Sanders has called for a $15 national minimum wage without qualification.
"I know everybody wants to make this some kind of big contrast. Well, it isn’t," Clinton said.
As she has in the past, Clinton called New York's new minimum wage law a model for the country. That law gradually raises the minimum wage in and near New York City to $15, while the wage floor upstate climbs only to $12.50 before its economic effects are evaluated. Clinton said a federal bill like that would get her signature as president.
"That has been my position and that is exactly what New York just voted for," Clinton said Sunday. "And for federal legislation, if it has the same kind of understanding about how we have to phase this in, how we have to evaluate it as we go -- if the Congress passes that, of course I would sign it."
Her statement Thursday that she would approve a $15 federal minimum as president didn't include those caveats, prompting The Huffington Post and others to say Clinton's stance on the issue had changed. During the campaign, she has voiced her support for a $12 proposal put forth by Senate Democrats, saying rural areas may not be able to handle a hike to $15.
As Sanders said during the debate, "I am sure a lot of people are very surprised to learn that you supported raising the minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour."
Clinton's position on the minimum wage has been a nuanced one throughout the campaign, leaving her open to attacks from Sanders supporters. Her explanation Sunday should clear the air on where she stands, though the federal $15 proposal she envisions is a complicated one. The federal minimum wage traditionally serves as a uniform rock bottom throughout the country; the bill Clinton envisions seems to call for different minimums for different areas.
Asked by Stephanopoulos for a response to Clinton's remarks Sunday, Sanders said the $12-versus-$15 snafu revealed a larger philosophical contrast between him and the front-runner.
"That's the difference between the way we do politics. I'm trying to set a high bar," Sanders said. "I want to lead that effort, not just follow."