WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential hopefuls and the president himself took the stage at the Democratic National Committee’s Women in Leadership Forum on Friday. The mission of the DNC’s Women in Leadership Forum is to increase female engagement in the party by shaping party policy and influence.
This year’s forum gave candidates the opportunity to share their plan for women’s rights and gave President Barack Obama the opportunity to reflect on his administration and the progress made, while poking fun at Republicans.
Former Connecticut governor Lincoln Chafee was the first to take the stage, but not as a Democratic presidential hopeful as originally planned. Chafee announced just before he spoke that he was no longer running for president.
“As you may know I’ve been campaigning on a platform of prosperity through peace,” Chafee said. “But after much thought, I have decided to end my campaign for president today,” Chafee told the crowd, who responded with a collective “aw.”
Chafee continued with his vision of peace, specifically in foreign policy.
“Do we want to be remembered as a bomber of weddings and hospitals? Or do we want to be remembered as peacemakers, as pioneers of a more harmonious world?” Chafee asked in what appeared to be a foreign policy swipe at the Obama administration.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also used his platform to speak about the economy before moving to women’s rights, rattling right off the bat about the economy and the influence of Super PAC’s over the election.
“As a nation we are going to have to ask ourselves whether it is morally acceptable, whether it is economically sustainable, that so few have so much while so many have so little,” Sanders said. “In my view, that has got to change, and we need an economy that works for working families.”
He also emphasized the participation of young voters, citing that when voter turnout is low, Republicans take office.
“We win when people come together, when we reject the vision of men versus women, of straight versus gay, black versus white, of people born in this country as opposed to people born in another country,” Sanders proclaimed. “That is what they [Republicans] want to do.”
Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley’s speech did not garner as much excitement in the room as Sanders’ speech did, but he nonetheless spoke extensively of his policy goals and visions.
“If women decide to have families, they shouldn’t have to choose between a career and taking care of their children,” O’Malley said.
Paid leave and equal pay were two issues every candidate hopes to reform.
Hillary Clinton took the stage the morning after a daylong hearing on Benghazi to several minutes of tumultuous applause.
“As some of you may know, I had a pretty long day yesterday,” she said as the crowd laughed.
But one of the loudest ovations was on the issue of gun control.
“I’ve been told to stop, and I quote, ‘shouting about gun violence,’” Clinton said. “Well, first of all, I’m not shouting. It’s just when women talk, some people think we’re shouting.”
Both Clinton and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who spoke earlier, praised Vice President Joe Biden, who announced his decision to not run for president on Wednesday.
After Clinton spoke, there were panel discussions until Obama took the stage in the late afternoon.
Obama spoke with bravado as he recalled all the work and progress done by Democrats for U.S., while poking fun at Republican presidential nominees, comparing them to “Grumpy Cat.”
“I mean, they are gloomy,” Obama said to laughter. “They’re like Grumpy Cat. Everything is terrible, according to them. We’re doomed!”
Obama listed accomplishments achieved under his administration, including the drop in the unemployment rate from 10 percent to 5.1 percent, marriage equality in all 50 states and health-care coverage for over 90 percent of Americans.
Obama also praised his foreign policy record.
“When I took office, our influence around the world was at a nadir, our standing was diminished,” Obama said. “Today, America is leading the world in confronting new threats – making sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon.”
He did not, however, mention the ongoing conflict in Syria, with President Bashar al-Assad still in power, or the recent Russian military strikes by Russian President Vladimir Putin in his attempt to assert authority over the region.
Obama ended his speech with a reminder to the audience that a democracy is only sustained with participation from citizens.
We’ve got too much work to do,” Obama said. “Our system only works when we realize that government is not some alien thing; government is not some conspiracy or plot; it’s not something to oppress you. Government is us in a democracy. Government is us. If you care about all the things that we fight for, you’re going to have to be active. You’re going to have to be involved.”
Reach reporter Heather Khalifa at [email protected] or 202-408-1488. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
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