This weekend over 1,000 college students from around the world descended upon Washington D.C. to participate in the 5th Annual Clinton Global Initiative University, or CGI U — a summit started by former President Bill Clinton in 2008 to inspire the youngest generation of Americans to lead a life of service.
ABC News’ Jake Tapper sat down exclusively with the former President to discuss the marked achievements of the collegiate arm of his CGI network, as well as the current political climate of this election year.
Looking at what has already been a tumultuous GOP primary season, President Clinton expressed doubt that candidate Mitt Romney could overcome his latest unfavorable ratings … a similar scenario Clinton himself faced when he ran in 1992.
“He’s gotta convince the swing voters that he’ll be moderate enough and open enough and inclusive enough to be an effective president, and effective on the economy,” Clinton said about Romney. ” And hope that the Republican base voters say, ‘Well, okay, so he maybe wasn’t as right-wing as he claimed to be in the primary. Still more conservative than President Obama. I guess I’ll vote for him anyway and I won’t stay home.’”
Clinton believes President Obama will win re-election “handily”, saying the 2010 midterm elections in his mind assured victory for Obama in November. As for the argument of whether voters are better off now than they were when Obama took office? Clinton believes most Americans will be able to say just that come Election Day, adding “we have begun to dig our way out. With the financial reform bill, we have taken steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. And we’re moving in the right direction and have a better plan for the future than the other guys do.”
Clinton lauded President Obama’s national security team — Secretaries Panetta & Clinton, as well as NSA Director Tom Donilon. And when asked about his favorite Cabinet member — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — and her potential political aspirations in 2016, President Clinton was quick to support any decision his wife makes, while admitting he’ll be happy if she does choose to head back to New York.
“I believe when she says she doesn’t think she’ll run, she’s being completely honest,” Clinton said. “I want her to do what she wants to do. I’m glad she’s comin’ home, I miss her. We have fun together.”
But the focus for Clinton is the over 1,000 college kids gathered in Washington this weekend. These students, representing over 300 colleges and universities and more than 80 countries, each create their own “commitments to action”– a small-scale project connected to one of a host of topics — everything from human rights and healthcare, to education and job creation.
The former President commended the ingenuity of the CGI U participants– saying the entire summit benefits from a dichotomy of groups.
“There are the young people who are always idealistic and always have good ideas. Then there are the young people who are disillusioned with government or with the private sector, who think, ‘Okay, I want to take things in my own hands. Start my own organization. Do something that makes a difference for the grassroots up,’” Clinton said. “And we had both types of young people here. It was very interesting. ”
Two student initiatives Clinton highlighted belong to Tyler Spencer and Kyle McCollum. Tyler’s commitment Grassroot, connects NCAA Division I athletes with local school children to promote HIV/AIDS awareness in Washington D.C., the city with the nation’s highest rates of infection.
Triple Thread, the commitment started by then-Vanderbilt student Kyle McCollum, hires recently released prisoners from the local jail, trains them in the t-shirt screen printing business, and offers them a job and a smooth transition back to the workforce.
“That’s just one school,” said President Clinton. “If every college or university that had a prison within 40 miles did something similar, we could…”
After the interview, Clinton and Tapper took to the streets of Washington where hundreds of student participants at CGI U were partaking in an annual service project.
“We always end with a community service project so that people can not only have their ideas of what they want to do but they can get the experience of working together,” Clinton explained. “They’re all sitting there doing these community service projects together. I think it’s so good for them as well as good for the causes here. Wherever we work … wherever we meet … we always pick a different service projects.”
For the 5th annual CGI U, students participated in not one but two community service projects. The first partnered with the USO to put together care packages for soldiers. The second teamed up with Rebuilding Together to refurbish homes in a Northeast Washington neighborhood.
In the five years since its inception, Clinton Global Initiative University has had over 5,000 students declare over 4,000 commitments, many of them returning in consecutive years to grow their already successful endeavors. In 2012 alone, the students participating in CGI U made 915 commitments.
“Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts was in New Orleans to help launch CGI U. In the years since its inception, CGI U has been held on different college campuses across the country — California, Texas, Miami. In five years, the summit has awarded over $1 million in grants to various student initiatives.