Alumna, former aide to Hillary Clinton reflects on career in political arena

Media Credit: Anthony Peltier | Staff Photographer

Alumna Huma Abedin began as a White House intern in 1996 while attending GW.

A former aide and chief of staff for Hillary Clinton discussed her professional career in public service at Betts Theater Wednesday.

Huma Abedin, an alumna of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, recapped her career serving as Clinton’s aide, from interning during Clinton’s time as first lady to working as her deputy chief of staff when she was secretary of state. Nearly 280 people attended the event, which was moderated by Joy-Ann Reid, the host of “The ReidOut” on MSNBC and hosted by the Politics and Prose bookstore.

The event served as a review of Abedin’s new book “Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds,” a memoir of her experience as one of Clinton’s closest advisers.

Abedin said her family viewed education as a “religion” with her family matriarchs defying societal norms, which was discouraged in her ethnic community. She said her parents’ emphasis on the value of interreligious and intercultural awareness helped prepare her for life at GW.

She said she felt immediately welcomed at GW because of its diverse student body, and her classmates’ persistence was the reason why she applied for an internship at the White House.

“The reason I walked onto this campus and said ‘This place is for me,’ is because it had that international community,” she said.

Abedin said she felt the same sense of community when she interned for Clinton. She said as soon as she walked into the White House, she had an “ammah,” which is Hebrew for a community of people where she never felt alone.

“I walked into that office and just fell in love with the work, the people – they only looked a couple years older than me – and I didn’t even know if I was a Democrat,” she said.

Abedin said as part of Hillary Clinton’s staff, she felt a need to protect the then-first lady from former President Bill Clinton’s betrayal during the Monica Lewinsky scandal and subsequent impeachment proceedings. She said she was shocked and couldn’t process the situation, but she still had to carry on her duties serving Clinton at the time.

“I think all of us in ‘Hillary-land’ kind of felt this immediate need and want to really protect her,” she said.

Abedin said while the scandal involving her ex-husband and former U.S. representative Anthony Weiner, who sent sexually explicit text messages to a 15 year old, was shocking, it was not the most difficult part of her political career. She said the toughest hardship she faced came when Republican members of Congress accused her of being in association with terrorist organizations in 2016.

She said the accusations pained her, because they attacked her mother, late father and brother for their religious identity as Muslims.

“Back in 1997, I felt very accepted,” she said. “Then, 9/11, these horrific acts basically cast a shadow on my whole community, and I saw it happening in real time.”

Abedin said the best advice she received within the political arena is to feel and reflect on her emotions during difficult events. She said she was furious and felt personally responsible for Clinton’s loss following her 2016 presidential campaign, where she served as vice chairperson, because of the investigation that opened 11 days before the election into her former husband’s sexting scandal and related emails.

She said she stopped feeling emotions in general, because it felt selfish to do so at the time.

“Allow yourself to feel,” she said. “Don’t shut things out, because I did it for a long time, and it almost killed me as you’ll read in the book.”

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