Hillary Clinton watches rival become the President

Former president Bill Clinton (right) and former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton arrive at inauguration ceremonies swearing in Donald Trump.
Former president Bill Clinton (right) and former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton arrive at inauguration ceremonies swearing in Donald Trump.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (THE NEW YORK TIMES) - This was not the inauguration Hillary Clinton thought she would be attending.

Some Democrats, still bitter about her election night defeat, grumbled privately that she should have skipped Mr Donald Trump's swearing-in, as 60 House Democrats did on Friday. But a groundswell of supporters praised her fortitude.

There she was, in the bookend of a political career that spanned from first lady to senator to secretary of state, watching as her former Republican opponent was inaugurated as the 45th president.

Mrs Clinton was not required to accompany former President Bill Clinton and other former presidents and dignitaries to the ceremony. But after taking a deep breath backstage, she strode on stage with a practiced smile, wearing a Ralph Lauren coat and pants, all in white, a tribute to the suffragists that she had similarly made at times during her presidential campaign.

She greeted allies and adversaries, embraced former first ladies, got a thumbs up from former President George W. Bush, and exchanged a warm hello with her old boss, President Barack Obama, all while appearing impervious to the scattered chants of "Lock her up!" coming from the crowd.

Mrs Clinton's resolve to attend the event drew admiration from some who know her.

"It speaks to the depth of her character, her patriotism and her broader faith that often got lost in the campaign and was so often undernoticed," said Ms Christine Quinn, a former New York City Council speaker and mayoral candidate in town for the Women's March on Saturday.

On Friday morning, Mrs Clinton wrote on Twitter: "I'm here today to honour our democracy & its enduring values. I will never stop believing in our country & its values."

Trump and Clinton did not shake hands at the swearing-in, but after the inauguration, the Clintons attended a luncheon in the Capitol, where the new president said he was "very, very honoured" that the former first couple was there and asked them to stand for a round of applause.

The Clintons, who sat at a well-positioned table with Trump's daughter Tiffany, and others close to the new president, rose from their seats with tight grins.

"There's nothing more I can say because I have a lot of respect for those two people, so thank you all for being here," Mr Trump said.

 

Aside from the occasional appearance at a Broadway show or walk in the woods around her home in Chappaqua, New York, Mrs Clinton has kept a low profile since her election loss in November.

As her husband and daughter, Chelsea Clinton, dive into their efforts at the Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton has given no signal about what she will do next.

"She's just not there yet," said a friend who talked to her recently.

Asked how she's doing, Mrs Clinton has told friends that she is "surviving," said several people who have spoken with her but would describe the content of the private conversations only on the condition of anonymity.

Just as her candidacy divided many women, Mrs Clinton's attendance at the inauguration prompted mixed reactions.

To some, her presence was a reminder of the missteps of Mrs Clinton's campaign in a race that many Democrats considered hers to lose.

On Thursday, the Woman's March on Washington, expected to draw roughly 200,000 women, put out a list of over two dozen honorees, including Shirley Chisholm, Gloria Steinem and Malala Yousafzai. One name not included: Hillary Clinton.

"Even for women who were die-hard supporters, they want to know when she's gonna decide not to attend the inauguration of a man who disrespected her and millions of women across the country," said a post on social media by Linda Sarsour, an activist and a co-chairwoman of the Women's March who supported Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the Democratic primary.

The decision not to honour Mrs Clinton, who is not expected to attend the march, spurred a backlash. Supporters noted that the event's official rallying cry, "women's rights are human rights", originated with Mrs Clinton's 1995 speech at the United Nations Fourth World Congress in Beijing.

Other major moments in Clinton's career were marked not by her own forceful declarations, but rather by her ability to withstand painful public humiliations and defeats.

"Everyone would have understood if she stayed home," said Jennifer Palmieri, a former senior campaign aide to Mrs Clinton. "But that's not how she's built."