Sharing the stage with Bill Gates Tuesday, former President Bill Clinton turned the inevitable question about his wife's political future into a punch line, then a stern finger-wagging.
Moderator Tamron Hall set up the moment, starting her question about "the elephant in the room," with a quick flip to Gates.
"Women are clamoring at the edge of our seats wondering what is next. we know that she's dynamic -- her leadership is unmatched. her voice for women, the poor, families, so i have to ask it: Mr. Gates, when is Melinda jumping into politics?"
"We're both very lucky to have amazing wives who keep us on track and do amazing work in their own right," Gates responded, playing along. "And I don't think Melinda will run for president. She hasn't mentioned it to me."
Then Hall pivoted to Clinton.
"She hasn't mentioned it to me either," Clinton said, drawing big laughs, before turning serious. "I don't know what will happen. But I know this: that is the worst expenditure of our time."
"You know, she is taking a role in the [Clinton] Foundation, she is writing books, she is having a little fun being a private citizen for the first time in 20 years and she is, you know, that's fine. But we need to be worried about the work at hand. All of us do. So whoever the next president is, has an easier set of choices before him or her to build America 's future and to build a more peaceful, more prosperous world.
And it is frustrating when I think we're majoring in the minors, either over the budget debate or going right back to politics as soon as the last election is over instead of getting into the grimy details, where the future of America will be written. How we resolve these details. I think I'll pander to Bill Gates a little bit, since he has money and I don't. The Gates Foundation may be the best foundation, not just now, ever. Part of it is they worry about big things with clarity, but they also get into the grimy details.
This stuff has to work. All that really matters in the end whether what you do turns your good intentions into real changes. And it obscures our capacity to do that and plays to our national tendency to attention deficit disorder when it comes to politics and public problems if we get off on politics too early and forget about the details."