Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton Reminisce About Guest-Starring on Madame Secretary

Diane Herbst
·5 min read

Clinton Foundation From left: former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

When former secretaries of state Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton and Colin Powell guest-starred in 2018 on Madame Secretary — the hit CBS drama starring Tea Leoni — they knew they needed some time to polish their onscreen skills.

"We spent about half a day on the set having to reshoot and improve on our acting," Clinton recalled with a laugh during a video chat with Albright on Thursday night.

The pair was reminiscing — and sharing their views on what Albright, 83, called President Donald Trump's "horrendous" obstruction of the transition of the power to President-elect Joe Biden — as part of the Clinton Foundation's virtual benefit, in lieu of its annual gala, which highlighted the nonprofit's humanitarian work across the globe.

The actress and singer Audra McDonald performed, and former President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea Clinton also made appearances during the 90-minute fundraiser, where Albright was honored with the 2020 Clinton Global Citizen Award for her life of public service. Various civic leaders were also featured, including Christelle Kwizera, Annie Mayol and Melva Williams.

"I hope you realize this is a period of new beginning for our country and a period of enormous responsibility for all of us who are in a position to do our part to make a positive difference," President Clinton said. "Let's join hands, look to the future and be optimistic and practical."

The work of the family's foundation expanded during the novel coronavirus pandemic to include bringing 680,000 meals to Central Arkansas communities; distributing more than 50,000 children's books, diapers and baby formulas to hard-hit communities; and providing more than 164,000 doses of naloxone, which rapidly revives people who overdose from opioids.

Olympic figure skating medalist Michelle Kwan, now involved with Democratic politics, moderated the chat between the two former secretaries of state.

When she asked what TV shows the pair think "get it closest to reality," they both agreed on Madame Secretary, with its ability to highlight the complications that go along with the position. (Hillary, 73, actually inspired the drama.)

"The show that Hillary is describing, it was all scripted," Albright said of their cameo. "It was very funny — we just weren't very good at all the various parts."

Clinton Foundation Michelle Kwan (top) with Madeleine Albright (left) and Hillary Clinton

Their guest spot two years ago involved the real-life cabinet secretaries advising Leoni's character, who invited them in for guidance. Albright managed to get in one unscripted line.

"I actually said, 'Isn't it nice when the current secretary of state invites her predecessors into consult? We used to do that all the time,' " she remembered. "They left it in, which I thought was great."

The pair of longtime friends also talked about the difficulties of balancing work and family. In 1995, Albright, then ambassador to the United Nations, left her youngest daughter's wedding reception to catch a plane to Beijing with then-First Lady Clinton for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women.

"This was a perfect example of how difficult sometimes it is to figure out what you're supposed to do, as a woman and a mother," Albright said.

During another trip to Czechoslovakia, where Albright was born, the two trailblazers shared what is a first in American politics.

"What I remember is I think it was on that trip, Madeleine, you and I kind of caught each other's eye because we needed to confer about something," Hillary recalled. "And so for the first time, the first lady and the ambassador to the UN met in the ladies' room. That was like the only place that we could get a moment alone to talk about whatever the issue was."

Both Hillary and Albright reminisced about how, in their words, Republicans and Democrats worked together prior to the Trump administration. Hillary recently recorded a message for the upcoming 100th birthday of former Republican Secretary of State George Schultz, who served under Ronald Reagan. And when Hillary became secretary, Schultz gave her a teddy bear. ("And if you press the paw, it said, 'Don't worry, be happy,' " she said at Thursday's event.)

"There were a lot of personal moments with our predecessors and successors, about matters large and small," Hillary said. "That all stopped under this current administration. They're not interested in talking to anybody who's ever done anything before and we've paid the price for that."

Albright, involved in the transition for the Clinton administration in the '90s, likened the importance of this time as "turning over the crown jewels."

The Trump administration's resistance could also have deadly consequences, they said. As Hillary recalled, during the transition from the Republican administration of George W. Bush to Democrat Barack Obama, the Bush administration received intelligence "about a potential attack on the incoming president at the inauguration."

"I mean, you can't imagine anything more serious," she said. "And Condi Rice, who was my predecessor [as secretary of state], convened a meeting in the Situation Room in the White House where the Bush team was on one side of the table. The incoming Obama team was on the other side of the table. We were all Americans. We were all trying to assess this threat that had been reported and what did it mean?"

"If you don't have that level of commitment to your country that goes far beyond party," Hillary said, "or in this case, malignant personality, then you cannot know what the problems are going to be that you will be faced with."

Clinton Foundation Chelsea Clinton

Later in the evening, daughter Chelsea, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, spoke from her home as she described the organization's work with young people, including an initiative to curb widespread use of vaping.

At the night's conclusion, Hillary sat beside her husband as the former president shared a note of hope that the incoming Biden administration has a commitment to help humanity.

"Onward together," Hillary then said, "everybody."