By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
NEW YORK -- They are setting a new standard for the power couple.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to give the closing address on Friday at the multibillion-dollar global philanthropic network headed by her husband, former president Bill Clinton. Hours earlier, Bill Clinton -- who is also a special United Nations envoy on Haiti -- is expected to attend an UN event in support of Haiti with his wife.
As Bill CIinton busies himself with a foundation that puts celebrities like Usher together with nonprofit CEOs, antipoverty activists, and Saudi billionaires, he says the tables are turned from the time he held a powerful government post, and his wife was the one who threw herself into charitable work.
"Hillary is busy," he told a small group of reporters today at the Clinton Global Initiative. Noting that he tries to travel to Washington once a week, when his wife is usually free, he said, "Here we are at the later stages of our lives when we switch roles."
He seemed to credit Hillary Clinton with his own foray into philanthropy, saying "she's been doing this forever."
The white-haired former president, who wore his glasses on the tip of his nose, told a nostalgic story about how Hillary went to France before they were married to learn about the French child care system, and eventually helped him come up with ideas for reforming child care in Arkansas when he was governor.
Now, he says, he often asks her advice on his own philanthropic projects, but steers clear of topics that are hot in the news.
"We do talk about a lot of things, but there are some things that I deliberately don't ask about, unless she asks me."
On the Middle East, an area where US officials are still examining the outlines of a peace deal that Bill Clinton advanced, the former president suggested that his wife might ask him about the past but that their conversations on the topic are limited.
"I know a lot about that, but then again, so does she, and so does [current Mideast envoy] George Mitchell," he said.
He said he made a deliberate effort to stay quiet after his return from North Korea, where he negotiated the release of two detained American journalists.
"I never want to say anything to constrain the options of the whole national security team," he said.
One subject that he said he talked to his wife a lot about was her current high-profile effort to ensure food security for the world to prevent hunger on a global scale.
"I talked to her about how wonderful they are to do this, and how wrong I was not to do this," Bill said. "I grew up in a farming area and I feel very badly as president that I did not pick it up."
Although Bill Clinton portrayed himself as at peace in his new role as a former president and an outsider to the current administration, he did not refrain from listing all the ways that Obama could use his executive power to show a strong US response to global warming.
"If we look like we are wimping out on this...they will think that America has grown long in the tooth, that our best days are behind us," he said, before moving onto a session that included actor Brad Pitt, a senior White House aide, and the executive director of a New Orleans housing organization. "People have got to think we have our mojo going, that we are alert, alive and on top of the changes in the world."
He said he believed that a "decently good cap-and-trade bill" to combat global warming could pass the US Senate, but he said: "This is not going to happen unless you can prove its good business."
"Based on the world my foundation does, I don't think it is a close question," he said. "It will create more jobs than it costs, by light years, but nobody has been able to make that sale yet to America."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.