Hillaryland celebrates Huma Abedin’s new memoir – and relives the haunting question of ‘What if?’

“Everyone else has been telling my story for the last 10 to 15 years, and they’re writing my history,” Huma Abedin told her guests. “And I want to reclaim that for myself and for my son.” MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Amanda Andrade-Rhoades

WASHINGTON – It’s a question most people ask themselves: If you had changed one thing – just one tiny decision – how would your life be different?

And it’s a question that shadows Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s right-hand adviser for 25 years. What if she had never applied for a White House internship? What if she hadn’t fallen in love with Anthony Weiner? What if she left him when his sexting first became a national scandal? What if emails on his computer hadn’t alarmed the FBI just days before the 2016 presidential election? Did she change history?

“I carried the guilt of her loss for a very long time,” she told an audience at George Washington University on Wednesday night.

Abedin, 45, mused on fate, luck and her new memoir, “Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds,” at a talk sponsored by the D.C. bookstore Politics and Prose followed by a celebration at the home of the Washington power couple Susanna and Jack Quinn. The first was full of admiring students; the second a house filled with women who, had Clinton won the election, would be running the world.

“There are a lot of reasons it’s sad that Hillary never became president, in large part that whole peace and prosperity thing,” Clinton adviser Philippe Reines told the party guests. “Whenever I look back at the last 20 years, I take for granted that Huma was part of every step of it. One of the sadder parts of losing was that it just dissipated. There was this fantastic team one night, and one hour later it kind of – not disbanded, but the thing that kept us together was no longer there.”

Perhaps Reines – the “token man,” he joked – can never fully appreciate what it means to be a woman in Hillaryland: It is an exclusive sisterhood with lifetime membership, a shared commitment to pragmatic feminism, and collective scars.

Capricia Marshall – who served as White House social secretary during President Bill Clinton’s administration – described it as a group of “women who are fiercely loyal to their boss, who work really hard serving our country and who always have one another’s back. When you become part of this wonderful group of extraordinary women, you care deeply for each other, and you help each other develop, you watch each other grow, you are there with a shoulder when they need it, and you’re there to cheer them on – like we’re all here today, like we are for Huma.”

In a tight circle of protective women, Abedin always stood out. “One word: loyalty,” said Elizabeth Bagley, a Democratic fundraiser and former ambassador to Portugal. “She is the most loyal person in the world. And she would say the same thing about Hillary. We all say the same thing about Hillary.”

Abedin was just 20 years old and a student at GWU when she started working as an intern at the White House in 1996. It was there that she found her “ummah,” the Arabic word Abedin uses to describe a community of people who are always there, no matter what. During the book talk, moderator Joy-Ann Reid noted that Abedin adored her boss from the beginning and became Hillary Clinton’s most trusted aide and confidante, almost a second daughter.

Huma Abedin’s new book “Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds” is featured on a coffee table at the home of Susanna and Jack Quinn in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 3. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Amanda Andrade-Rhoades

“She knew Hillary,” said Reines at the party. “She was Hillary. They were the same, an extension of each other.”

Abedin was at Clinton’s side as first lady, senator, secretary of state and presidential candidate. The beauty standing in the back of the room was seen but never heard in public. It wasn’t until she married Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y. – in a 2010 ceremony officiated by Bill Clinton and covered by Vogue – that she became a public figure.

Abedin may have been politically astute but freely admits she was romantically naive: Weiner was her first love and her first lover, a man who betrayed her in a humiliating sexting scandal that seeped into the 2016 presidential campaign.

No one, except perhaps Hillary Clinton, could understand why Abedin stayed in her marriage. The question everyone wanted to know, she told the GWU audience Wednesday, was: “What is wrong with her? What is she thinking?” Abedin said she’s made decisions that she believes are right for her and for her 9-year-old son; a divorce from Weiner is about to be finalized.

Why write a book? In part, it was a tribute to her immigrant parents, a way to help Americans understand what it means to be a practicing Muslim, and a forum for setting the record straight: “Everyone else has been telling my story for the last 10 to 15 years, and they’re writing my history,” she explained in short remarks to her friends at the party. “And I want to reclaim that for myself and for my son. I want him to look at this book in 15 years and be proud of his mommy and honor the legacy.”

But it’s mostly a clapback to the men in her life who sold her short. Vogue editor Anna Wintour suggested she write a book; Clinton and other female friends thought it was a great idea. Then she had lunch with a male friend and mentioned she was thinking about an autobiography. His response? A dismissive “Pfft.” She walked out of that lunch and said, ‘I’m writing this book.”

Pro tip about women of Hillaryland: The fastest way to get them to do something is to tell them they can’t.

“I’m glad she’s not the ‘woman behind the woman’ anymore because she has such an incredible story to tell,” said Adrienne Elrod, who worked with Abedin on Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

And so the book party was a celebration, a reunion and a trip back to glory days. The guest of honor arrived late, elegant in a jade-green dress. Clinton did not attend but texted friends during the talk to see how Abedin was doing at her first book event in front of a live audience. And she had a message for the party guests, which Reines passed along: Buy Abedin’s book – and then “State of Terror,” Clinton’s new thriller with Louise Penny.

Guests included Biden White House officials Evan Ryan and Neera Tanden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Debbie Dingell, CNN’s Dana Bash and Pamela Brown, CBS anchor Norah O’Donnell, 2016 Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, longtime Clinton counselor Melanne Verveer, Barack Obama’s deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter and other Democratic power brokers. “When I saw this guest list,” joked Abedin, “I said, ‘Do they know Hillary is not coming?’ I swear to God.”

The groaning charcuterie board remained virtually untouched; people were too busy catching up. The mood was upbeat, with just a shadow of regret. “Every time you think of Donald Trump, you think, ‘Oh God, what might have been,'” said Bagley. “The world would be different.”

Abedin, who spent most of the party hugging guests, said she was focused on the future. An hour earlier, she had passed on her most important piece of advice to students: “Keep your girlfriends close.”



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