CNN Politics on Tap Comes to New York With a Madeleine Albright Interview

"I think that what we have to do is understand that the strength of our country is our diversity, and that refugees actually can in fact, provide some payback and really help this country."

Politics on Tap, CNN’s occasional series of events mixing an open bar, bites and political dialogue, came to New York last night for the first time, at wood-floored, white chandeliered Harding’s in Manhattan.

The focus of the evening was former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who sat down for an interview with CNN anchor Chris Cuomo.

“First of all, I’m delighted to be here and happy to be with everybody here,” said Albright as prologue to her first question.

“Is that true?” joked Cuomo. “Are you really happy to be here?”

“I am, actually,” said Albright, who then delved right into an explanation of why national debt can also be considered a national security issue.

The evening held other lighthearted exchanges between Albright and Cuomo, including the acknowledgement of mutual admiration between Albright and Cuomo’s father, the late New York City governor Mario Cuomo.

Albright also spoke of her own immigrant history, a story made all the more poignant set against an election fueled by Donald Trump‘s anti-immigrant rhetoric. “I’m an immigrant. I came here when I was 11 years old. My father was a Czechoslovak diplomat, and we came to the United States because he didn’t want to live under communism,” she said, describing her family’s life as exiles in war-torn WWII London before their emigration to the United States. “When people ask me to describe myself in two words: grateful American. And the most important thing that ever happened to me was becoming an American.”

Albright described how that sense of gratitude would help to override a moment of doubt she faced at the United Nations:

And I had the opportunity, which it never occurred to me I would have, is to be able to sit behind a sign that said the United States. You talked about the UN, first time that happened to me, I arrive at the United Nations, and I see this sign that says the United States–I think the women in this audience will identify with this–and I thought, “well I won’t talk today, because I don’t know anybody and I don’t know if they’ll like me, and maybe they’ll think what I say is stupid, and so I won’t say anything,” and then I saw the sign that said the United States, and I thought if I don’t talk today, then the voice of the United States will not be heard. And that has really motivated me.

During their disucssion, Albright made more than one reference to being old, yet everything about her belied a youthful spirit, down to her shiny, cherry-red slingbacks, a patriotic pop of color set against her navy blue suit, topped, as ever, with a brooch.

Much of the meat of Cuomo and Albright’s foreign policy discussion was couched in terms of the 2016 elections and the upcoming debates. Acknowledging both that international policy in the contemporary world is complex and that the debate would likely reduce that complexity into a simplistic assessment of “are you safe at home or not,” Cuomo proceeded to ask Albright her opinion on this question, crafted within a Trumpian frame.

“The world is a mess, there’s no question. That’s a diplomatic turn of art. The bottom line is there are all kinds of threats to the United States,” she says. “What’s happening in the Middle East in a number of different ways. All kinds of things–climate change, disease. We live in a world where we are not immune to everything. But is the threat to the United States something that makes you decide who can keep you safer? I believe you cannot make us all safer by making us terrified of each other, and of people that look and act differently.”