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When Hillary Clinton says 'I am confident that...,' does she mean it?

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Charlie Neibergall/AP

(Read caption) Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks about her renewable energy plan on Monday at the Des Moines Area Rapid Transit Central Station in Des Moines, Iowa.

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“I am confident that ...” A qualified assertion that deliberately stops short of being an expression of absolute certainty.

In one of her latest comments on the controversy about whether she used a private server to send classified e-mails, Hillary Clinton told reporters: “I am confident that I never sent nor received any information that was classified at the time it was sent or received.” That led Ron Fournier of National Journal to observe on Twitter: “ ‘I am confident that’ has more wiggle room than ‘is.’ ”

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Former President George W. Bush used the term a few weeks earlier, in discussing Clinton’s possible face-off with his brother Jeb and the potential that matchup has for rising above the expected partisan mudslinging. “I know Jeb, and I am confident that Secretary Hillary will elevate the discourse,” Bush said.

“I am confident that” is often used to subtly express exasperation and seize the political high ground. These days, it’s most often surfaced in the context of the controversial nuclear weapons deal with Iran. When Secretary of State John Kerry recently defended the agreement in the face of extremely skeptical questioning from Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida, Kerry said: “I’m confident that the next president of the United States will have enough common sense that if this is being applied properly, if it’s being implemented fully, they’re not going to just arbitrarily end it.”

President Obama also used it in a similar way in April to upbraid Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who has said he would rescind any deal with Iran. “I am confident that any president who gets elected,” Obama told NPR, “will be knowledgeable enough about foreign policy and knowledgeable enough about the traditions and precedents of presidential power that they won’t start calling [into] question the capacity of the executive branch of the United States to enter into agreements with other countries.”

Obama has made it clear for a while that he has virtually no confidence in the GOP-controlled Congress. But when the BBC recently asked Obama about Iran, he replied: “In Congress, I’m confident that we’re going to be able to make sure that the deal sticks.”

Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark write their "Speaking Politics" blog exclusively for Politics Voices.