From the disappointment of a failed White House bid, Hillary Rodham Clinton is on the threshold of the world’s stage as chief diplomat for the Democrat who defeated her.
Clinton appeared set to sail smoothly through a Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, despite concerns among some lawmakers that the global fundraising of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, could pose ethical conflicts for her as President-elect Barack Obama’s secretary of state.
"There’s no stumbling block," Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview Monday. The panel could vote on Clinton’s nomination as early as Thursday. If she is approved, as expected, she could be confirmed by the full Senate as early as Inauguration Day.
In advance of the hearing, Hillary Clinton reached out to individual senators through telephone calls and face-to-face meetings, including an hourlong session with Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the committee.
On Monday night, outgoing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and national security adviser Stephen Hadley hosted a dinner for Clinton and Hadley’s successor, retired Gen. James Jones, at the State Department, officials said.
Among the main themes Clinton planned to present in her testimony were the importance of elevating the role of diplomacy, in conjunction with military strength, to achieve the nation’s foreign policy goals, according to a transition official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Clinton, 61, also intended to emphasize areas in which she and Obama think alike, including their conviction that in order to make gains abroad the United States needs to strengthen its domestic economy, the official said. And she planned to emphasize the importance of boosting the State Department’s budget.
Republicans are not expected to try to block the nomination and have even been generous in their praise of Clinton.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Clinton expresses herself well and won’t make any "rookie mistakes." When asked what she wanted to discuss with Clinton, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she would focus on how to "build on America’s role as an Arctic nation," as well as major issues like the crisis in the Middle East and nuclear nonproliferation efforts.
Clinton, who entered the Democratic presidential primary race as the front-runner but lost to Obama, is primed to take over a State Department wrestling with a vast array of diplomatic challenges, from the crisis in Gaza and stalled peace efforts in the Middle East to nuclear worries in south Asia.
In significant respects, the Clinton and Obama views on foreign policy are compatible.
Like Obama, Clinton has said the U.S. should make a more focused commitment to stabilizing Afghanistan and pushing Pakistan to eliminate the havens al-Qaida terrorists have found on its territory.
Both favor closing the prison for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Both support the continued expansion of the Army and the Marine Corps, and they share the view that the Bush administration undervalued international diplomacy.
Carlos Pascual, vice president and director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, said in an interview Monday that Obama and Clinton both look at key issues in their global context — the spread of nuclear know-how and materials, the wide impact of economic reversals, the international reach of terrorist networks and the transnational impact of disease and poverty.
From the moment it became known that Obama was considering nominating Clinton, questions arose about her husband’s charitable work and whether it might pose a conflict of interest for her as secretary of state.
Lawmakers have asked for more details on an agreement she and Obama worked out after the election. As outlined in a Jan. 5 letter from the former president’s lawyer, ethics officials at the State Department will be allowed to review overseas contributions made to Bill Clinton’s charity. The State Department also will be able to assess in advance the former president’s consulting work and speaking engagements.
The Senate is also holding four confirmation hearings Tuesday for other Obama choices for Cabinet and top White House positions. Appearing will be Peter Orszag, his choice to head the Office of Management and Budget, and Robert Nabors II, for deputy director of OMB; New York housing official Shaun Donovan, to be secretary of housing and urban development; Steven Chu, to head the Energy Department; and Arne Duncan, as education secretary.