Clinton gets warm reception at confirmation hearing

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Hillary Rodham Clinton

Secretary of State-designate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., takes her seat on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009, prior to the start of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on her nomination.

Susan Walsh/The Associated Press
Published: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 11:03 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 1:00 p.m.

WASHINGTON The first wave of high-profile confirmation hearings for President-elect Barack Obama's Cabinet began Tuesday with Sen. Hillary Clinton, his choice for secretary of state, blasting the Bush administration's handling of foreign affairs and vowing to improve America's standing around the world.

"America cannot solve the most pressing problems on our own, and the world cannot solve them without America," Clinton said in her opening remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "I believe American leadership has been wanting, but still wanted."

Both Democrats and Republicans touted Clinton's qualifications for the job and predicted that she'll have almost no problem being confirmed. However, some committee members expressed concern about potential conflicts of interest from the sweeping global activities of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and his nonprofit William J. Clinton Foundation.

Clinton's foundation, which has done work on HIV/AIDS, climate change and global poverty, has accepted more than $131 million from foreign governments, including Saudi Arabia and Dubai.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., the ranking Republican on the committee, called Clinton eminently qualified to be the secretary of state but expressed concern about the Clinton Foundation's activities. He said transparency was a must for the foundation and that it should "forswear" foreign donations if Hillary Clinton were confirmed.

"The core problem is that foreign governments and entities may perceive the Clinton Foundation as a means to curry favor with the secretary of state," Lugar said in his opening remarks. "It also sets up potential perception problems with any action taken by the secretary of state in relation to foreign givers or their countries. The nature of the secretary of state post makes recusal from specific policy decisions almost impossible."

The former president wasn't at Tuesday's hearings, but daughter Chelsea Clinton was, sitting behind her mother.

Clinton, the junior senator from New York, signaled her intention to shift U.S. foreign policy from the go-it-alone unilateralist approach that marked President George W. Bush's first term.

Instead, she said, Obama's State Department under her leadership will take a more comprehensive approach.

"We must use what has been called 'smart power,' the full range of tools at our disposal," she said. "With 'smart power,' diplomacy will be the vanguard of foreign policy."

Of all of Obama's Cabinet choices, none generated more buzz or raised more eyebrows than Clinton. The two fought tooth and nail for the Democratic presidential nomination, and foreign affairs was the main field of battle. Clinton had called Obama naive and unprepared to handle the international dangers that the new president will face.

She'd encapsulated her argument in the now-famous television ad that asked voters who was better prepared to take a 3 a.m. crisis call in the White House. She may have alluded to the ad in her opening remarks Tuesday.

"I don't get up every morning thinking only about the threats and dangers we face," she told the senators.

Obama, for his part, challenged Clinton's international credentials beyond having visited foreign countries as first lady, a largely ceremonial role.

However, Clinton's and Obama's views of the world appeared in sync Tuesday, as she noted that she and the president-elect are committed to ending the war in Iraq with a "responsible" withdrawal of troops, a sticking point between the two during the campaign.

To drive home the Obama-Clinton unity, the secretary of state-designate offered a not-so-veiled dig at Bush.

"The president-elect and I believe that foreign policy must be based on a marriage of principle and pragmatism, not rigid ideology; on facts and evidence, not emotion or prejudice," she said.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the chairman of the committee, said that he hoped to have a vote on Clinton's nomination by Thursday.

Lawmakers also were holding hearings Tuesday on Peter Orszag, Obama's choice to head the Office of Management and Budget, and Robert Nabors II, for deputy OMB director; New York housing official Shaun Donovan, for secretary of housing and urban development; Steven Chu, to head the Energy Department; and Arne Duncan, the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools, to lead the Department of Education.

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