Senate Expected To Quickly Confirm Clinton

Sen. Hillary Clinton is scheduled to testify Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whose members will decide whether to recommend to the full Senate that the former first lady be the nation's next secretary of state.

Though Clinton is expected to be quizzed closely on issues ranging from the future of the nation's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to her husband's international fundraising for his foundation, Senate leaders say no major hurdles to confirmation are anticipated.

Support From Republicans

Committee chairman Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who endorsed President-elect Barack Obama in the Democratic primaries when Clinton was still competing hard, has promised a fair and expeditious confirmation process. Before the president-elect tapped his former rival to fill the top diplomatic job, Kerry himself was considered high on the list of prospects.

Kerry has said he plans to hold a committee vote before week's end, setting up a scenario where the Senate could confirm Clinton before Obama is sworn in Jan. 20, and a new senator named to fill her New York seat.

A number of Senate Republicans have spoken favorably of Clinton since Obama named her as his choice for secretary of state. And though the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Dick Lugar of Indiana, has said that he plans to question Clinton about donations by foreign governments to her husband's foundation, his office has indicated the colloquy will not be protracted.

Clinton is expected to face other tough questions from the committee's right flank, including Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and David Vitter of Louisiana, but no one has predicted that their potential reservations will upend Obama's most high-profile Cabinet pick.

When Clinton was chosen by Obama last year, she joked that being a senator from New York helped prepare her for a job as secretary of state.

"New Yorkers aren't afraid to speak their mind, and do so in every language," she said.

Breaking With Bush-Era Policy

Clinton's tenure as a senator may also help ensure a smooth outing. She has met with many committee members in advance of Tuesday's hearing, and she'll likely offer in her comments an approach to foreign policy that includes aggressive diplomacy — a break with the Bush administration.

"Our security, our values and our interests cannot be protected and advanced by force alone now — indeed, by Americans alone," Clinton said at the time of her selection. "We must pursue vigorous diplomacy using all the tools we can muster to build a future with more partners and fewer adversaries."

Clinton's aides say she has been brushing up on issues during meetings with top diplomats, like the State Department's No. 3 person, William Burns, who is expected to keep his job. She also has been making plans to bring back some familiar faces from her husband's administration, including Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy. Holbrooke was former President Clinton's top Bosnia negotiator.

Samuel Lewis, the former ambassador to Israel who was instrumental in Arab-Israeli negotiations during the Carter and Reagan administrations, said there's one area in which he does not expect Clinton to completely break with the Bush administration: U.S. policy on the Arab-Israeli issue. But he predicted that Clinton's diplomatic policy would be "more multilateral and less arrogant." Lewis says he expects Clinton to be less likely than the Bush administration to set preconditions before entering into diplomatic discussions with countries like Syria and Iran.

That prediction comes despite Clinton's campaign criticism of Obama's stated willingness to sit down with enemy nations without precondition.

Clinton is also expected to be questioned about Hamas and the ongoing crisis in the Gaza Strip.

She is also likely to face questions about former President Bill Clinton's charitable donors: Obama has rejected a call Sunday by The New York Times to require Clinton to submit monthly reports on Clinton Foundation fundraising efforts. The current arrangement, as agreed to by Obama and the Clintons, requires an annual report.

More frequent reports are needed, the newspaper argued in an editorial, because donations have come from "governments in the Middle East, tycoons from India, Nigeria, Ukraine and Canada, and international figures with interest in the policies Mrs. Clinton will be helping to write and carry out."

Obama, through a statement delivered by transition team spokeswoman Brooke Anderson, dismissed the request, saying that the current agreement "goes well beyond the requirements of the law to help avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest."

With reporting from Liz Halloran and Michele Kelemen

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