No Stumbling Block Expected At Clinton Hearing

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Sen. Hillary Clinton is scheduled to testify Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will decide whether to recommend to the full Senate that she be the next secretary of state. Clinton is expected to face tough questions from the committee's right flank, but not any major hurdles to confirmation.


It's Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne. With a new administration coming to power next week, the Senate this week is busy holding confirmation hearings. We'll hear about the prospective energy secretary in a moment. But first, Hillary Clinton is expected to have a fairly easy confirmation process to be the next secretary of state. Senators on the Foreign Relations Committee are promising, though, to quiz her about foreign donors to her husband's charitable foundation. And she'll get plenty of questions about the Middle East and other hot spots, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: When Hillary Rodham Clinton was formally nominated as secretary of state last year, she joked about how being a senator from New York helped prepare her for the job.

Senator HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (Democrat, New York): After all, New Yorkers aren't afraid to speak their minds, and do so in every language.

KELEMEN: Being a senator may also make things go more smoothly for her today, as she's among friends and colleagues. Senator Clinton met with as many committee members as possible before the hearings. The message she's been sending is one of a new approach in foreign policy.

Sen. CLINTON: Our security, our values and our interests cannot be protected and advanced by force alone - nor, indeed, by Americans alone. We must pursue vigorous diplomacy using all the tools we can muster to build a future with more partners and fewer adversaries, more opportunities and fewer dangers for all who seek freedom, peace and prosperity.

KELEMEN: Her aides say she brushed up on the issues in meetings with top diplomats, including the State Department's number three official, William Burns, who's expected to keep his job. She's also been making plans to bring back familiar faces and some foreign policy heavyweights to her State Department, if confirmed. Former President Clinton's Bosnia negotiator, Richard Holbrooke, is expected to be an adviser. And former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross is to deal with Iran and, perhaps more broadly, Middle East issues. A former ambassador to Israel, Sam Louis, says there are no great mysteries about these advisers. He's predicting the approach to the Middle East will be similar to that of the Clinton administration, though different from the Bush administration.

Mr. SAM LEWIS (Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel): It'll be more multilateral. It will be less arrogant, I think. Less, this is what you have to do and when you do it, then we'll think about talking to you - which has really been the Bush approach towards Syria and Iran both. I don't know if it will be different about Hamas. I think they'll stay with the same policy, pretty much, on Hamas for the time being.

KELEMEN: Israel's war in Gaza against Hamas - which the U.S. considers a terrorist group - is sure to be a topic at the confirmation hearing. Senator Clinton may also be asked about the State Department's role in rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq, and what she'll do about U.S. foreign aid in these tough economic times. Georgetown Professor Carol Lancaster, who was a top aid official during the Clinton administration, thinks Senator Clinton, if confirmed, will want to present another face of America to the world.

Professor CAROL LANCASTER (Politics, Georgetown University): I think she will try, in more than just words, to elevate development. It's one of the three D's we all talk about: defense, diplomacy and development. I think we have yet to realize - I think she - I think she'll want to do that.

KELEMEN: And this is one area where Mrs. Clinton does have a strong background, according to Lancaster, who co-chaired a working group on development for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

Prof. LANCASTER: She understands the development issue like no other secretary of state I've known - and I've served under five or six of them - because she's seen it. She - every time she made one of her trips when she was first lady, she would go and look at aid projects. She would meet with people, including women. That's also, obviously, a very strong interest of hers, women's empowerment. And she'd give speeches on it.

KELEMEN: There is a related question that senators have been asking: whether international donations to former President Bill Clinton's charitable foundation will lead to any conflict of interest for a Secretary of State Clinton. The former president has released his donor list, and has agreed to let State Department ethics lawyers look over speeches and future donations. Senators of the Foreign Relations Committee will want to know just how that will work. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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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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