WASHINGTON-One former senator from Chicago, Barack Obama, and another soon-to-be-former senator were, among others, on parade Tuesday on Capitol Hill for hearings and policy lunches.
Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York sat in the not-so-hot seat in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on her confirmation to be the next secretary of state, which the Senate will vote on soon. Both Democratic and Republican senators lavished praise on her for her experience and willingness to work with her former rival, President-elect Obama, though questions persisted about potential conflicts of interest with her duties and the Clinton Foundation, which has received sizable donations from foreign governments.
Obama himself swept into the Capitol for lunch with Senate Democrats, looking to rally support for legislation that many are finding hard to swallow. First, his proposed $800 billion stimulus plan includes broad tax cuts, which doesn't sit easily with Democrats. Second, he is pushing for Congress to release the second half of the financial bailout funds-$350 billion-an idea that has Democrats wincing, too, since many consider the dispensing of the first half of the funds a disaster.
But after the lunch, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he believed Democrats have enough votes to release the funds, though from all evidence many senators remain to be convinced of the bailout's viability. After the first several days of Congress displayed internal wrangling in the Democratic Party, mostly with the confusion surrounding Illinois Senate-pick Roland Burris, leaders are eager to project an image of unity leading up to next Tuesday's inauguration.
"In this boat . . . we ought to be rowing together," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, though, hasn't indicated that Republicans will go along. He said he was "disappointed" with the letter from Obama's economic advisor Larry Summers about the next half of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)-the financial bailout. He and his colleagues are "supremely interested in what the second tranche of the TARP will be used for."
Once Obama left the Capitol, attention swung back to confirmation hearings for those he nominated for his cabinet, including Shaun Donovan, nominated to be HUD secretary; Steven Chu, energy secretary; Arne Duncan, secretary of education; and Hillary Clinton, secretary of state.
Clinton's hearing began at 9:30 a.m. and finished around 4:30 p.m., with a break for lunch. While senators didn't grill her like they would a relatively unknown nominee, she still faced plenty of questions about how she would resolve the issue of donations to the Clinton Foundation, a dilemma for senators since a former first lady has never assumed a cabinet position before.
"My husband doesn't take a salary, he has no financial interest," she said about the foundation. "I don't take a salary, I have no financial interest."
Sen. Dick Lugar, the ranking Republican on the committee, asked that the foundation refuse foreign contributions during her time as secretary.
"Foreign governments may perceive the Clinton Foundation as a means to secure a favor with the secretary of state," he said.
Clinton also faced awkwardness with Sen. John Kerry, (D-Mass.), who was first in line to be Obama's secretary of state due to his experience, though he tried to alleviate any tensions by emphasizing that "we look forward to a strong, close, cooperative, working relationship." Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), however, highlighted the awkwardness of Clinton serving in Obama's administration, saying, "You've set your ego aside for world peace and stability."
Though Clinton supports military action in certain situations-she voted for the invasion of Iraq, unlike Obama-she said she plans to beef up diplomatic efforts abroad, which Obama has advocated.
"We have so under-resourced our diplomacy and development," Clinton said, pushing for "smart power," or diplomacy as a central tool of stability. Showing deference to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a member of the Bush cabinet who will stay on in the Obama administration, Clinton said they would seek a responsible way to end the war in Iraq and shift strategy in Afghanistan.