» Download Audio
By David Gollust
15 January 2009
There has been more U.S. Senate action on President-elect Obama's national security team. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved his nomination of Hillary Clinton to be secretary of state, and held a hearing on the nomination of Susan Rice to be a cabinet-level United Nations envoy.
|Secretary of State-designate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, is greeted by Senate Foreign Relations Committee members Sen. Christopher Dodd, Sen. John Kerry, prior to start of hearing, 13 Jan 2009|
There has never been any doubt the Senate would give expeditious approval to the nomination of one of its members, Senator Clinton of New York, to be secretary of state.
But the vote in the Foreign Relations Committee was not unanimous, reflecting misgivings by some members that charitable fund-raising by the Senator's husband - former President Bill Clinton - might present conflict-of-interest problems for the new secretary.
Mr. Clinton's foundation, which has been active in the global fight against HIV/AIDS among other projects, has collected more that $500 million in donations in recent years - much of it from abroad - including large gifts from Gulf countries.
Despite commitments by the Clintons to subject donations to rigid ethics scrutiny, the issue figured in the incoming secretary's confirmation hearing earlier this week, with ranking committee member Republican Richard Lugar suggesting that foreign contributions should not be accepted.
The panel voted 16 to one to send the nomination to the full Senate, which is expected to confirm Clinton just after the Obama inauguration ceremony next Tuesday.
Louisiana Republican Senator, David Vitter, who cast the "no" vote, said in a statement the Clinton foundation presents a "minefield" of potential conflicts of interest, especially in the Middle East.
Fellow Republican Jim DeMint told committee chairman John Kerry he would join the panel majority on the nomination, but wanted tougher ethics guidelines for the Clinton foundation.
"Senator Lugar, I think, offered a very thoughtful and respectful approach," he said. "And so while I certainly will support moving her out of committee, I reserve the right to consider the changes that are made. Because nothing could be worse than to take a wonderful talent like Senator Clinton and have a perception of a conflict of interest that does not exist."
After voting to advance the Clinton nomination, the panel held a confirmation hearing for former Clinton administration State Department official Susan Rice as the next U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
Unlike U.N. envoys in the Bush administration, Rice will have cabinet rank, reflecting the incoming administration's stated commitment to greater multi-lateralism in U.S. foreign policy.
Susan Rice, who was a top foreign affairs adviser to President-elect Obama during the campaign, said she was acutely aware of the shortcomings of the U.N. system which often frustrate Americans.
|Susan Rice testifying on Capitol Hill, 15 Jan 2009 |
But she said effective global diplomacy and action through the United Nations is needed more than ever in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. She said her goal will be to refresh and renew American leadership in the United Nations on issues like the political conflict in Zimbabwe.
"There is a deficit of determination to take the difficult steps to call to account dictators such as Robert Mugabe - to demand that his illegitimate government step down and honor the will of the people of Zimbabwe," she said. "And we need to lead from a position of moral strength, to bring others along with us. I hope very much Mr. Chairman, that under President-elect Obama's leadership we will engage more actively with the countries of southern Africa and bring their often private condemnation into the public sphere. We need them to work with us and others to bring the necessary pressure to bear on that regime so that the people of Zimbabwe's suffering can finally end."
Like Senator Clinton, Susan Rice - a former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs - is expected to win easy Senate confirmation.
But some policy experts question the decision to give the U.N. envoy a place in the cabinet. Conservative former Bush administration U.N. envoy John Bolton says it overstates the role and importance the United Nations should have in foreign policy, and that having two cabinet secretaries in the State Department could be a recipe for conflict.