Clinton faces relatively easy confirmation hearing

The nominee to be secretary of State dealt with some tough questions about her husband's work, but her a vote in her favor seems assured.

Published January 13, 2009 11:10PM (EST)

At this point, Hillary Clinton's confirmation as secretary of State seems like a fait accompli. Not that that's really news, per se -- we've known for a while now that she'd have a relatively smooth ride on her way to Foggy Bottom. But Tuesday's hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made it clear that Clinton won't face any real obstacles. Oh, she faced some tough questions related to her husband's post-presidential career, but other than that the process was really just so much theater. Everyone was playing their assigned roles in the drama, despite knowing already how it will all eventually end. (Besides, as senators are wont to do, most of the people questioning Clinton weren't so much actually questioning her as they were giving speeches in order to get as much favorable camera time as possible.)

Certainly the hearing offered little in the way of specifics about the new administration's foreign policy. Take, for example, her response to incoming committee Chair John Kerry's questions about Iran:

Obviously, the incoming administration views with great concern the role that Iran is playing in the world, its sponsorship of terrorism, its continuing interference with the functioning of other governments and its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

There is an ongoing policy review that the Obama administration has undertaken, but I think, as the president-elect said just this past weekend, our goal will be to do everything we can to pursue, through diplomacy, through the use of sanctions, through creating better coalitions with countries that we believe also have a big stake in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon power, to try to prevent this from occurring.

Or the following part of her answer to a question from Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), who asked Clinton to share her "vision of how you will follow up on President-elect Obama's pledge to redeploy the bulk of our troops from Iraq in 16 months."

It is my intention that we will very quickly, in consultation with the Iraqi government and other agencies within our own government, put together the teams and activities that we will be offering that will support the withdrawal of our troops and also fulfill the agreement that we have with the government of Iraq. The details are, you know, still to be worked out, as you know.

It's not as if the nominee alone were responsible for the lack of detail that was elicited during the hearing, either -- that answer didn't even merit a follow-up from Feingold.

Clinton did face some opposition regarding her husband's foundation, as well as the Clinton Global Initiative, and the agreement that the Clintons worked out with the Obama team about that. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) called the deal "a minimum standard" and said, among other things, that "even well-intentioned foreign donations carry risks for United States foreign policy. The only certain way to eliminate this risk going forward is for the Clinton foundation to forswear new foreign contributions when Senator Clinton becomes secretary of state." Afterwards, Kerry agreed, saying, "I think it's fair to say that Senator Lugar is not speaking from a partisan's perspective, but I think he is really expressing a view of the committee as a whole." Lugar does plan to vote for Clinton to be confirmed.

In the afternoon session, Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter engaged in the day's only real confrontation with Clinton. As she responded to his first question about the foundation, Vitter interrupted, leading to this exchange:

VITTER: Mr. Chairman, I have no objection listening to this, but I'd like it not to come out of my time, because I'd like to pursue these questions.

KERRY: Well, I guess it's fair to say that if you ask a question, you deserve an answer and the answer traditionally comes out of the time of the Senator.

VITTER: Well, I'm still waiting for the answer. I'd love an answer. But if there is an answer to my question...

KERRY: Well, I think you need to give the Senator an opportunity to give you the answer and if you need additional time...

VITTER: Let me repeat the question.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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