“There’s no stumbling block,” Sen. John Kerry Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an interview Monday. The panel could vote on Clinton’s nomination as early as Thursday. If she is approved, as expected, she could be confirmed by the full Senate as early as Inauguration Day.
WASHINGTON — Sen. Hillary Clinton, whose confirmation hearing as secretary of state begins Tuesday, is aiming to re-establish the State Department as the lead agency in foreign policy and to give it a greater role in economic diplomacy, say advisers to her and President-elect Barack Obama.
In her testimony, Sen. Clinton will call for a “renewal of American leadership” and a “revitalization of diplomacy to promote our security interests and advance our values,” according to a transition official.
At a time of huge crises around the world, Sen. Clinton wants to take back some of the turf now held by the Defense Department. In a slap at President George W. Bush for increased reliance on force, or so-called hard power, Sen. Clinton will outline a broader arsenal of diplomatic tools that she calls “smart power,” including economic agreements and social development that “invests in our common humanity” to achieve improved security, advisers say.
To counter the dominance given the military under Mr. Bush, she and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are working together to transfer assets and personnel to the State Department to assume reconstruction and stabilization efforts and public-affairs programs abroad, such as those in place during the Iraq war, Obama and Clinton advisers say.
Sen. Clinton is also ramping up for the State Department to be involved with the Treasury on such issues as U.S. economic development, as well as future IMF and World Bank governance changes and trade negotiations.
Senators are likely to push Sen. Clinton to outline the Obama administration’s plans to deal with the Middle East and North Korea. She talks regularly with Sen. Obama on developments. When the Gaza crisis broke, for example, they were on the phone within 15 minutes. For assistance, she plans to name a few special envoys and roving ambassadors to parachute into diplomatic hot spots around the world, probably including Richard Holbrooke on Afghanistan and Pakistan and Dennis Ross on the Middle East and Iran.
Republicans are expected to quiz her about former President Bill Clinton’s donors to his charitable foundation and library and their potential conflicts of interest with U.S. foreign policy. Clinton advisers are bracing for some lawmakers to accuse her of making a “power play.”
But Sen. Clinton will attempt to deflect that concern by telling the congressional panel that she’s implementing Mr. Obama’s vision for a new era of vigorous diplomacy, say Clinton and Obama aides. Accordingly, Sen. Clinton’s sweeping plans for State have a good chance of happening, with less-than-usual bureaucratic resistance at Defense and Treasury, they add.
Following Mr. Obama’s lead that the economy is an “all hands on deck” effort, Sen. Clinton wants the State Department involved in the design and execution of global economic policy, advisers say. She is expected to name former National Economic Council deputy and international economist Lael Brainard as undersecretary for economic affairs.
Another priority that will become clear at the hearing: arms control and nuclear nonproliferation. At one briefing she asked precise questions about North Korea and Iran, and displayed a technical knowledge of bombs including enrichment cycles, staffers say.
Advisers predict a major Clinton initiative to account for and secure nuclear material. An agreement with foreign countries to establish a global library of samples of fissile material from around the world would make it possible to identify the origin of a nuclear attack or accident. “Hillary wants to make the threat of nuclear terrorism a priority,” Sen. Robert Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said after meeting with her. She has also selected Robert Einhorn, a nonproliferation expert and negotiator, for a senior post, sending a strong signal that she is serious about pursuing this, advisers say.
Sen. Clinton is bringing into the State Department several members of “Hillaryland,” the loyal, close-knit group of women who worked in her first lady or New York Senate offices. She is expected to name top adviser and lawyer Cheryl Mills to be her chief of staff; Ms. Mills represented former President Clinton in negotiations with the Obama transition chief over his foundation activities to pave the way for Sen. Clinton’s nomination. Also likely to follow her to State are Lissa Muscatine, her longtime speechwriter for a similar post, and senior adviser Huma Abedin.
If any of the differences that surfaced between the Democratic candidates over foreign policy erupt in the new administration, a trio of the deputies is expected to iron them out. The president-elect’s deputy national security adviser Thomas Donilon, Vice President-elect Joe Biden’s national-security adviser Antony Blinken and James Steinberg, who will be deputy secretary under Mrs. Clinton, have been friends for years, even vacationing together with their families.
Tuesday’s hearing follows a whirlwind two months that has placed Sen. Clinton again in the spotlight. The night before her confirmation hearing, Sen. Clinton had dinner at the State Department with outgoing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. At a recent State Department briefing, incoming Sen. Clinton excused herself to take a call from Mr. Obama. When she returned, she told officials, “There are now two men whose calls I always take — Bill and Barack.”