Monday, January 12, 2009

Hillary Clinton Preparing for Secretary of State

Hillary Clinton is preparing for Tuesday’s confirmation hearing and barring a bombshell revelation, all sides expect Clinton to be speedily confirmed as Secretary of State, But her rendezvous with the Foreign Relations Committee at 9:30am still offers its share of potential hurdles.

Nobody’s fonder of huddling secretly with a closeknit, tight-lipped clutch of advisers than Hillary Clinton. And she’s been huddling plenty in recent days, gaming out defenses to possible attacks against her husband while synchronizing her policy positions with Obama to avoid embarrassing public disagreements on Iraq, Iran and Israel.

“If they hit her on any personal stuff or on the BS, she’ll hit the ball out of the park,” said a longtime adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity. “She’s far more concerned with the substance. This is the re-emergence of the non-political Hillary. The most discomfort is where she and Obama disagree, the ‘you’re naive’ stuff. She can’t show up the president, she can’t appear like she’s trying to formulate her own foreign policy.”

Clinton’s task is made easier by the fact that Obama quietly adopted many of his former rival’s more hawkish foreign policy positions by the end of the primaries. Her path may also be eased by the fact that Obama’s pick for Attorney General, Eric Holder, has become the main lightning rod for GOP opposition in the Senate.

“Holder’s attracting most of the attention on the right,” says Steve Clemons, vice president of the progressive New America Foundation. “She’s different. She’s a respected senator, and if they attack her, they will just appear mean and nasty… and they’ll appear as if they are undermining America’s diplomatic standing. And the Democrats are going to use soft gloves.”

The committee’s staff is so confident Clinton will sail through that it has scheduled only a single day of hearings, although it has taken the precaution of reserving the committee room for Wednesday just in case. That’s a far cry from previous secretary of state confirmations: In 1981, Al Haig had to endure a 5 day grilling about his role in Watergate before earning approval.

“We expect her confirmation hearing to be congenial, fair and swift,” said Sen. John Kerry’s committee spokesman Frederick Jones.

To ensure that nothing goes awry, Clinton has assembled a confirmation commando unit of sorts, featuring her post campaign inner circle, including Cheryl Mills, Maggie Williams and her trusted Senate chief of staff, Tamera Luzzatto.

She’s added a new collection of Clinton-Obama foreign policy experts to coach her on the issues and the Byzantine bureaucracy at Foggy Bottom. They include Clinton Senate staffer Andrew Shapiro, former ambassadors Joe Huggins and Vickie Huddleston, a pair of incoming deputy secretaries of state, Jim Steinberg and Jack Lew, Clinton campaign policy maven Jake Sullivan, and Wendy Sherman, a highly regarded State Department veteran who helped shape Bill Clinton’s Haiti policy in the 1990s.

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