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US Senate Confirms Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State

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The U.S. Senate, in an overwhelming 94 to 2 vote Wednesday, gave final approval to the nomination of Senator and former First Lady Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Action was delayed by one day because of Republican concerns about fund-raising by former President Bill Clinton's charitable foundation.

Democrats could not get the unanimous consent of Senate Republicans to allow Clinton to be confirmed along with several other Obama cabinet members just after the inauguration on Tuesday.

But after Democratic leaders allowed another airing of concerns about the Clinton Foundation in open Senate debate on Wednesday, Republicans yielded and let the vote go forward.

The foundation of former President Bill Clinton has raised more than $500 million from donors in the United States and foreign countries - including wealthy Persian Gulf states - for programs in the developing world to combat HIV/AIDS and poverty.

Republicans have said that contributions from foreign countries raise questions of possible conflicts of interest for the new Secretary of State who will be dealing with those governments.

The Clintons have agreed to ethics scrutiny, including annual public disclosure of foreign contributors, although some Republicans argued that the foundation should refuse such donations altogether.

A single Republican - Louisiana Senator David Vitter - voted against the Clinton nomination in the Foreign Relations Committee last week and Texas Republican John Cornyn blocked the early vote by the full Senate after President Obama's inauguration.

In Wednesday's session, Cornyn, who eventually voted for the nomination, said the problem is not about Clinton's qualifications as Secretary of State, but whether the foundation ethics issue will put a cloud over Obama administration diplomacy.

"We should not let our respect for Senator Clinton or admiration for the many good works of the Clinton Foundation blind us to the danger of perceived conflicts of interest caused by the solicitation of hundreds of millions of dollars from foreign and some domestic sources," said Senator Cornyn. "The perception in reality must be that the office of Secretary of State is viewed around the world as beyond reproach."

Cornyn said he wanted more frequent public reporting of foreign gifts to the foundation. But his Democratic colleague, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, said the ethics rules the Clintons have voluntary accepted already go well beyond the requirements of U.S. law or precedent set by foundations of other former Presidents.

"The Clinton Foundation does extraordinary, worthwhile, life-saving work in areas such as HIV/AIDS, global climate change, economic development in some of the most impoverished corners of this planet," said Senator Kerry. "And it's important to remember that the Clintons do not in any way personally benefit financially from the actions of foundation. So there's none of the sort of traditional notion of a financial conflict of interest. It just doesn't exist, because there is no personal financial interest by either."

In the final roll call vote, Senator Vitter voted against the nomination, as did fellow Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina.

DeMint called Hillary Clinton "uniquely well-qualified," but said he voted against her because of the expectation that as Secretary of State, Clinton would overturn Bush administration rules barring U.S. foreign aid for groups supporting abortion as a means of birth control.

DeMint also said Clinton's expressed support for more reliance on the United Nations in foreign policy would erode U.S. sovereignty.

At the Committee hearing last week, Clinton - who served eight years in the Senate - said she would pursue a foreign policy of what she termed "smart power," with multilateralism and diplomacy taking the lead.

She will officially take up her duties as Secretary of State with a welcoming ceremony for her at the State Department on Thursday morning.

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