Clinton Embraces Former Colleagues

Posted October 26, 2009 at 6:50pm

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has been spending a lot of time with her one-time colleagues lately, mounting a charm offensive on Capitol Hill nearly unprecedented for an administration’s top diplomat.

Just last week, the former New York Senator hosted that chamber’s 17 women for a private dinner at the State Department, delivered a briefing on Afghanistan before the Democratic Policy Committee, met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and attended a dinner with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and other Members to discuss the Obama administration’s strategy for Sudan.

The former New York Senator even made a brief appearance on the floor to congratulate Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) — a longtime friend who supported her unsuccessful presidential bid — for becoming the third-longest-serving Senator.

“I think she maintains a lot of these relationships because they were already there and they can be useful,— Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said. “You never know when you might need someone.—

[IMGCAP(1)]Clinton worked closely with Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) during his recent trip to Afghanistan. While Kerry won high marks for persuading Afghan President Hamid Karzai to accept a runoff election, Clinton worked behind the scenes to convince Members of both parties to withhold any criticism of Kerry’s efforts on a sensitive foreign policy issue.

The teamwork “was very effective,— said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), a Clinton ally who also supported her presidential campaign. “It was a huge deal and it helps everyone. It makes the pick of Hillary look like a brilliant stroke, which I think it was.—

President Barack Obama defeated Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination in June 2008, after a nearly two-year horse race. Obama named Clinton secretary of State in December, less than a month after he defeated McCain for the presidency.

Asked whether Clinton’s outreach on the Hill will help her gain leverage within the administration, Harman said: “Sure, but I don’t think she’s the lone ranger. She moves carefully, and I think she wants to promote things the Obama administration wants promoted.—

Clinton’s Hill ties haven’t always been so strong. During the presidential contest, many Democratic lawmakers took issue with how her campaign was being run. Some grumbled her top aides tried to bully them into offering up endorsements even as several other Democratic Senators were in the hunt. In June, when Clinton exited the race, she had won 97 endorsements to Obama’s 161.

Members and aides, who all noted Clinton’s knack for the personal touch, say her ties with Members have never been stronger, and they expect her regular appearances to continue as Obama prepares to unveil his strategy for Afghanistan. Clinton is likely to need all the Member support she can muster, particularly if Obama decides to deploy more troops to the region, a move many liberals oppose.

“At some point, she may need to expend some of that good will when it’s time to make a tough call,— a former Clinton aide said. “It’s smart of her to be interacting with people on the Hill and beyond, given the domestic fallout that could take place.—

Clinton served on the Armed Services Committee during her time in the Senate from 2001 to 2009 and is familiar with the Congressional battle lines over foreign policy.

Additionally, she may be looking to avoid the same kind of criticism former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice faced during President George W. Bush’s tenure, when Democrats and even some Republicans complained about being shut out of foreign policy discussions.

“She really makes a special effort to reach out to us, which we appreciate,— Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said. “Secretary Clinton is a child of the Hill. She understands the ups and downs, the challenges. It gives her an advantage.—

Although Clinton has publicly dismissed another White House bid, her relationships with lawmakers could prove handy if she were to change her mind. And they could also prove helpful for a secretary of State looking to increase her influence and advance a controversial foreign policy agenda.

“In some respects she’s damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t,— the former aide said. “If she weren’t spending time on the Hill, people would say she’s operating outside Congressional oversight. On the other hand, if she goes to interact with Congress, people ascribe some sort of Machiavellian motive to her actions.—

While her political ambitions may be on hold for now, Clinton — who reinvented herself from first lady to rising Senate star to presidential hopeful — is likely to have plenty of options for the future. “The job allows you to rebuild a new public image for yourself and given the roller coaster that she’s experienced during her years in public life, this could be a great final chapter in terms of cementing a legacy that based on her strength,— the former aide said.

Still, the source added, “Whenever anybody mentions the name Hillary Clinton, there are any number of scenarios that people are going to speculate about.—