Comic Relief At Clinton Swearing-In

Secretary of State-designate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., smiles on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009, while testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on her nomination. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Background and analysis by CBS News State Department reporter Charles Wolfson.

The formal swearing in for Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was part ceremony, part celebration, very political and even had moments of comic relief.

Before the ceremony began, as assembled bigwigs were asked to turn off their cell phones, actor Chevy Chase, an invited guest, playing to the cameras and those around him, held his phone to his ear and loudly said, "No, I'm sorry, Mr. President, I have to turn it off." The actor had already posed for the cameras in front of the podium before the guest of honor arrived.

Clinton, the nation's 67th Secretary of State, already had been sworn in by a federal judge in her Senate office so the fact that she's been on the job legally for nearly two weeks was not at issue. Having a more formal, ceremonial swearing in ceremony is the norm for cabinet level positions and is a good opportunity for friends and family, fellow politicians and former donors and political allies to show up and listen to a military chamber group play lovely background music while everyone else chats up the inside-the-beltway types.

One of Clinton's predecessors, James A. Baker, III, called out to one of his predecessors, Dr. Henry Kissinger. Hands cupped to his mouth, Baker said "Henry" who was standing about ten feet away. Baker and Kissinger were joined by two other former occupants of the office, Lawrence Eagleburger and Madeleine K. Albright.

Clinton singled out Sen. John Kerry, the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and others from the New York congressional delegation. "And I look forward to working with all of you, particularly the appropriators," Clinton said to much laughter.

As the bible was held by Clinton's mother, Dorothy Rodham, her daughter Chelsea and husband Bill, there were chuckles in the audience when Vice President Biden briefly stumbled over the words in the oath, reminding everyone of Chief Justice Roberts on inauguration day.

Secretary Clinton, now doubly official, thanked everyone and called it an "overwhelming honor" to serve in her new job. "So for me, this has been an amazing personal journey. As Joe (Vice President Biden) laughingly referenced, neither one of us thought that we would be standing here together, doing what we are now doing together. Life has a funny way of unfolding and politics is even stranger," Clinton said as many smiled and nodded.

There were more words of thanks including those to her husband, the former President, which brought the biggest round of laughter: "I am so grateful to him for a lifetime of all kinds of experiences -(laughter)- which have given me a -(applause) which have given me an extraordinary richness I am absolutely beholden to and grateful for."

Finally it was time to shake hands and greet those who had come to honor her. Tuesday, Secretary Clinton has her first two meetings with visiting foreign ministers from close allies Britain and Germany. After the niceties are done with it will be down to the diplomatic nitty-gritty with policy towards Iran front and center.
  • Charles Wolfson

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