It was standing room only for the confirmation hearing of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, President-elect Barack Obama's expected secretary of state.
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
More than a hundred spectators lined up early and many had to wait their turn to enter the hearing room in the Senate's Hart Office Building.
Inside it was clear this was no ordinary hearing. Seats were reserved for diplomats from a number of interested countries including Egypt and Iraq. The French Ambassador, Pierre Vimont, arrived early and chatted with journalists and committee staff members.
By the time Chelsea Clinton entered the room, several dozen still photographers were in place in front of the witness table. Former President Bill Clinton was a no-show, one of Sen. Clinton's aides saying "it is her moment." Then, the former first lady, former candidate for the job Mr. Obama won and still current senator from New York arrived. Still more clicking from the cameras.
Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts gaveled the hearing to order and said Clinton's appointment as America's top diplomat "will send a strong signal that America is back." The committee's top Republican, Indiana's Dick Lugar, called Clinton a "big leaguer." Her fellow New Yorker, Chuck Schumer, said "Hillary Rodham Clinton is exactly the right person at the right time."
And the rest of the morning was pretty much the same: kid glove treatment from Clinton's fellow senators on both sides of the aisle.
In his written statement Lugar posed a number of issues related to the potential conflict of interest posed by the contributions foreign governments have made or might make to Bill Clinton's foundation. But no one pressed Mrs. Clinton on the subject. As confirmation hearings go it was pretty mundane, except for the hoopla surrounding the nominee.
Clinton provided no details for getting U. S. troops out of Iraq or for getting the Israelis and Hamas to stop their ongoing fighting. In a long opening statement, Clinton mentioned all the big foreign policy hot spots and issues but didn't give too much away as to new policies. On Iran, however, she did say the Obama administration would "pursue a new, different approach for an attitude of engagement that might bear fruit," although she added "we have no illusions."
There were a lot of questions about various senators' pet issues. Alaska's Murkowski asked about "our role as an Artic nation" and Florida's Nelson inquired about a Floridian, Robert Levinson, who's been missing in Iran for more than a year.
Even the very few demonstrators who showed up with pink signs saying "Get out of Gaza" or "Surge in Diplomacy" were overly polite. For anyone looking for fireworks, it was clear they'd have to look to the afternoon session.