Sen. Specter and Sec. Clinton: Congressional Debate ‘Weakening’ America Abroad
February 24, 2010 - 6:54 PMSenator Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both said that partisan debate in Congress has hamstrung President Barack Obama's foreign policy efforts, and weakened America abroad.
Speaking before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee on Wednesday, Specter lamented that partisan debates and squabbles were keeping Obama from reaching his foreign policy potential.
“I have been concerned about the gridlock in Congress for many reasons,” said Specter. “It has had an impact on our stature internationally. The president came on with a great promise and, I think, did materially change the world’s view of the United States for a number of reasons.”
Specter continued, “I think not only has President Obama been diminished but so has the presidency and, for that matter, so has the ability of governance by the Congress of the United States.”
Specter also said that Congress ought to “be backing up” Obama, rather than fighting over his policies and appointments.
“We ought to be backing up the president on matters that he has to deal with of such gigantic importance – Iran and North Korea and the Mid-East and Afghanistan and everywhere,” said Specter.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, appearing before the subcommittee, agreed with Specter, saying that she too thought that Obama’s nominations should not be held up in the Senate confirmation process.
“[U]nfortunately, I have to agree with you,” she said. “The gridlock over nominations is particularly troubling. We’re now more than a year into a new administration and whether you agree or disagree with a particular policy, a president deserves to have the people that he nominates serving him.”
Clinton complained that it was becoming hard to explain to other countries why some State Department officials and ambassadors were not yet on the job.
“I have to confess that when it came to some assistant secretary positions and some ambassadorial positions it became harder and harder to explain to countries, particularly countries of significance, why we had nobody in position to interact with,” said Clinton.
“There are many things to argue about,” she said. “But on the question of nominations, I hope that we can all move more quickly.”
Over the past year, Republicans have placed holds on dozens of Obama appointees over a variety of issues. Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), for instance, temporarily held up two State Department appointees because he was dissatisfied with Obama’s support of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. When the administration endorsed the newly elected Honduran government, DeMint released his hold on the nominees.
Specter further criticized the political process in Congress, saying it had “hamstrung” Obama, a characterization with which Secretary Clinton agreed.
“Madame Secretary, beyond the confirmations, it is my perception, right or wrong, that what has happened – the gridlock goes beyond that,” he said. “The weakening of the president, everybody reads the public opinion polls, he’s not able to project the same kind of stature and power that he did a year ago because we’re – because he’s being hamstrung by the Congress and it has an impact on foreign policy, which we really ought to do everything we can not to have partisanship influence.”
Clinton agreed, saying that domestic politics was hurting Obama abroad because other countries “don’t understand” how the American political system works.
“Senator, I think that there is certainly a perception that I encounter in representing our country around the world that supports your characterization,” said Clinton. “People don’t understand the way our system operates, they just don’t get it. Their view is, it does color whether the United States is in a position, not just this president, but our country is in a position going forward to demonstrate the kind of unity and strength and effectiveness that I think we have to in this very complex and dangerous world.”