Hillary says Congressional gridlock challenges U.S. world stature

February 24, 2010

USA/The partisan gridlock that has paralyzed Congress during much of the Obama administration may have far-reaching implications for America’s stature in the world, according to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Clinton said U.S. partners overseas have been confused about the Senate’s inability to approve President Barack Obama’s appointments to top diplomatic jobs, including assistant secretary of state positions and ambassadorships.

“It became harder and harder to explain to countries, particularly countries of significance, why we had nobody in position for them to interact with,” Clinton told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the Obama budget plan for fiscal year 2011.

She said the U.S. Agency for International Development, which administers U.S. civilian foreign aid to countries including quake-stricken Haiti, still lacks a complete team to run its operations.

Clinton als0 went further, under questioning from Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, a former Republican who jumped to the Democratic Party in 2009.

Specter asked if she could confirm his perception that  congressional gridlock has weakened Obama and the U.S. presidency overseas during the past year.

“There is certainly a perception that I encounter in representing our country around the world that supports your characterization. People just don’t understand the way our system operates, they just don’t get it,” replied Clinton, who is Obama’s top adviser on foreign policy.

“Their view 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.”

“We have to be attuned to how the rest of the world sees the functioning of our government, because it’s an asset. It may be an intangible asset, but it’s an asset of great importance. And as we sell democracy, and we’re the lead democracy in the world, I want people to know we have checks and balances but we also have the capacity to move, too,” she added.

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Photo credit: REUTERS/Larry Downing (U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, April 30, 2009.)

One comment

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I imagine it would have to be quite difficult for officials in other countries to understand why key American posts were left vacant for months, or worse, are still empty now. What’s the Secretary of State supposed to say, “Well, I’m terribly sorry, Prime Minister, but we have no under-secretary for you to work with because Richard Shelby wants some pork for Alabama”?

Or maybe, “I’d like to refer you, Foreign Minister, to our ambassador, but more than a year after the president took office, only a majority of our Senate approves of the nomination, which means she can’t get confirmed”?

The consequences of Republicans denying up-or-down votes to key administration nominees go beyond mere annoyance. Deliberately or not, the genuinely scandalous GOP tactics are not only blocking the ability of policymakers to govern domestically, but also undercutting U.S. influence around the world.

If only Republicans could get past their petty partisanship long enough to care.

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