WASHINGTON — After the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted overwhelmingly on Thursday for Hillary Rodham Clinton to become the next secretary of State, she took the opportunity to say goodbye to her erstwhile colleagues.
The 16-1 committee vote paves the way for a full Senate vote after Obama takes office on Jan. 20. Clinton is not expected to hit any major roadblocks, with Republicans and Democrats alike praising her acumen on the issues.
"I think this could be one of the golden eras in the history of the Senate," Clinton said when she addressed her colleagues following her confirmation. "This could be a time when people say, 'You know, you never can count America out.'"
But concerns about her husband's charitable fundraising overseas remain. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, who was among several Republicans who raised the issue at her confirmation hearing earlier this week, cast the lone opposing vote.
In a statement released by Vitter's office shortly after the vote, he called former President Bill Clinton's foundation a "multimillion dollar minefield of conflicts of interest."
"This could produce explosions at any minute, particularly concerning the Middle East where we least need them," Vitter said.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said he too remains wary that contributions to the Clinton charity could pose a problem. But, he added, he wouldn't stand in the way of her appointment and noted that Clinton could become one of the nation's best secretaries of State to date.
Her departure from the Senate has been closely watched because it would give New York Gov. David Paterson, a fellow Democrat, the power to appoint her successor. Caroline Kennedy, the scion of a political dynasty, wants the job.
Clinton told the panel earlier this week that the U.S. must elevate the role of foreign policy and diplomacy in handling tough problems.
"America cannot solve the most pressing problems on our own, and the world cannot solve them without America," she said. "The best way to advance America's interest in reducing global threats and seizing global opportunities is to design and implement global solutions. This isn't a philosophical point. This is our reality."
On Iraq, Clinton said ending the war is a priority. The first step will be moving troops out of cities by June, in line with an agreement already established between the Bush administration and the Iraqi government. The agreement calls for all U.S. troops to be gone by the end of 2011. Obama has said he believes the withdrawal can be accomplished more quickly.
Her testimony invigorated lawmakers, who said they agree that old-fashioned diplomacy must make a comeback in a U.S. agenda dominated by war.
"Our nation needs to put proactively more sandals and sneakers on the ground, in order to prevent having to put boots and bayonets on the ground in the future," said Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo.
Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the Foreign Relations Committee's top Republican, has proposed that Bill Clinton's foundation reject any overseas contributions and take other steps to improve transparency.
Clinton rejected Lugar's ideas, contending that her agreement to publish an annual list of the foundation's donors and alert ethics officials to potential conflicts of interest already goes above and beyond any ethics regulations.