The gridlock in Congress over President Obama's agenda has weakened the president's image abroad, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday, suggesting that lawmakers should start agreeing with the White House for the sake of projecting U.S. strength on the world stage.
While the nation's chief diplomat, a former senator, acknowledged that the bickering is a fact of life in the world's "lead democracy," Clinton expressed frustration that a fiercely partisan Congress is not allowing Obama to follow through on his campaign wishes or usher in a new age of American leadership abroad.
"We're always going to have differences between the executive and the legislative branch ... that's par for the course. That's democracy," she said. "We're not going to do anything that will undermine that, but I do think 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 that we have checks and balances, but we also have the capacity to move too, so it is a concern of mine."
Clinton said the failure to act hurts America's image overseas because citizens of other nations don't get how democracy works.
"People don't understand the way our system operates. They just don't get it. And their view is -- it does color whether the United States 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," Clinton said.
The former New York senator and first lady tackled the topic in answers to questions and comments from Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., during testimony before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee. Specter bluntly stated that Obama's has lost "stature and power" internationally due to inaction in Congress.
"There is certainly a perception that I encounter in representing our country around the world that supports your characterization," Clinton said in response.
Clinton chided Congress specifically for exercising its constitutionally mandated authority to hold up Obama's nominations, saying that has a direct impact on international opinion. She called the difficulty in getting ambassadors and other top-level State Department posts filled "particularly troubling."
"It became harder and harder to explain to countries -- particularly countries of significance -- why we had nobody in position for them to interact with," she said.
While Obama's campaign was received warmly aboard and at home, the president has struggled during his first year in office to pass many of his domestic agenda items through Congress and to achieve any diplomatic breakthroughs with countries like North Korea and Iran.