WASHINGTON – Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to be swiftly endorsed by a Senate panel as President-elect Barack Obama's new secretary of state, as indications from both parties this week were that Clinton would win a near-unanimous vote Thursday.
"No problem," Sen. Bill Nelson, a member of the committee, said on Clinton's prospects. And on the issues, Nelson added, "we see it very similarly."
Democrats and Republicans alike praised Clinton's acumen on the issues, although some Republicans still fault former President Bill Clinton's charity for planning to accept overseas contributions once she takes office, creating concern about potential ethics conflicts.
The committee vote on Thursday will pave the way for a full Senate vote after Obama is sworn in on Jan. 20. Clinton and outgoing Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the vice president-elect, are expected to give their farewell speeches on the Senate floor on Thursday.
Earlier this week, Clinton faced her former colleagues in a confirmation hearing that turned into a collegial discussion on how to bring peace to the Middle East and end the war in Iraq, among other weighty issues.
Unchallenged by tough questioning, Clinton spoke in mostly broad terms of revitalizing the mission of diplomacy in American foreign policy, stepping up efforts in Afghanistan and improving the State Department's approach to arms control.
Sen. John Kerry, the panel's new chairman, said in an interview on Wednesday that congressional Democrats and Clinton are at "the same starting point" but added that doesn't mean he and his colleagues won't enforce stringent oversight of Clinton's work once she takes office.
The most immediate and pressing need is to end the violence between Israel and Hamas-backed militants in the Gaza Strip, Kerry said.
"We're not looking for differences . . . but obviously our job is to represent the Congress and speak as a Democratic branch of government and we'll do that," said Kerry. "But in the broad approaches that were articulated yesterday there's a lot of commonality. We're going to try to work together very cooperatively, as much as possible."
Most of the committee's Republicans are expected to endorse her, including Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Bob Corker of Tennessee and George Voinovich of Ohio.
Still, several said they see a potential conflict of interest with her husband's fundraising work. Lugar, the ranking Republican on the panel, suggested Bill Clinton's charitable foundation reject any overseas contributions and take other steps to improve transparency.
Clinton rejected Lugar's ideas, contending that her agreement to publish annually a list of the foundation's donors and alert ethics officials of potentials conflicts of interest goes above and beyond any ethics regulations.
Corker said the foundation is a "gnat" compared to the bigger issues facing Clinton, but agreed it would be better if it stopped taking money from foreign governments.
"There's no reason to sully or dampen or effect the things she's working on and call them into question," he said.
A spokesman for Sen. David Vitter, who provided the toughest questioning of Clinton on the charity, said Vitter is continuing "to focus on the potential conflict of interest issues as he contemplates his vote."
Clinton's current status as a senator gives her a unique opportunity to schmooze with the same lawmakers who will ultimately decide whether to approve her nomination.
On Wednesday, she rubbed elbows with her colleagues on the Senate floor, chatting with Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, while casting her vote on a public lands bill. Her presence on the floor was not required for Democrats to advance the bill, which sailed through on a 68-24 vote.
After voting on Clinton's nomination, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans to review the appointment of Susan Rice as U.N. ambassador. Rice is considered a shoo-in for the post as well.
Panel members are expected to raise questions about how she would coordinate with Clinton; Obama has decided to elevate the position of U.N. ambassador to a cabinet position.