Clinton returns to the Hill
By Ben Pershing
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is spending the day at her old office, as the former junior senator from New York returned to the Capitol Thursday as the face of the Obama administration's foreign policy.
In between private meetings with former colleagues, Clinton joined Senate Democrats for a lunch meeting and an exchange of views on a variety of global hot spots. Clinton did not give any prepared statement, choosing instead simply to answer questions from lawmakers concerned about Afghanistan, Iraq and other pressing diplomatic issues.
Senators present said the largest share of the discussion was devoted to Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Obama administration is in the midst of a strategic review of the conflict, and both White House advisers and Senate Democrats are divided over whether to send thousands more U.S. troops to the region. On Thursday, Clinton did not tip the administration's hand.
"I think she just gave a very honest and very effective summary of the questions" faced by Obama, said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.). "She didn't say where the president is or where they're going."
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said the discussion was wide-ranging.
"We just asked a whole lot of questions about different subjects," he said. "There was a lot on Afghanistan but a lot of other subjects too.... Also Iran, Middle East a number of other questions."
Before Obama nominated Clinton as secretary of state in the wake of her unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign, Clinton spent eight years in the senate, working her way into a position of prominence on the Armed Services Committee. Along the way, Clinton earned a reputation as a serious legislator and the affection of many of her colleagues, some of whom had been initially skeptical of the former first lady's intentions.
On Thursday, Clinton's former colleagues were happy to welcome her back, giving her sustained applause at the end of the luncheon discussion before she slipped out a back door to head to her next meeting.
"She fielded many questions about different parts of the world," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). "She actually didn't even give a talk, she just answered questions. She was just amazingly thorough and well-informed and I think people were incredibly impressed."
Clinton held a private session with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) before the lunch, discussing State Department management issues as well as foreign policy topics. Clinton was also set to meet with Levin Thursday afternoon, and will attend a dinner Thursday evening with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and a group of lawmakers who recently returned from an official trip to Sudan.
Staff Writer Mary Beth Sheridan contributed to this report.
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