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Hillary Clinton approved as secretary of State

She is sworn in about an hour after the 94-2 vote in the Senate.

January 22, 2009|Paul Richter

WASHINGTON — The Senate overwhelmingly approved the nomination of Hillary Rodham Clinton as President Obama's secretary of State on Wednesday, after a one-day delay forced by Republicans who wanted to continue debating her husband's overseas fundraising activities.

The delay had the effect of denying Clinton a confirmation vote on Inauguration Day, when six other Cabinet members were approved. But Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who sought the delay, praised Clinton's abilities Wednesday and voted in favor. She was confirmed 94 to 2.

The only votes against her came from Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who favored further restrictions on donations to Bill Clinton's foundation, and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who cited concern about her support for abortion rights.

The delay showed the willingness of Republican lawmakers to take a tough line with the new president by closely questioning his legislative proposals and nominees.

Republicans on Wednesday also forced a week's delay in the consideration of Atty. Gen.-designate Eric H. Holder Jr. Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee said they still have questions about his role in controversial Clinton administration clemency cases and other matters.

Republicans who initiated the move included Cornyn, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, Jon Kyl of Arizona and Jeff Sessions of Alabama. The request was made by the committee's ranking Republican, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

The delay in the Clinton confirmation was sought by Cornyn, who said he requested it to allow senators to voice further concern about the former president's foundation, which, among other things, works to provide healthcare and promote economic growth in underdeveloped countries.

"I think it's important to flesh out the concerns raised," Cornyn said.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) accused Republicans of political motives. "This may give them some ability to do some fundraising they need to do for the coming election," she said.

An hour after the vote, Clinton was sworn in as secretary of State and resigned her U.S. Senate seat. She took charge of the department and planned to meet with State Department employees today.

The issue of Bill Clinton's charitable activities has been a concern for senators of both parties, who said that foreign governments and businesses could use donations to curry favor with the top U.S. diplomat.

To dispel concerns, the Clintons agreed in December with the Obama transition team to disclose the identities of future donors and to submit to State Department ethics reviews of foreign donations.

But some Republicans continued seeking more stringent safeguards, suggesting that the former president forgo any foreign contributions.

Nonetheless, the outcome of Wednesday's vote was never in doubt. The floor debate, like Hillary Clinton's confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 13, brought generous praise for her talents.

DeMint, though voting against Clinton, said she was "uniquely and highly qualified." He raised concerns that the Obama administration might lift restrictions on federal funding of abortions overseas.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who lost the presidency to Obama, supported Clinton. McCain at one point proposed to halt the debate for a vote that could allow her to begin work immediately.

"The message that the American people are sending us now is that they want us to work together and get to work," he said.

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paul.richter@latimes.com

Josh Meyer in our Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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