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Jerry Weissman Headshot

An Early Valentine's Day for Hillary

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Valentine's Day is a full month away, but yesterday's Senate confirmation hearing on the nomination of Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State gave the junior Senator from New York her bouquet a month early. Most of the senators spent most of their allotted time during the hearing tooting their own horns or praising Clinton rather than scrutinizing her. In turn, when Clinton had the floor, she heaped praise on her colleagues. After observing the mutual admiration celebration, Slate's Mike Madden titled his report, "To Hillary with Love."

These high profile hearings can get very testy. Witness the sharp grilling of the automotive executives at the end of last year, and of President Bush's Supreme Court nominees three years ago. When senators consider one of their own, however, they change their tone. As Madden put it, "lawmakers never show more deference to a nominee than they do to a nominee who still, technically, serves with them."

The only semi-serious challenge during the session came from a dubious source: Republican David Vitter of Louisiana. Vitter, who was implicated in a personal scandal in 2007, brought up Bill Clinton's finances, particularly the Clinton Global Initiative, and then asked his wife, "Would you support and help produce an amended MOU that would bring the same disclosure to future contributions to the Clinton Global Initiative?"

Having dealt with this issue extensively in public, Senator Clinton was primed to answer.

In this particular case, the Office of Government Ethics and the career ethics officials at the State Department have looked at the rules and concluded there is not an inherent conflict of interest in any of my husband's work at all. However, the foundation and the president-elect decided to go beyond what the law and the ethics rules call for to address even the appearance of conflict and that is why they signed a memorandum of understanding, which outlines the voluntary steps that the foundation is taking to address potential concerns that might come up down the road.

Even The New York Times' Maureen Dowd, one of Clinton's sharpest critics throughout last year's primary campaign, was impressed; today she wrote of the exchange with Vitter, "Hillary swatted him away."As evidenced by her performances in the Democratic primary debates against a very sharp opponent in Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton is eminently capable of handling tough questions. Her senate colleagues threw her only hearts and flowers. For hardballs that truly challenge her, she'll have to wait for the likes of Putin, Chavez, or Ahmadinejad.