The Cable

Clinton says farewell at CFR

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave the final major speech of her tenure Thursday to a packed house at the Council of Foreign Relations' offices in Washington in advance of her successor John Kerry's official swearing-in ceremony Friday.

"Tomorrow is my last day as secretary of state, and though it is hard to predict what any day in this job will bring, I know that tomorrow my heart will be very full," she said. "Serving with the men and women at the State Department and USAID has been a singular honor, and Secretary Kerry will find there is no more extraordinary group of people working anywhere in the world. So these last days have been bittersweet for me."

More than 300 people attended the speech, including senior State Department officials such as Melanne Verveer, Maria Otero, and Jake Sullivan, as well as outside luminaries such as Bush-era intelligence director John Negroponte and former Sen. Evan Bayh. Clinton used the opportunity to lay out the by-now familiar argument that America's economic, diplomatic, and security strength is greatly improved compared to when she and Obama came to office four years ago.

"Under President Obama's leadership, we've ended the war in Iraq, begun a transition in Afghanistan and brought Osama bin Laden to justice. We have also revitalized American diplomacy and strengthened our alliances. And while our economic recovery is not yet complete, we are heading in the right direction," she said. "In short, America today is stronger at home and more respected in the world. And our global leadership is on firmer footing than many predicted."

She also defended what she called her style of "shoe-leather" diplomacy, which has included vsiting 112 countries, logging nearly 1 million miles of travel, and accumulating almost 87 days of total flight time.

"I have found it highly ironic that in today's world, when we can be anywhere, virtually, more than ever people want us to actually show up," Clinton said. "And people say to me all the time, I look at your travel schedule; why Togo? Well, no secretary of state had ever been to Togo, but Togo happens to hold a rotating seat on the U.N. Security Council. Going there, making the personal investment, has a strategic purpose."

Clinton praised the State Department's outreach to non-governmental entities in foreign countries and touted the expansion of public diplomacy into new mediums, such as Twitter, during her tenure. She also railed against the Broadcasting Board of Governors, of which she is a board member, and said that organization was failing in its mission and losing ground to foreign competitors.

"We have basically abdicated, in my view, the broadcast media," she said. "I have tried and will continue from the outside to try to convince Congress and others, if we don't have an up-to-date, modern, effective broadcasting board of governors, we shouldn't have one at all."

The State Department would be hit hard by the budget cuts known as "sequestration" which would kick in as of March unless Congress intervenes, Clinton said. Civilian employees could be furloughed, security overseas could be cut, and citizen services like passports could be negatively impacted, she warned.

She also said the United States must get more involved in helping Central American countries shore up their ability to protect their borders if the United States is serious about addressing the issue of illegal immigration.

"At the same time that we do immigration reform, we need to do more on border security and internal security in Central America," she said, noting that illegal immigration from Mexico has tapered off. "I think we have to do more with the Central American countries in order to help them the way that we have helped others."

CFR President Richard Haas closed the event by commenting, "At the risk of leaving you all with an image that probably isn't good, I would simply say that John Kerry has some fairly large Manolo Blahniks to fill."

"That is very funny," Clinton replied. "Oh my goodness."

Kaveh Sardari/CFR

The Cable

Hagel loses more GOP votes due to hearing

Several more Republican senators tell The Cable have decided to oppose the confirmation of Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense after hearing him testify Thursday.

Hagel's hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee was often contentious and combative as the nominee sought to assuage Republicans about some of his previous controversial statements while defending other positions he has taken over his decades of public and private service. For example, Hagel apologized for using the term "Jewish lobby" and said that the pro-Israel lobby "influences" rather than "intimidates" Congress, correcting the record on comments he made years ago to Middle East scholar Aaron David Miller.

But Hagel's comments on subjects ranging from Iran to Iraq to nuclear weapons were apparently not well-received by the GOP caucus, and several Republican senators told The Cable they were more inclined to opposed Hagel's nomination after his performance at the hearing.

Sen. John McCain was publicly displeased when Hagel refused to provide a yes-or-no answer when the Arizona senator asked him if he were wrong about opposing the U.S. surge of troops to Iraq in 2007 and 2008.

"I want to know if you were right or wrong. That's a direct question. I expect a direct answer," McCain said.

"Well, I'm not going to give you a yes or no answer on a lot of things today," Hagel responded

"I think history has already made a judgment about the surge, sir, and you're on the wrong side of it. And your refusal to answer whether you were right or wrong about is going to have an impact on my judgment as to whether vote for your confirmation or not," McCain said.

In the hallways of the Capitol building, The Cable caught up with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who had been noncommittal but now said that he was very likely to vote against Hagel.

"It's not looking good," Graham said. "I don't think he's been consistent over time on major issues."

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is not on the committee, but he told The Cable he watched it on television and concluded he would definitely vote against Hagel's confirmation.

"I don't think he's going to be able the questions I'm going to have. I saw the hearing and I won't be able to support him," Rubio said.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) got into a heated exchange with Hagel at the hearing over the latter's participation in the Global Zero report, which calls for steep reductions in U.S. nuclear stockpiles. Sessions and Hagel debated whether the report actually calls for unilateral reductions in the U.S. nuclear armament or just suggests that as one possible option.

"But here's the key part of all this -- and by the way, this was summarized in a letter to President Obama in 2009 -- bilateral, never unilateral -- nothing was ever suggested on a unilateral basis to take down our arsenal -- negotiated, verifiable," Hagel said.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney defended Hagel on the issue at Thursday's press briefing.

"The position that Senator Hagel has taken on nuclear weapons is the same position that President Kennedy took. It is the same position that President Ronald Reagan took. It is the same position that, you know, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn have taken. And it is the same position the president, this president, expressed in his speech in Prague," Carney said. "You know, the world would be a better place if we could rid it of nuclear weapons. Until that time comes about, we maintain the most serious and credible nuclear deterrent, as we should."

Meanwhile, as The Cable reported Wednesday, the White House is preparing to ask Russia to start a new round of nuclear-reduction negotiations and is also examining options for unilateral reductions if the Russians don't agree.

"I was a little uneasy about Hagel's answers," Sessions told The Cable about the exchange. "I thought he treated it too lightly and suggested far too readily that there's no conflict between the Global Zero report and what the Department of Defense and the president's position is on nuclear weapons."

Hagel also stumbled by saying he supported President Barack Obama's policy of containment with Iran, before Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) corrected him and said that the administration's policy was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, not to contain a nuclear Iran.

Even some GOP senators who did not watch the hearing expressed new opposition to the Hagel nomination Thursday.

"I have serious reservations about it," Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) told The Cable. "I know Chuck. He's a good guy. I like him personally. But I have serious reservations about him becoming the secretary of defense."

Hagel still enjoys the support of all the Senate Democrats who have spoken publicly about the nomination and one GOP senator, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS). A filibuster of his nomination, which is unlikely, would only be possible if almost every GOP senator opposes his nomination.

The hearing stretched late into the afternoon Thursday and the committee left open the possibility for a closed hearing to follow. A vote on the nomination in committee is not expected this week, but may fall along party lines.

When the Hagel nomination does come before the full Senate, even non-committee Republicans say they will look back on today's testimony when making their decision.

"What I told Senator Hagel in our meeting is that I was going to listen very carefully for the hearing today," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).

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