WASHINGTON — With her re-election to a second Senate term as certain as any outcome can be, and with the jostling for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination well under way, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York has taken a high profile during this final week of Senate business before adjournment.
For three straight days Clinton was the star at Democratic events on Capitol Hill: Monday’s Senate Democratic Conference informal hearing on Iraq policy, Tuesday’s briefing on the National Intelligence Estimate’s assessment of terrorism and Wednesday’s appearance with Sen. Ted Kennedy and other Democrats to rally opposition to a House-passed bill that would require voters to show proof of identification and American citizenship before casting a ballot.
To some degree Clinton’s high visibility this week has been her husband’s doing: former President Bill Clinton’s now-famous interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News was as hotly debated here in Washington as the Iraq war was.
Defending the ex-president
On Tuesday, Sen. Clinton aggressively defended her husband after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the former president hadn’t left a counter-terrorist plan to his successor when he left office in 2001.
“I think my husband did a great job in demonstrating that Democrats are not going to take these attacks,” Clinton said. “All you have to do is to read the 9-11 Commission (report) to know what he and his administration did to protect Americans and prevent terrorist attacks against our country.”
Clinton then aimed a dart at President Bush: “I’m certain that if my husband and his national security team had been shown a classified report entitled ‘Bin Laden determined to attack inside the U.S.’ he would have taken it more seriously than history suggests it was taken by our current president and his national security team.”
Apart from defending her husband, Clinton also put herself in the forefront as a party loyalist to decry Bush’s strategy in Iraq and to accuse Republicans of trying to deprive Americans of the right to vote.
Denouncing voter identification bill
Clinton said the House-passed bill to require voters to show a form of photo identification and, by 2010, proof of America citizenship such as a passport was “disgraceful.”
She said, “The cynical Washington Republicans are trying to build new walls between millions of eligible senior, minority, and low-income Americans and their civil right to choose their own leaders.”
She called the bill “a modern day poll tax” and said voter fraud by non-citizens “simply doesn’t happen on any significant scale.”
Republican supporters of the bill point out that it requires states to distribute ID cards to citizens who don’t have them, (people without a driver’s license for instance) and requires that they be given at no cost to those who can’t afford them.
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Under the bill, the federal government would reimburse states for the cost of the ID cards.
And some Democrats, too, argue that the voter identification bill makes sense.
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who voted for the bill, explained Wednesday that, “You’ve got to have a driver’s license to get on an airplane,” so requiring photo identification to vote wasn’t unreasonable.
His vote for the bill was simply a matter of “what I think is common sense,” Peterson said. “In my district it would not be a problem.”
When the House passed the bill last week, Peterson was one of four Democrats voting for it. Not surprisingly, all four come from Republican-leaning districts and two of the four, Rep. Melissa Bean of Illinois and Rep. Jim Marshall of Georgia, are in competitive House races.
But Clinton and other Democrats see the bill as a scheme to discourage Democratic voters in the run-up to Nov. 7 and future elections.
Trying to figure out Iraq
On the issue of what to do about Iraq, Clinton did not break new ground this week. She’s already on the record as voting for last June’s Levin-Reed proposal, a non-binding resolution which said “phased redeployment” of U.S. forces out of Iraq should begin this year.
She admitted Tuesday that apart from the Levin-Reed redeployment of troops out of Iraq idea, she wasn’t ready to offer an alternative strategy to bring stability to Iraq.
“At this point I would settle for just admitting that we are on the wrong course, while we try to figure out what to do next,” she told reporters.
She said success in Iraq was still possible. “We don’t want to see this fail,” she said. “I don’t think any American does.”
She said she was “still looking for some glimmer of hope from this administration that we can have a more sensible and successful policy.”
And once again she avoided answering the question of whether her vote for the Iraq war had been an error. “I’ve said many times I regret the way this president has used the authority he was given by the Congress.”
Clinton’s celebrity, and the likelihood of her running for president, means that she can make news even while not coming up with new policies or proposals.
After all, any reporter must wonder, when questioning Clinton, as one does when questioning Sen. John McCain or Mayor Rudy Giuliani, what kind of president would this person make?
Clinton remains, as always, a formidable force with broad support in her party. She has $22 million in cash in her Senate re-election fund, surely a sound foundation for a presidential bid. And the money comes from more than 22,000 individual donors and an array of political action committees from the Machinists union to the Federal Express PAC.
Clinton’s visibility this week also put her in the running with the week’s other subject of hot Democratic presidential speculation, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.
“My favorite guy,’’ television hostess Oprah Winfrey called Obama in an interview with Larry King this week. “I'm hoping he would run for president.’’
Two weeks ago Obama made a campaign trip to Iowa — site of the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses in 2008. The freshman senator is returning to campaign in the state this weekend for Democratic House candidate Bruce Braley.
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