The Hillary Clinton record: In the Senate, she reached across the aisle, but the old ways there are no more
Hillary Clinton is introduced at a campaign stop in Fort Madison, Iowa, during her first presidential campaign. (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
In the lead-up to Hillary Clinton’s announcement of her second campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, much has been made about how dramatically the world has changed since she launched her first bid for the White House in January 2007.
Popular political news websites such as Politico and BuzzFeed didn’t yet exist. Twitter was still a work in progress, with all of its users combined churning out only about 5,000 tweets per day. And Clinton, then the junior U.S. senator from New York, would declare her candidacy by releasing a YouTube video explaining why she wanted to be president.
OK, so maybe not everything has changed — Clinton is again expected to announce her campaign via Web video at midday on Sunday.
But the institution she served in then, the U.S. Senate, has undergone dramatic changes. These are worth noting as Clinton gets ready to point to her record of service as a senator and as Obama’s Secretary of State, as the justification for why voters should support her.
Today’s Senate looks nothing like the one she left eight years ago, and should she win office, she would be facing a body whose membership has turned over and become significantly more partisan.
Only 27 senators who were in the Senate on Hillary Clinton’s first day in 2001 are still serving — 14 Democrats and 13 Republicans. And only 46 senators there when she left Congress in early 2009 still serve in the chamber; among them are three Democrats who have already announced their retirements.
The fact Washington churns through representatives and residents alike means that even longtime Washington insiders can, over time, find themselves facing what feels like a whole new city. For Clinton, that means that her ability to restore trust between the White House and Congress, should she win office, could rest largely on her ability to cultivate new relationships, rather than leaning on longstanding ones. That will be a tricky challenge, given the shifts in tone and strategy within both parties in the years since she left the upper chamber.
A key part of the narrative of Clinton’s first presidential run was that her nose-to-the-grindstone Senate style impressed her colleagues and demonstrated her commitment to working with members from both parties. “She demonstrated that she was a workhorse, not a show horse,” a Clinton staffer said in a January 2008 New Yorker piece during her first presidential run.
Her work on the Senate Armed Services Committee — and especially her approach to hearings about ongoing military engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan — became the focal point of her Senate career, and she became know for asking tough, well-researched questions without trying to grandstand and bring attention to herself.
Clinton listens to opening statements before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee during her first year in office. (Photo: Mike Theiler/Getty Images)
She also worked on several domestic issues with Republicans, such as Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, with whom she attempted to pass legislation to expand veterans’ health benefits to reservists and National Guard members. Graham, who is mulling a presidential run in 2016, had been a leading voice in Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial — but that didn’t seem to bother Clinton, as long as she could form an alliance of interest on issues they both cared about.
A great deal of her attention, especially in her first term as senator, was directed to parochial New York issues.
Accordingly, with some distance, Clinton’s Senate record seems a bit less substantial. In the eight years she served as a senator, Clinton introduced three bills that became law, a 2008 bill “to designate a portion of United States Route 20A, located in Orchard Park, N.Y., as the ‘Timothy J. Russert Highway,’” a 2006 bill to name a Averill Park, N.Y., post office the “Major George Quamo Post Office Building” and the 2003 “Kate Mullany National Historic Site Act” to get national historic status for the New York home of an early female labor leader.
Clinton was a co-sponsor on 73 other pieces of legislation that became law, most notably the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which was approved before she resigned to become secretary of state, and a 2008 bill to improve veterans’ mental health care.
SLIDESHOW - Hillary Clinton through the years
Significantly, of those 73 co-sponsored bills that became law, 25 were led by Republicans — and 17 of those GOP-led bills were introduced by members who have since left Congress. But Clinton’s close working relationship with Republicans in Congress began to fray during her years at State, both because fewer members knew her personally any more, and because of the rising partisanship of the Obama era.
In her last two years as a senator, however, Clinton had stopped looking at the grindstone and begun looking at the glass ceiling. She spent increasingly little time in Washington in order to pursue her first national race, meaning that those new members who arrived toward the end of her career are ones she barely got the time to know. Clinton missed 208 of 651 votes held between January 2007 and September 2008. Her congressional attendance was especially poor between October to December 2007 and April to June of 2008, when she missed more than 83 percent of votes and 78 percent of votes, respectively.
Later, as secretary of state, Clinton’s public contact with Congress was confined to 14 Senate hearings, including her confirmation hearing and that of then-Sen. John Kerry to succeed her at State. She appeared seven times before House committees, as well — often to speak about the State Department’s budgets, but also to report in and answer questions about the terrorist attacks on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya.
Her interactions with lawmakers have become more fraught as Republicans have dug in on Benghazi conspiracy theories — including ones since debunked by seven congressional panels — amid a continuing House special investigation led by Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who has signaled his intention to broaden the probe to Clinton’s use of a private email account while at State.
And Clinton would go on to spend even less time inside the Beltway as secretary of state. She spent 401 days — more than one full year of her four in the post —traveling overseas, visiting a record 112 countries and covering nearly a million miles.
Supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s yet-to-be-announced presidential campaign rally in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)