clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Hillary Clinton: Pardon me, but let's talk about N.Y.

WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton took the floor of the Senate Thursday to unveil a wide-ranging plan to bolster the sagging economy of upstate New York.

But no sooner had New York's newest senator presented her plan than she found herself answering another round of questions about ethics, even as a high-profile hearing into former President Bill Clinton's last-minute pardons was being held across the Capitol complex.

That is how things seem to have gone for the former first lady during her first two months in Congress. No matter whether Hillary Clinton is being the dutiful junior senator from New York, offering a prescription for the ailing upstate economy or inveighing against President Bush's tax cut, all anyone seems to want to talk about is her husband's scandal-plagued presidency.

It has made what was already a difficult transition for her even more difficult.

Her economic plan itself contained no great surprises, since her aides had been talking about it for days. It offered a broad array of tax credits, grants and other incentives intended to create jobs in the upstate region, a region that proved pivotal to her victory in November.

Hillary Clinton seemed to be delighting in describing the nuts and bolts of her 42-page plan when she was interrupted with questions over the latest uproar from her husband's presidency.

This one involved the disclosure that her brother Tony Rodham had helped get a pardon for a Tennessee couple last March over the objections of the Justice Department. Rodham said that he received no money for his trouble.

Hillary Clinton wasted little time in trying to draw a distinction between the actions of her brother Tony and her brother Hugh. Hugh Rodham, it was learned last week, received $400,000 to lobby on behalf of two wealthy men who were granted clemency.

Hillary Clinton described herself as heartbroken when Hugh Rodham's role was discovered — and then sought to distance herself from that case. Hugh Rodham eventually gave the money back.

On Thursday, as if to minimize the latest revelation, the senator stressed that the people Tony Rodham represented were acquaintances of the family and that Tony, unlike Hugh, did not get any money. But she refused to say whether she thought Tony Rodham's behavior was appropriate, saying only, "I don't know what involvement he had other than what he has said."

Eventually, when it looked as though the message was getting away from her, with reporters eager to press her for more details, the senator's aides abruptly brought the appearance to an end.

Since being sworn in 55 days ago, Hillary Clinton has done her best to come across as extremely eager to make a mark in the capital. Her aides say she has set up private meetings with her new colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats, to try to forge new alliances and discuss her legislative plans.

The senator, her aides say, is even well on her way to completing her next piece of legislation, one that seeks to provide scholarships and other financial incentives to lure people into the teaching profession.

But for all her efforts to get on with her new life as a senator, a sense of crisis has seemed to grip her office from one day to the next.

Clinton and her staff had hoped to put to rest any questions over the pardon controversy last week. But the matter is far from over.

As one of her staffers mordantly put it Thursday: "I think she is out of brothers, and has no sisters."