- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton - three weeks after the loss of the Democratic presidential nomination that once seemed hers for the taking - eased slowly back into the workaday world of the U.S. Senate Tuesday, much like most Americans do after a long absence from the job.

She skipped the morning business of voting on a housing bill, but arrived in time for lunch with her Democratic colleagues.

“We have a lot ahead of us, and I am rolling up my sleeves and getting back to work,” Mrs. Clinton of New York said as she strolled into the weekly Democratic luncheon.

But the race wasn’t completely in the past. Her former rival and presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama on Tuesday asked his top donors on the national finance committee to help Mrs. Clinton retire about $10 million of her campaign debt to unpaid vendors.

Sen. Obama made the request - first reported by ABC News - in a conference call with his fundraisers.

Some Democrats were irritated the request took so long after Mrs. Clinton endorsed her rival because he has a massive donor network and he recently has penned fundraising notes for the party’s congressional committees.

Mrs. Clinton’s support of Mr. Obama continued Tuesday on the Hill. She reportedly gave a brief speech at the closed-door luncheon, in which she vowed to go all out to get Mr. Obama of Illinois elected president.

Democrats gave Mrs. Clinton a pass on the late start and the missed procedural vote on a $300 billion mortgage aid package, which advanced toward final passage with an 83-9 vote.

Mrs. Clinton was among eight senators who did not vote, but one of just three Democrats to miss the vote. Mr. Obama and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who is undergoing treatment for a brain tumor, were the other two.

Fellow New York Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer described Mrs. Clinton as being “back and raring to go.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, said Mrs. Clinton “is really plunging into all the issues.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, a staunch supporter of the former first lady, said Mrs. Clinton kept a positive outlook and came back to the Senate without trepidation, despite having watched the nomination seemingly slip through her fingers.

“What you do is, you just pick up and go on, and I think that is an important characteristic of an individual to be able to do that. You don’t quit,” she said. “You don’t move out. You keep going.”

Mrs. Feinstein reminded reporters that Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote in the election, a calculation made by the Clinton campaign that included votes cast in the formerly disputed primaries in Florida and Michigan. “She’s got a large constituency of people rooting for her,” she said.

Indeed, a throng of reporters, fans and star-struck summer interns greeted Mrs. Clinton as she arrived at about 1 p.m. and climbed the east steps of the Capitol, smiling and glad-handing her way campaign-style through the crowd.

“We missed you,” a young female staffer called out.

But she returned amid a whirlwind of speculation about her next career move.

Mrs. Clinton is considered key to mending a Democratic Party divided by a long and bitter nomination fight. She tops the list of potential running mates for Mr. Obama, and she has been eyed for a run for New York governor in 2010.

She also carries a more than $20 million campaign debt, including about $12 million from her own pocket.

“I am not seeking any other position,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters, blunting speculation that she’s jockeying for vice president. “My role is to be the very best senator I can be and represent the greatest state in our country.”

Mrs. Clinton is scheduled Wednesday to meet with House Democrats, Thursday to introduce Mr. Obama to a bunch of her big donors and Friday to attend a unity rally with her former rival in New Hampshire.

The return to the Senate coincided with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, voicing support for the first time for Mr. Obama - an about-face for the former president, who was a fierce critic of Mr. Obama.

“President Clinton is obviously committed to doing whatever he can and is asked to do to ensure Senator Obama is the next president of the United States,” Mr. Clinton’s spokesman, Matt McKenna, said in a written statement distributed to the press.

The Obama campaign said it welcomed Mr. Clinton’s support.

“A unified Democratic party is going to be a powerful force for change this year, and we’re confident President Clinton will play a big role in that,” Obama spokesman Bill Burton said.

It remained unclear what role, if any, Mr. Clinton would play in the Obama campaign.

The two reportedly have not spoken to each other since the bitter nomination race ended, and Mr. Clinton is not expected to attend the New Hampshire rally.

Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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