- The Washington Times - Monday, January 20, 2003

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, has raised her profile, emerging this year as a key player in helping her party regain control of Congress and the White House in 2004.
Mrs. Clinton has been called the Democrats' new quarterback as they play from behind to win back power in Washington.
Beginning her third year in the Senate, Mrs. Clinton was named chairman of the strategically important Senate Democratic Steering and Coordination Committee, a taxpayer-funded political outreach operation to national, state and local Democratic-leaning groups.
Both Mrs. Clinton and Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota played down her sudden rise to power over more senior senators.
In announcing the appointment Jan. 7, Mr. Daschle restated Democratic opposition to the Bush administration on tax cuts and federal spending, saying he was excited about additions to his leadership team. Mrs. Clinton said she was "very honored to have been asked to take on this responsibility and to be part of the new leadership."
Mrs. Clinton views her new role "as yet another way she can work on behalf of New York in the Senate," spokesman Philippe I. Reines said. "The issues at the top of New York's agenda are at the top of the nation's agenda, particularly as we focus on economic security, homeland security, and rebuilding after September 11."
But veteran Senate observers dismiss such explanations.
"It's very unusual. Daschle passed over New York's senior senator, Chuck Schumer, to give her this seat at the leadership table. It shows the extent of her clout," said one longtime Senate official who asked not to be named.
"Then Daschle had to give Schumer a job on his new leadership executive committee to placate him being passed over," the official said. "You rarely have two senators from the same state in leadership meetings. Other senators don't like it, particularly when it's a big state. It gives the state too much power."
But Mrs. Clinton proved her worth to Democrats at the start of the session by battling incoming Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, in his first test of procedural acuity over an emergency bill to extend 13 weeks of federal unemployment benefits by unanimous consent.
Mrs. Clinton insisted on doubling the extension to 26 weeks or Democrats would block quick passage with objections. Mr. Frist consented to a handshake deal with Mrs. Clinton to extend 13 weeks of benefits by unanimous consent in exchange for his promise to consider expanding the scope of the program later.
The scene on the Senate floor raised eyebrows of veteran Washington political reporters.
"You know what's impressive?" asked MSNBC host Chris Matthews on his talk show, "Hardball." "Sitting in the Senate press gallery and looking down and realizing that Hillary Clinton is the leader of the U.S. Senate Democrats. She's the boss. Everybody was circling around her when they were having that big dispute over unemployment benefits. Hillary was calling the shots."
Mr. Matthews for many years in the 1970s and 1980s served as top strategist and spokesman for House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, Massachusetts Democrat.
"I've never seen this before, all these senators gathered around Hillary, and she's like the quarterback in the huddle," he said. "Hillary looks to me like the number one Democratic senator right now. She's intellectually and ideologically the center of the Democratic Party."
Republicans say Mrs. Clinton was given the leadership plum because she has the star power to loosen up wallets of important Democratic campaign donors.
"She has tremendous ability to raise money. That means a lot," said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.
Mrs. Clinton raised $3.2 million for her political fund-raising committee, Hillpac, during the 2002 congressional election cycle. She gave $5,000 and $10,000 contributions to 25 Senate Democratic candidates and 86 House Democratic candidates, according to her reports to the Federal Election Commission.
Her steering committee, which operates with a five-member staff from the seventh floor of the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, coordinates the Senate Democratic agenda with the party's base nationwide: political leaders, activists, labor unions, and outside liberal-left pressure groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and People for the American Way.
Staff receive salaries of $40,000 to $96,000 each from Mr. Daschle's Senate minority leader funds to aid outside groups and grass-roots activists in getting media attention and bringing political pressure on the national and state levels.


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