President Obama’s diminished political power as a result of fights between the White House and Congress has damaged both his and the country’s image abroad, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday.
Even as she thanked Congress for its bipartisan support for many of the Obama administration’s foreign policy goals, Mrs. Clinton said during two Senate committee hearings that recent bickering on domestic issues concerns her and that she hopes “we can figure out a better way to address it.”
“We are always going to have differences between the executive and legislative branch, but we have to be attuned to how the rest of the world sees the functioning of our government, because it’s an asset,” the secretary told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on state, foreign operations and related programs.
“People don’t understand the way our system operates. They just don’t get it,” she said. “Their view does color whether the United States — not just the president, but our country — is in a position going forward to demonstrate the kind of unity and strength and effectiveness that I think we have to in this very complex and dangerous world.”
While Mr. Obama’s approval ratings have been sliding in recent months, Mrs. Clinton has been scoring much higher than the president, according to several opinion polls. One of them, conducted by Gallup, showed this month that 51 percent of Americans approve of the president’s job performance, while 43 percent disapprove. Mrs. Clinton’s approval rating has been around 70 percent.
Mrs. Clinton made the comments in response to questions from Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Democrat, which were repeated by Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at a separate hearing with Mrs. Clinton.
“Everybody reads the same public opinion polls,” Mr. Specter said. Mr. Obama “is not able to project the same kind of stature and power that he did a year ago, because he is being hamstrung by the Congress, and it has an impact on foreign policy.”
The secretary agreed with Mr. Specter, saying that while “representing our country around the world,” she encounters a perception “that supports your characterization.”
“As we sell democracy — and we are the lead democracy of the world — I want people to know that we have checks and balances, but we also have the capacity to move,” she said.
Mrs. Clinton specifically criticized some in the Senate for the “gridlock” in appointing officials to critical positions at the State Department, which she said has puzzled many foreign countries.
She did not mention names, but Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican, put a blanket hold on dozens of Mr. Obama’s nominations for various agencies earlier this year over concerns about an Air Force refueling-tanker contract in his home state and a new FBI explosives center he wants built there.
For months last year, Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, held up the nominations of a new ambassador to Brazil and an assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs because he disagreed with the administration’s policy toward Honduras.
“We are now more than a year into a new administration, and whether you agree or disagree with a particular policy, a president deserves to have the people that he nominates serving him,” Mrs. Clinton said Wednesday. “It became harder and harder to explain to countries — particularly countries of significance — why we had nobody in position for them to interact with.”
Mrs. Clinton appeared on Capitol Hill to testify on the administration’s 2011 budget, but she was asked questions on a variety of topics, most prominent of which was Iran.
She said she hopes the U.N. Security Council will impose new sanctions on Tehran in the next two months for refusing to come clean on its nuclear program. She also urged Congress to work closely with the administration to make sure any unilateral U.S. penalties will complement the U.N. measures.
“We hope that the next 30 to 60 days will see a sanctions resolution emerge in New York,” she said, adding that Mr. Obama’s offers of engagement with Iran, although never accepted, have made a difference.
“Our very clear commitment to engagement has created space for a lot of these countries to now consider supporting sanctions that they might not have otherwise, because we have demonstrated the strategic patience to exhaust the international efforts of convincing Iran to do the right thing without sanctions,” she said.