Madeleine K. Albright, who arrived in the United States as an 11-year-old from Czechoslovakia, Wednesday sailed through a hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, promising to defend democracy and “tell it like it is” if confirmed as the first woman secretary of state.
The performance seemed to assure Albright’s status as the first bright star of President Clinton’s second Cabinet. Senators on the committee left no doubt she will be approved quickly and overwhelmingly.
Sen. Jesse Helms, the North Carolina Republican who heads the committee and often criticizes Clinton’s foreign policy, praised Albright and asked her three daughters to greet the committee. A newly elected Republican, Vietnam War veteran Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, saluted Albright as “a real role model for this country.”
And Sen. John F. Kerry said his daughters had met Albright and agreed, “Boy, she’s really cool.”
“My daughters think you’re cool,” responded Albright, who has spent four years as ambassador to the United Nations.
Albright promised to join allies in fighting terrorism, drugs and the proliferation of sophisticated weapons, while promoting free trade. She vowed to push for peace in the Mideast and Northern Ireland.
Albright said she would strengthen ties to Asia, especially China. But she said the United States is prepared to cosponsor a U.N. resolution criticizing China’s human rights policy, as it did last year. Of China’s leaders, she said, “I know how to engage with them, and how to be firm and frank.”
The hearing went so well Helms noted that five of the previous 64 secretaries of state went on to be elected president. Albright cannot be president because she was born abroad. When Sen. Joseph R. Biden joked about changing the Constitution, Albright said, “I assure you that I have reached my highest aspiration.”
The daylong hearing also hinted at the problems Albright and the rest of Clinton’s foreign policy team could face. Senators asked Albright about when and where she would deploy U.S. troops, how she will reduce tensions between Israel and its neighbors, and whether she would cooperate with a congressional investigation into campaign contributions from foreign donors.
Albright, who was introduced to the committee by outgoing Secretary of State Warren Christopher, pledged to work with Congress, but she sidestepped questions about how she will direct the Mideast peace process. Five protesters interrupted the hearings by unfurling posters of children and shouting that Albright was causing malnutrition by imposing sanctions on Iraq. Albright said Iraq’s problems are caused by Saddam Hussein, not other countries.
In an interview, Peter Krogh, the former dean of Georgetown University’s foreign service school, said it was vintage Albright.
“This has got to be one of the toughest jobs in the world, but Madeleine has prepared herself well for it and she’s indefatigable,” said Krogh, who hired Albright in the 1980s as a professor of foreign affairs and director of a program for women in the foreign service.