One more hurdle in Hillary Clinton’s path to Foggy Bottom?

December 5th, 2008 - 11:53 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Dec 5 (IANS) Polls show that Americans overwhelmingly approve of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, but some legal eagles say the constitution comes in the way of the former first lady joining Barack Obama’s “team of rivals”.Article 1, Section 6 of the US Constitution says: “No Senator or Representative shall, during the time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil office under the authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time.”

Shorn of legalese, it means a lawmaker cannot fill a position if the salary for that position has been raised during that lawmaker’s term in office. And there comes the hurdle in Clinton’s path to Foggy Bottom, as the State Department is nicknamed after its location.

For in January, President George Bush signed an executive order increasing the salary for the secretary of state and other cabinet positions from $186,600 to $191,300 a year. Hillary Clinton has been in the Senate since January 2001.

“There’s no getting around the Constitution’s ineligibility clause, so Hillary Clinton is prohibited from serving in the Cabinet until at least 2013, when her current term expires,” said Tom Fitton, president of conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch.

“No public official who has taken the oath to support and defend the Constitution should support this appointment,” he said.

But where there is a law, there is a loophole. In the past, lawmakers have found a way around the clause, with Congress changing the salary of the office in question back to what it originally was.

It happened when Ohio Senator William Saxbe was named president Richard Nixon’s attorney general in 1974 and again when Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen became President Bill Clinton’s Treasury secretary in 1993.

But facing a similar situation, president “Ronald Reagan took a look at this clause and decided against appointing Orrin Hatch, who was a senator and still is, to the Supreme Court,” Fitton noted.

“You can’t amend the Constitution through legislation like that. … The Constitution doesn’t have any caveats. It’s plain as day,” he said.

However, the fix is apparently already in to help Hillary Clinton skirt the nettlesome constitutional provision. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office said congressional Democrats are moving forward with a measure similar to what has been done before and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, through a spokesman, said this week that she’d go along.

In an editorial Thursday the Wall Street Journal grudgingly endorsed the proposal. “To our knowledge, Senator Clinton played no role in the salary raise, and she clearly had grander ambitions than Secretary of State when the law was signed.

“But while the issue will strike some as trivial, it is no small matter to ignore the Constitution’s direct words. Giving Mrs. Clinton a pay cut is a minimum gesture of deference required to the document that Mr. Obama will soon swear an oath to preserve, protect and defend,” it said.

One Clinton aide cited by CNN said that both Clinton and Obama were aware of the issue when he announced her as his choice for secretary of state.

But even as the activists, scholars or pundits slug it out, the public has apparently made up its mind. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted Dec 1-2 indicated that 71 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s nomination of Clinton as his secretary of state.

Democrats overwhelmingly approve of the choice, with two-thirds of independents agreeing and Republicans split evenly on the pick.

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