Senator Hillary Clinton has accomplished a lot of firsts in her political career: becoming the only former first lady to go from the White House to the Senate, as well as earning the honor of being the first woman elected statewide in New York in 2000.
But with her nomination to President-elect Barack Obama's cabinet on Monday as secretary of state, Clinton is again breaking new ground. As the first former first lady to be nominated for the post, Clinton has been given the opportunity to turn a defeat in the presidential race into another impressive addition to her already bulging political resume — and one that could eventually lead her back to the White House.
But just what is it, exactly, that the secretary of state does? The secretary is in charge of foreign policy and representing the United States to foreign governments — they also serve as the head of the U.S. Department of State. It is the most senior position in a president's cabinet, and it is often filled by someone with deep foreign-policy or military experience. The secretary negotiates with foreign leaders and governments on behalf of the president, advises the president on foreign policy and supervises the State Department's activities overseas, including its consulates and embassies.
If confirmed, Clinton would become just the third woman to hold the position, after President Bill Clinton's secretary, Madeleine Albright, and President George W. Bush's second secretary, Condoleezza Rice.
The secretary must be confirmed by the Senate and serve at the president's discretion, meaning they can be fired at any time without notice. The office has a rich history, with a number of former presidents holding the office before ascending to the White House, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and John Quincy Adams. A number of former secretaries have also achieved lasting worldwide status following their appointments, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Henry Kissinger, who served Presidents Nixon and Ford, and who is credited with opening relations between China and the U.S. Other notable former secretaries of state include Warren Christopher, who was secretary during President Clinton's first term and who helped negotiate a cease-fire in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.
The position is fourth in line to succeed the president after the vice president, speaker of the house and president pro tempore of the Senate.