Hillary Clinton: 'Obama is a steady captain of the ship'

Secretary of State says US president will stay the course no matter what midterm elections bring the Democrats.

Hillary Clinton in Malaysia (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Hillary Clinton in Malaysia
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday she expects President Barack Obama to stay the course on domestic and foreign policy even if Republicans make big gains, as expected, in hotly contested congressional midterm elections.
On a visit to predominantly Muslim Malaysia, where she was promoting religious and political tolerance, Clinton told students and civic leaders that she had spoken to Obama by phone on the eve of the vote, and joked that she thought he seemed "a little envious" that she was abroad for an election that may see Democrats lose control of Congress.
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"I think he was a little envious that I am here," Clinton said, describing the phone call she and Obama had at 1 a.m. — midday Monday on Washington time.
But she said that even if the Republicans win Congress, the Obama administration will pursue its agenda.
"The political winds blow back and forth but I think you will find that President Obama is a pretty steady captain of the ship," Clinton said. "No matter what happens in our election, you will see him ... continuing to promote his agenda, which I think is right for America and right for the world."                                  
Clinton is barred from partisan political activity as America's top diplomat, but said she personally thought Obama is doing an "excellent job" in handling complex domestic and foreign policy matters.
"The president inherited a very difficult set of problems and has been persistent and visionary in addressing" them, she said. She said she thought his economic policies had prevented a global depression, praised his vow to rid the world of nuclear weapons and celebrated the passage of health care reform.
Despite those accomplishments, Clinton explained to her audience that the American electorate can be fickle and pointed out that it is not unusual for the sitting president's party to lose seats in Congress after his first two years in office. That, she noted, happened to her husband in 1994.
"If that happens in our elections, and it may or may not ... it is sort of the way American politics keeps itself in the center," she said. "A new president gets elected, he usually does an enormous amount in the first two years, and then everybody in America says that's either not enough or that's too much. So they send a message to the new president by voting out members of Congress of his party."
Turning to Malaysia, a Muslim-majority nation that has made great economic strides, Clinton urged that the country keep to its traditionally moderate roots and reject extremism while opening the political arena to all.
"It is important for countries to always keep an eye on the fact that unfortunately a small minority can be disproportionately influential unless people of common sense and shared humanity speak out," she said.
After the town hall meeting, Clinton met with Malaysian leaders to boost counterterrorism and security cooperation. Malaysia, which is providing medical services in Afghanistan, has been supportive of those efforts and U.S. officials say they are keen to expand its role.
"Extremism is not a path to building sustainable prosperity, peace, stability or democracy, it only promotes conflicts and hardens hearts," she told reporters in a joint news conference with Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, who is promoting a Malaysian initiative to create a global interfaith dialogue.
Clinton sidestepped a potentially volatile political situation by deciding against having a face-to-face meeting with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who is currently on trial for sodomy in what the U.S. and many others believe to be a politically motivated prosecution. However, she said she had raised the case with Anifah.
"The United States believes it is important for all aspects of the case to be conducted fairly and transparently in a way that increases confidence in the rule of law in Malaysia," Clinton said. She added that the US would continue to follow the matter.
Anwar, a former deputy prime minister, claims the government has concocted the charges to thwart his political career after big election gains in March 2008. The government has denied there is any conspiracy against him.
Anifah repeated that stance Tuesday and said Anwar would receive a "fair and open trial."
"It is in my interest and in our interest to make sure that Anwar gets a fair trial," he said. "Because if there is such a thing as a political prosecution, if it can happen to Anwar, it can happen to the rest of us."
Clinton is visiting Malaysia in the midst of a two-week, seven-nation journey through Asia that already has taken her to Vietnam, China and Cambodia. From Malaysia, she heads to Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia.