Hillary Clinton will be in London for State of the Union

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, January 27, 2010; A17

Madam Secretary sends her regrets.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton got a pass last week from President Obama to skip Wednesday night's State of the Union speech. (We had heard she begged to be excused, but apparently it didn't come to that.)

Seems there's an important international meeting Wednesday in London on battling radicalization in Yemen, and then another, long-planned conference there Thursday on development and security in Afghanistan.

Once the Wednesday meeting was "locked in," we were told, the State Department and National Security Council staffs agreed that Clinton had to be in London. These are both big administration priorities. Key allies will be gathering there to discuss Yemen, an uber-concern of late, especially since the Christmas Day airplane bombing attempt.

And everyone who's anyone -- including maybe the neo-Soviets and the Chicoms and possibly even the Iranians -- will be there to talk about Afghanistan.

Clinton laid out the situation in a meeting last week with Obama, and he agreed that she should go.

But London does not qualify as an "undisclosed location." So this means there will be two Cabinet officers not attending the speech: Clinton and the designated holdback in case of terrorist attack. (Or in case everyone falls asleep at the same time.)

Our plugged-in prez

The White House blog said Tuesday morning that it was "excited to announce" that the president will be using the Web "to offer the public a direct and participatory way to communicate back to him" during Wednesday's speech. Presumably this would be something a little more substantive than that "You lie!" outburst last year by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.).

The blog announced that after the speech begins, "anyone will be able to submit a follow-up question and vote on others at YouTube.com/CitizenTube. Then next week, the president will answer questions in a special online event, live from the White House." This is the latest in a White House effort to use new media to get their message out.

But the Brits continue to be at least a step ahead on this. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, in town Thursday for various meetings with administration officials and congressional folks -- including testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the upcoming Afghanistan conference -- had a "Twitter press conference," the embassy here said, "to answer questions on Afghanistan from the online community, to run over the course of the day."

An embassy spokesman pronounced the effort "worth doing." Miliband was on the run most all day, and there were inevitably "more questions than answers," the spokesman said, but Miliband managed to answer "eight or so different questions."

Maybe Obama could go him one better and just tweet the whole State of the Union. Save everyone a lot of trouble. Limit is 140 characters? No problem. "I think the State of the Union," he could type, then pick one: "is okay," "could be better," "is really messed up" or "is looking real good (well, maybe not just right now)."

Hold the secret sauce

We got an invitation earlier this month from the Foreign Policy Research Institute to attend a day-long conference Monday on "Power in East Asia." Looked pretty interesting -- some excellent speakers scheduled to talk about China, Taiwan, Korea and Japan. We really wanted to cover keynote speaker Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. But the invite said "the keynote will be off the record; the rest of the conference will be webcast live."

The keynote speaker off the record? Must be some really inside stuff. But if it's off the record, not even on background, it wouldn't be usable anyway. So we didn't go.

Just as well, it seems. "You didn't miss anything," a source who was there told us. Well, except lunch . . .

All ayes on Johnsen

Sen. Arlen Specter's office asked us to clarify a column last week saying that the Pennsylvania Democrat switched his vote on Justice Department nominee Dawn Johnsen and would thus be the 60th vote to confirm her. His office notes he never voted against Johnsen. The only time he voted on her was in the Senate Judiciary Committee in March, back when he was a Republican, and he voted "pass."

So you might say he switched from "pass" to "yes." But Scottish law is explicit that this is not really a switch.

Catching up on nominees

Obama last week nominated publishing executive (and, yes, major contributor and bundler) Theodore "Tod" Sedgwick to be ambassador to Slovakia. Sedgwick founded and headed Pasha Publications, which focused on energy, defense and environment markets matters, and ran a lumber company. He's also on the boards of a number of cultural and land preservation organizations. Slovakia, a NATO member, is a lovely country in the heart of Europe. It's small, but Sedgwick only bundled a bit more than $200,000 for the Obama campaign, plus contributing $42,416 of his own money to Democrats in the 2008 cycle and another $10,000 for the inauguration.

Obama on Monday named Elisabeth Hagen, chief medical officer at the Agriculture Department and before that a top official in the agency's Food Safety and Inspection Service, to be undersecretary for food safety. She has an MD from Harvard.

Acting Drug Enforcement Administration chief Michele M. Leonhart, who's been with the DEA for nearly 30 years and became acting administrator in 2007, was nominated Monday to be administrator.

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