Hillary Clinton returned to work in the Senate yesterday. She had a hero’s welcome from her colleagues and found in “her months-long absence,” as her aide Philippe Reines cautioned, “things have gotten a little casual” in her office. As Clinton “swung open the door of her private office” she found “two of her legislative assistants in T-shirts, caps and sunglasses playing at a ping-pong table while the rest of the staff cheered them on.”
Clinton tossed her head back with her famous laughter, then sat on the couch to watch Mike Szymanski score match point against colleague Ann Gavaghan.
The girl had lost — again! To the ping-pong loser, Clinton had some empathetic advice. “Ann,” she said, “you have to be very gracious in defeat.”
Dana Milbank notes in the WaPo:
[...] as she returned in defeat to her old home in the Senate yesterday, she was received as if in triumph. And, in a sense, her stature had increased during the failed primary battle: She left as a legislator but returned as the leader of an 18 million-strong movement of women and working-class voters — a group whose support Clinton’s Democratic colleagues fervently desire.
And so, as Clinton entered a private luncheon in the Capitol, these colleagues greeted her with cheers, hugs and high-fives. “It’s great to be here among my colleagues,” Clinton teased, “just another regular, plain old superdelegate.”
Among the well-wishers was Sen. John F. Kerry, the failed Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, who had some hard-won advice for Clinton. “Compartmentalize,” he recommended. Still, Kerry predicted, “she’ll be extraordinarily received.”
Kerry, of course, “knew what he was talking about,” because Clinton’s reception as she returned to work in the Senate was not unlike the reception Kerry received when he returned to work in the Senate in November ’04.
Two hundred journalists, interns and others awaited her arrival at the carriage entrance outside the Senate chamber yesterday. A Senate official tried to keep order among the cameras, boom microphones and shotgun-wielding cops: “I need media credentials out! I need a space for her!” Greta Van Susteren snapped pictures on a camera phone. Even Vice President Cheney, arriving in a sirens-blaring motorcade for lunch with Republican senators, merited no more than a murmur from the mob awaiting Clinton’s appearance.
“Heads up!” somebody called out. The interns erupted in a cheer as soon as the leg of Clinton’s turquoise pantsuit appeared though the doorway of her Lincoln Town Car.
“Like the Roman triumph,” Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) observed wryly as he watched the scene. Bayh, who admitted that his own return to the Senate went “largely unnoticed” after he abandoned plans to run for president, said of Clinton: “It’s good to see there is life after the presidential campaign.”
As Hillary Clinton “worked her way through the crowd of admirers and climbed the Capitol steps; at the top, colleagues offered hugs” and expressed how much she was needed there in Senate:
“We need you!” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Md.).
“You need me?” Clinton replied. “You need my vote.”
“We need a lot more than that,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), head of the Senate Democrats’ campaign effort, assured her.
Indeed, they need her 18 million supporters — and they were tripping over themselves to make nice to the fallen candidate. “Hillary Clinton is a great, stalwart Democrat and a friend of mine,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced to reporters, with Clinton at his side.
After Hillary CLinton briefly spoke ”to her colleagues at the lunch, Reid and other Democratic leaders formed a procession to escort Clinton toward the reporters outside.”
Reid described “one of the most emotional caucuses I’ve attended,” complete with tears. But he also made it clear that, in the Senate, he was in charge. He introduced Clinton, decreed that “she’ll be happy to take a couple of questions now” and decided when to cut off the session.
Clinton delivered a version of the party-unity theme she had voiced behind closed doors. “I come back with an even greater depth of awareness about what we have to do here in Washington,” she said. She spoke with vagueness about her new role (“to be the very best senator I can be”), her plans (“I’m rolling up my sleeves and getting back to work”) and her vice presidential ambitions (“I am not seeking any other position”). And she repeated the requisite promise to “work very hard to elect Senator Obama our president.”
That was day one back in the Senate… The Caucus has more on Day 2 for Hillary back on the Hill. The Caucus reports that at a meeting “with the House Democratic caucus, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi hailed her as “the most respected political figure in America” drawing a huge round of applause.”
[...] House leaders eased the way, showering her with praise. And Mrs. Clinton herself acknowledged how tough her loss had been, while pledging to do every thing she can to help Mr. Obama.
“This was a very difficult campaign, let’s be honest,” Mrs. Clinton said at the end of her 10-minute remarks, according to Democrats who were present. “It caused some heartburn … but we are a family; we are the Democratic Party and we are on the same team. So let’s go out and win in November!”
Mrs. Pelosi said Senator Clinton’s campaign could be summed up best by one word: respect.
“She has emerged from this campaign as the most respected political figure in America.”
Mrs. Clinton returned the praise with a joke at the expense of the Senate where the Democrats’ slim majority has struggled against Republican opposition.
“Madam Speaker, it’s wonderful to be here in the body that can actually pass legislation.”
Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois opened the session saying, “The Senate is a club, the Democratic House caucus is your family.”
And Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York said: “She is no longer Bill Clinton’s wife, she is a national and international leader in her own right.”
Charlie Rangel is right… Hillary Clinton is now in the wake of her presidential campaign, a “national and international leader in her own right,” — and one who put “18 million cracks” in the glass ceiling.