Should the Secretary of State be involved in domestic lobbying?

Ten days ago I took David Axelrod to task for speaking publicly on foreign affairs when that’s not really his job description.  I bring this up because I’m wondering if the reverse critricism applies — should foreign policy leaders stick their beaks into domestic policymaking bailiwicks?  Last week there was this nugget buried within Mark ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Ten days ago I took David Axelrod to task for speaking publicly on foreign affairs when that's not really his job description. 

I bring this up because I'm wondering if the reverse critricism applies -- should foreign policy leaders stick their beaks into domestic policymaking bailiwicks? 

Last week there was this nugget buried within Mark Landler and Helene Cooper's story on the Obama-Clinton relationship on foreign policy:  "Mrs. Clinton has also taken on duties that go beyond her job description. At the request of the White House, she made calls to wavering lawmakers to enlist their support for health care legislation late last year." 

Ten days ago I took David Axelrod to task for speaking publicly on foreign affairs when that’s not really his job description. 

I bring this up because I’m wondering if the reverse critricism applies — should foreign policy leaders stick their beaks into domestic policymaking bailiwicks? 

Last week there was this nugget buried within Mark Landler and Helene Cooper’s story on the Obama-Clinton relationship on foreign policy:  "Mrs. Clinton has also taken on duties that go beyond her job description. At the request of the White House, she made calls to wavering lawmakers to enlist their support for health care legislation late last year." 

Now The Hill‘s Molly K. Hopper reports that the Secretary of State was actively involved in health care lobbying over the weekend

Hillary Rodham Clinton attempted to persuade on-the-fence Democrats to vote for the healthcare reform bill that narrowly passed the House on Sunday.

Lawmakers told The Hill that Clinton, who failed to convince the Democratic-controlled Congress to pass healthcare reform in 1994, was active in whipping votes for the White House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

TMPDC’s Rachel Slajda provides some context: 

The White House kept her in the bullpen, she told CNN in February, taking the mound only when needed.

"When I am asked, I am very happy to respond. I mean, it’s not anything I have direct responsibility for, but I have had a number of conversations and both in the White House and on the Hill and with others who are playing a constructive role," she said.

This is a bit unusual, to say the least.  In recent history, Secretaries of State have refrained from active lobbying ands/or participation on matters of domestic policy.    

What I’m not sure about is whether this is a violation of an unspoken norm or just an unusual situation.  Hillary Clinton is not your ordinary Secretary of State.  Unlike Axelrod and foreign policy, I’m not about to claim that the Secretary of State lacks sufficient policy expertise on the issue at hand.  And let’s face it, Hillary has a wee bit more political capital than, say, Warren Christopher did back in the day. 

So, question to readers:  is this a big deal?   

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he is the co-director of the Russia and Eurasia Program. Twitter: @dandrezner

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