Star pupil in 'Senate School' tries to maintain low profile

By Shannon McCaffrey, Associated Press, 12/6/2000

ASHINGTON - Flanked by Secret Service agents and pursued by a throng of reporters, Senator-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton made the short trip yesterday from the White House to Capitol Hill for an orientation dubbed ''Senate School.''

She joined 10 other freshman senators for a whirlwind day of seminars, tours, and class photos, capped off with a formal dinner at the Supreme Court building. Her date: the president.

The Senate's most famous new face kept a decidedly low profile most of the day, seemingly intent on ensuring she would not overshadow other freshmen. Capitol Police kept reporters away as she moved between meetings.

''It's been great'' was all Clinton would say as she rushed into the Senate lunch, a huge smile on her face.

At one point, as photographers penned behind a rope line craned for a view of her leaving the Old Senate Chamber, Clinton and her Secret Service detail ducked down one of the Capitol's many back corridors.

''She's done a very good job of trying not to single herself out or act in a way that appears to be self-promotive,'' said New Jersey Senator-elect Jon Corzine, a Democrat who spent a record $65 million to win his seat.

Senator-elect Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, agreed.

''She has been really sensitive to the fact that a lot of focus comes with her being here, and I think she's really working hard to be a member of the team and not to be the center of attention,'' said Stabenow, who is now a member of the House.

Clinton is among a record four women in this year's 11-member freshman class. The class includes nine Democrats, two Republicans, three millionaires, three governors and a widow.

Incoming senator Jean Carnahan was appointed Monday by Missouri Governor Roger Wilson to replace her husband, Governor Mel Carnahan, who was killed Oct. 16 in a plane crash but still beat incumbent Republican John Ashcroft on Election Day. The appointment will take effect Jan. 3.

Carnahan, who like Clinton has never held public office, said she chatted with the first lady during orientation.

''She's looking for housing, like we are,'' Carnahan told reporters before entering the office of Missouri's senior senator, Republican Kit Bond.

The nine freshman Democrats began the day at 8:30 a.m. with coffee in Senate minority leader Thomas A. Daschle's office. They then trailed Daschle, Democrat of South Dakota, to Senate majority leader Trent Lott's office for more coffee.

Lott, Republican of Mississippi, struck a more conciliatory tone toward Clinton than he had shortly after her election, when he said she'd ''have to get used'' to being one of 100 members.

''When she raises her hand and says, `I do,' she's a senator. And she'll be treated accordingly,'' Lott said yesterday. ''And she, I'm sure, is going to be a very diligent senator, work hard, get committee assignments where she has a real interest, and will be a very important part of this body, just like every other senator is.''

Clinton has expressed an interest in serving on the Finance, Appropriations and Education committees, but it's unclear what she might get.

The incoming senators attended a seminar on life in the Senate that addressed ''issues such as staffing, scheduling, early frustrations, and common mistakes.'' Then they received a tutorial by the Senate's unofficial historian, Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, on the formation and history of the Senate.

A photo session for Talk magazine occurred before dinner.

President Clinton skipped the luncheon for the incoming senators' spouses, largely because of the immense security that would have been needed in the Capitol.

Mrs. Clinton's spokesman, Howard Wolfson, said she spent much of the day awestruck. ''She was excited,'' he said. ''She sounded like she was going to her first day of school.''