WASHINGTON - Cheers, a standing ovation and a gag gift of protective headgear greeted Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as she returned to work on Monday after a monthlong absence caused first by a stomach virus, then a fall and a concussion and finally a brief hospitalization for a blood clot near her brain.
A crowd of about 75 State Department officials greeted Clinton with a standing ovation as she walked in to the first senior staff meeting she has convened since early December, according to those present. Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, noting that life in Washington is often a "contact sport, sometimes even in your own home" then presented Clinton with a gift - a regulation white Riddell football helmet emblazoned with the State Department seal, officials said.
She was also given a blue football jersey with "Clinton" and the number 112 - the record-breaking number of countries she has visited since becoming secretary of state - printed on the back. Aides said Clinton was delighted with the gifts but did not try either of them on and the meeting turned to matters of national security and diplomacy.
"She loved it. She thought it was cool. But then being Hillary Clinton, she wanted to get right to business," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
At the meeting, Clinton stressed the need for the State Department to implement a review board's recommendations for improving the security at high-threat diplomatic posts, officials said.
"She's expecting everybody to work hard in that regard," Nuland said.
President Barack Obama has nominated Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to replace Clinton, who had long said she would step down after four years.
The review board, created after the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, harshly criticized leadership and management at two State Department bureaus that allowed the post to be inadequately protected. Four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed in the attack.
Clinton also told her staff on Monday that she would testify before Congress about the report before she leaves office, officials said. No date for that testimony has yet been set and Congress is in recess until Jan. 21, meaning that she may have to stay on as secretary of state for another week or so after Obama's inauguration on that day. After she testifies, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would take up Kerry's nomination.
Clinton fell ill with a stomach bug after returning from a trip to Europe on Dec. 7. The illness forced her to cancel a planned visit to North Africa and the Middle East and left her severely dehydrated. While at home, she fainted and fell and suffered a concussion that was diagnosed by doctors on Dec. 20.
During a follow up examination on Dec. 30, doctors discovered a blood clot in a vein that runs between the skull and the brain behind her right ear and she was admitted to New York-Presbyterian Hospital for treatment with blood thinners. She was released from the hospital Wednesday.