Hillary Clinton Steps Down From State Department, Ending Three Decades of Public Service

PHOTO: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton bids farewell to State Department employees at the State Department in Washington, Feb. 1, 2103, before departing the State Department for the final time as secretary of state.
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The woman who once went head-to-head with President Obama before becoming a pivotal member of his cabinet is poised to return to the private sector after more than three decades in the public eye.

Outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who steps down from her post at the State Department today, leaves behind a legacy of 31 years of public service.

The Senate quickly confirmed Obama's nominee to replace her -- one of its own, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. -- Tuesday. The president had chosen him last December to take Clinton's place. Clinton has spent the past couple of months helping Kerry move into the post so she could bow out.

Clinton's last year as secretary of state has been a tumultuous one. She has contended with a terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the first death of a U.S. ambassador in more than 30 years, and the political fallout of the attack. She also had to confront illness, a concussion and a blood clot that sidelined her for nearly a month. Even her last day on the job had her dealing with a diplomatic crisis after a reported suicide bomber attacked a check point at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, which killed two people.

Over the past three decades, Clinton has served her country as the bulwark of the first family in both Arkansas, when Bill Clinton was governor, and D.C., and as a U.S. senator representing the state of New York. Finally, she became the face of the nation's diplomatic efforts in more than 112 countries around the world.

Clinton broke national and global barriers during her tenure as secretary of state.

PHOTOS: Hillary Clinton Through the Years

She was the first wife of a U.S. president to serve in a presidential cabinet. She traveled to more countries than any other secretary of state before her. She recognized the government in Somalia and paid an official visit to Myanmar, the highest U.S. representative to do so in half a century.

She also navigated the treacherous diplomatic relations of the Arab Spring, working with President Obama in determining when to nudge dictators in the direction of democracy and when to cut ties altogether.

Clinton's departure from the State Department was long foretold. For the past year, she has made clear her intentions to step down and said her goodbyes at outposts all over the world.

In October, she took the blame for State Department security failures that led to the death of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, in Benghazi. It was a move that signaled a willingness to put politics aside and embrace responsibility.

"I take responsibility," Clinton said a month after the attack in an interview in Lima, Peru.

Republicans in the House and Senate criticized Clinton for her brief testimony in the fall, accusing her of leaving them in the dark.

Some even speculated that Clinton was hiding from responsibility when illness kept her from testifying again in December.

But two weeks after she returned to work, Clinton appeared before the House and Senate, again taking the fall.

"As I have said many times since Sept. 11, I take responsibility, and nobody is more committed to getting this right. I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger and more secure," Clinton told members of the House Foreign Relations Committee.

In a final "Townterview," Clinton called fighting everywhere for women's rights "the cause of my life."

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