TIME's 25 Most Influential Americans

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It has also helped that Albright, 59, has spent the better part of her adult life building a personal and professional network in Washington, on Capitol Hill where she got her start as an aide to Senator Edmund Muskie; in academia, where she taught hugely popular courses at Georgetown; and on the social circuit, where her parties were a natural salon for Democratic Pooh-Bahs in exile. When it came time for her nomination, her allies were in position to pick up the phone and make her case. She wooed Senate Foreign Relations committee chairman Jesse Helms, who had scotched more than one potential nominee, and won over conservatives with the diligent door-to-door politicking of a small-town mayor.

The test for Albright is whether she will be able to make her case for U.S. foreign policy initiatives as effectively with foreign governments as she has with Clinton. And female foreign-service officers, noticing that she hasn't appointed any women to prominent slots so far, are grumbling that the glass ceiling may now be reinforced as the floor beneath her feet.

John McCain, U.S. Senator, Arizona
When Senators see John McCain on C-SPAN, they know to grit their teeth and say a prayer. Chances are the Republican is calling them panderers and pork barrelers. In a town where politicians are in a daily tug-of-war with their scruples, McCain is the most conscientious of objectors to business as usual. Their consciences pricked, Senators would rather he just shut up. But McCain, 60, doesn't care; faced with congressional ill will, he points to the order of his priorities: "First their respect, then their affection."

A Vietnam POW hero turned Congressman, he saw his star dim in 1989, when he was one of five Senators accused of helping S&L sultan Charles Keating in return for campaign contributions. McCain got only a slight reprimand, but was mortified. He redoubled efforts at reform legislation, hiring a staff member — nicknamed the Ferret — to search bills for unnecessary expenditures, forcing lawmakers to relinquish pork projects or be publicly rebuked. "He's had some Kansas projects in there too," says a rueful Bob Dole, a powerful man to cross.

Now McCain is taking on campaign-finance reform with a bill that currently has only one other GOP sponsor, fainthearted support from the President, and a legion of opponents. Still, to his colleagues' chagrin, he presses on. As the historian Polybius wrote, "There is no witness so dreadful, no accuser so terrible as the conscience that dwells in the heart of every man."

Don Imus, the national inquisitor
Clinton loved him during the 1992 campaign, appearing three times on his show. The President felt less warm toward him when sharing the Radio-Television Correspondents' Association dais with him in 1996 and hearing pointed jokes about Hillary. ("You know about flop sweat?" asks the perp. "Man, there's no experience in the world like turning around and having the President of the U.S. glare at you.") But Bubba knew that Don Imus, the grizzled, cello-voiced host of Imus in the Morning, aired on 95 stations, was one radio man worth listening to and talking to. Says Senator Christopher Dodd, a frequent guest: "He wants you to make fun of yourself without making a fool of yourself." Pols and pundits get to do it for an audience three times as large as that of the Sunday TV talk shows.

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