What Benghazi hearing could say about 2016 White House race
January 23rd, 2013
03:11 PM ET
5 years ago

What Benghazi hearing could say about 2016 White House race

Washington (CNN) - It was a sideshow, but a compelling sideshow nonetheless.

The main act was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's at times angry, at times emotional testimony on Wednesday at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's hearing on the September terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

But presidential politics was another storyline, thanks to three of the participants who might be harboring 2016 ambitions.

Clinton, the outgoing secretary of state, faces constant pressure from fellow Democrats to make another bid for her party's presidential nomination, even though she's said over and over that another run for the White House is not in the cards for her.

The other two were Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Both were elected in 2010 with strong support from the tea party. Paul has publicly stated that he's considering a bid for the 2016 GOP nomination. Rubio has not been as expressive, but is considered someone who also has White House ambitions.

The two senators were polar opposites in their questioning of Clinton during the hearing, which may say something about both men's possible strategies towards 2016.

Rubio went first, stating, "We all wish that this had never happened so this hearing would never have to happen. But we're glad to see you here and wish you all the best," before asking, "One of the things that I'm interested in exploring with you is how information flows within the State Department and in particular in hindsight looking forward how we can prevent some of this happening."

Clinton was gracious in her answer, saying up front that, "I appreciate your kind words. And I reiterate my taking responsibility."

While understated, Rubio's three questions probed whether Clinton had inquired into security for U.S. diplomats in Libya in the year leading up to the attacks.

Paul didn't so much question Clinton as confront her.

"I'm glad that you're accepting responsibility. I think ultimately with your leaving you accept the culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11. And I really mean that," declared Paul, adding that, "Had I been president at the time and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you from your post. I think it's inexcusable."

While Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin asked tough questions, Paul's comments stood out.

But when he finally asked a question, it was whether the U.S. was involved in the transfer of weapons from Libya to Turkey.

Clinton appeared almost bemused by the question, saying: "To Turkey? I'll have to take the question to the record. No one ever raised that with me."

So which strategy was more effective?

"Rand Paul will never have to worry about winning a general election for president of the United States," said Republican strategist and CNN contributor Alex Castellanos. "Even though it might make the entire party look unreasonable, he can attack Democrats until the libertarians in the GOP base foam at the mouth and it is all to his advantage."

"Marco Rubio has a different and more serious hand of cards to play. He may not only compete in a general election, he may lead the nation someday. He has to demonstrate that he is a potential president and not a partisan politician. If you want to be president, you have to act like someone who could represent the entire nation," added Castellanos, who served as a media strategist for seven presidential campaigns and who co-founded Purple Strategies, a bipartisan public affairs firm.

Another GOP strategist, who asked to remain anonymous so he could speak more freely, said that each senator had a different mission: "This is a classic case of the tortoise and the hare, with Marco Rubio more concerned about gaining traction than garnering headlines, as Paul's questioning is sure to do."

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean says that Clinton's poll numbers may be behind Rubio's strategy.

"Senator Rubio understands that Hillary Clinton has very high ratings and the Benghazi crisis has not damaged her image or credibility among American voters. For a 2016 general election, Rubio must get back the lost share of female voters from the last election, so why not let other Senators such as Rand Paul and John McCain go after her?" asks Bonjean, who served as a top adviser to Republican leaders in the House and Senate before co-founding a public affairs firm.

Clinton did come to the hearing equipped with some very high public opinion numbers.

According to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll released Wednesday morning, just a few hours before the outgoing secretary of state testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the morning and before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the afternoon, two-thirds of Americans said they have a favorable impression of Clinton, while just over one in four saying they have a unfavorable impression.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey released last week indicated that nearly seven in ten approved of the job Clinton was doing as America's top diplomat, with just a quarter of the public saying they disapproved.

But both surveys pointed to a partisan divide, with nearly all Democrats and two thirds of independents, but only a minority of Republicans, giving Clinton a thumbs up. But that partisan divide is not nearly as wide as it is in polling of President Barack Obama.

In the end, all three possible 2016 candidates got something out of this hearing.

Could this 2013 hearing about a terrorist attack in 2012 be one of the opening acts in the 2016 election? And will we see clips from the hearing in 2016 campaign commercials?

- CNN's Ashley Killough contributed to this report

Filed under: 2016 • Hillary Clinton
soundoff (156 Responses)
  1. Rudy NYC

    "Rand Paul will never have to worry about winning a general election for president of the United States," said Republican strategist and CNN contributor Alex Castellanos.
    He also predicted that Romeny would likely win, but I think that he's got it half right. Rand Paul can win the nomination, but he will never win a general election.

    January 23, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  2. PaulCat

    Wow, the republicans are using their own assault-style weapons on themselves and they don't even know it, YET.

    January 23, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  3. dc

    What difference does it make? The Dems have the power and the ability to sweep ANYTHING under the rug.....

    January 23, 2013 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  4. Randy, San Francisco

    Secretary Hillary Clinton is in a league of her own. Rubio and Paul are minor leaguers in comparison. Hillary for president in 2016.

    January 23, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  5. ED FL

    The Senate neds to buy Mccain a three wheel bicycle ,head him into the sunset and give him a hard push .He has been eating at the government trough too long.

    January 23, 2013 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  6. Martha in CF

    This meeting is nothing but a witch hunt. This isn't the first time that an embassy has been attacked and probably not the last. This is what happens when funds are taken away from protection at these facilities and used elsewhere. It is sad that our government and members of congress can only judge and name call. Come on, step up to the plate. Congress is just as much to blame in this......I say Congress needs to take a pay decrease and spend it on funding security to our diplomats!!!!!!!!!!

    January 23, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  7. Martha in CF

    To dc
    Sorry, but enough was swept under the rug during the Bush/Cheney days!!!!!!!!

    January 23, 2013 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  8. PaulCat

    All the republicans are trying to do is make sure Hillary doesn't run for president. Just ask Reince Priebus, he's down in Virginia right now.

    Again, where are the so called "WMD's" that caused thousands of deaths?

    Does that make a differences?

    January 23, 2013 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  9. Randy

    Whats the diff between rudy and a bucket of slop??? Ans: THE BUCKET !!!!LOL

    January 23, 2013 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  10. Sniffit

    "worst tragedy since 9/11. "

    That is patently offensive hyperbole. Soeone want to list all the embassy attacks under Bush taht resulted in even more deaths and taht occurred between 9/11 and today? Or is that something the moderators have been specifically instructed to squelch here on CNN in their neverending quest to capture Faux Noise viewership with right-leaning spin?

    January 23, 2013 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  11. Sniffit

    "Just ask Reince Priebus, he's down in Virginia right now."

    He's no doubt down there leading the VA GOP/Teatrolls in a gloating session over the dirty, racist redistricting maneuver they pulled yesterday in an attempt to rig the elections for themselves in 2014 and 2016. He's been all about the effort to mess with the electoral college, even sending out a memmo bragging about how their redistricting allowed them to keep the House despite losing the popular vote in House races by 1.3M votes. CNN, however, doesn't want you to be focused on this at all because the optics are truly terrible for the GOP/Teatrolls...who claim they love democracy but then clearly will stop at nothing to subvert it. IOKIYAR

    January 23, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  12. hmm..........

    Why do we want a President that will be so old, has done nothing but politics in their life, and has no experince in being middle class. Why can't either side find someone in the middle that doesn't need to keep lining their pockets with lobbyist money, actually tells us the truth – even if it doesn't fit their agenda, and stop policing every corner of the world? I am sick of the left and right and teas calling each other names. We need a President that brings this Country together.

    January 23, 2013 04:36 pm at 4:36 pm |
  13. Rick McDaniel

    There won't be much left of America to preside over, by 2016.

    Obama will have destroyed most of America, by then.

    January 23, 2013 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  14. J Robinson

    None of the three are qualified to be president. But, of the the three, we are most likely to end up with Clinton. They've been engineering this for years.

    January 23, 2013 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  15. Just_One

    I can see here campaign slogan now:

    Hillary 2016
    "What difference does it make?"

    January 23, 2013 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  16. heather wall

    It is obvious the republicans have no intention of fixing or finding out what happened, they just keep going over the same questions that have already been answered. Susan Rice Susan Rice Susan Rice. Instead of taking any kind of responsibility from there own actions in funding . It ids obvious are stymied by this intelligent knowelgable woman and look like ignorant people aside of her, especially Rand Paul.

    January 23, 2013 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  17. Borderless

    I admire Hillary's loyalty, even if it is to one of the most corrupt administrations ever. I still think that she would make an excellent president and unless someone truly amazing comes along, I will vote for her if she runs in 2016. That said, "What difference does it make" may just have sunk any chance she has. If that's the case, I'm begging the Democrat brand not to put Biden up. I'd rather vote for a sponge or a rabid squirrel than that idiot.

    January 23, 2013 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  18. km

    Clinton vs the Republitards!! No contest!!!

    January 23, 2013 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  19. scarf

    "Had I been president at the time and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you from your post."

    And if you were president, I would have refused to serve as your Sec. of State.

    January 23, 2013 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  20. splassher6

    it screams the liberals will buy anything and just like the national debt they have no understanding of accountability
    Congressman To Clinton: "The Only Person That's In Jail Right Now Is The Filmmaker"

    January 23, 2013 05:31 pm at 5:31 pm |
  21. otlset

    I repeat *just one* of CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson's questions about the Benghazi disaster:

    "Who made the decision not to convene the Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) the night of the Benghazi attacks?"
    In other words, who told them to 'stand down'?

    This is an obvious cover-up that will prevent any chance for the unqualified Hillary Clinton to seek the presidency in 2016.

    January 23, 2013 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  22. JimInMS

    Stand tall, Hillary! You are America's shining hope for the future, and we need you to win the presidency in 2016 and 2020.

    January 23, 2013 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  23. James

    I hate the Clintons, and never thought I would say this but if Hillary runs in 2016 she has my vote.

    January 23, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  24. Danny

    I would never support Hillary for President anyway, but Paul Ryan should be ashamed of himself. Senate hearings are not a tool to be used to aid ones self in their Presidential ambitions. His childish, rude, and uncontrolled rant proves he is not fit to lead a nation. A president must ask questions, hear information before jumping to conclusions, remain civil, and conduct himself as a statesman of the highest integrity. Paul Ryan has proved he's not capable of conducting himself in a manner befitting the office of the President. The last thing this country needs is another President who is hostile toward one half it's residents, and their elected Representatives.

    January 23, 2013 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  25. otlset

    CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson has been following this story from the beginning. I repeat *just one* of her many questions made via Twitter today about the Benghazi disaster:

    "Who made the decision not to convene the Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) the night of the Benghazi attacks?" In other words who gave the stand down order not to go in?

    This is an obvious cover-up that will prevent the unqualified (just like Obama was) Hillary Clinton from ever holding office again, much less the presidency.

    But then again who knows, if the voting populace is as gullible, sheeplike and lacking in any discernment as it was in voting for Obama.

    January 23, 2013 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
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