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. Eric

    It is fascinating just how politicized everything has become. There was a time when the American people knowing whether or not the White House intentionally brought about misinforming of the congress and the American people right before a national election regarding the murder of its diplomats, possibly by either lying directly or by intentionally misbriefing our ambassador to the United Nations would have been considered of supreme national importance. Then Secretary Clinton's comment about what difference it makes, would have met with stunned silence and then guffaws and then derision within the media. Now the reaction seems dependent on your politics. Best example yet.

    January 23, 2013 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  2. JJ

    What an amazingly intelligent woman. In my view, she was enormously effective in bringing the Republican back to reality. She cared, she and the administration did their best with the information that was available at the time when things went terribly wrong. Are you out for justice, or are you out to make a name for yourself and bring a public servant who was trying her best to do the right thing to her knees in the name of politics?
    Shame on all of you. You don't care about those people who were killed. You are interested in promoting yourselves. Wake up, you are dying. You are nailing your own coffin shut.

    January 23, 2013 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  3. jpmichigan

    The REAL truth will eventually come out, it usually does, but it won't affect Hillary as much as it will Obama and his administration. The buck stops with Obama. Getting re-elected was far more important to him then taking real ownership of the talking point, presented by Rice.. Hillary will remove herself from this and move on to become the first female President that she should have been .All American have suspected the White House involvement in this sad event, for campaigning is job one for Obama and he is still campaigning.

    January 23, 2013 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  4. Tony in Maine

    Hillary showed remarkable restraint in the face an incredible temper tantrum by some emotionally immature Republican pols. From Rand Paul (I'd love to see a Paul v. Clinton race in 2016) to Johnson to McCain to some faceless little pissants in the House, held it together, answered their questions and pointed out when they were being childish (again). It's really ard to take the Republicans in either house of Congress seriously after today's performance.

    January 23, 2013 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  5. Me

    Right wingers who supported the death of 250k men, women and children, not to mention American soldiers in IRAQ, now making hay about four diplomats being killed by terrorists. The hypocrisy would be hilarious if we weren't so used to it. You have to understand for anyone in the GOP this is like a baby throwing a fit. They can't stand it that the country is changing forever and old white men like me won't have the majority. He's black. Four more years, get used to it crybabies.

    January 23, 2013 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  6. Kathleen Farrell

    A class-act intellect among a bunch of stooges. It was painful to see how clueless our elected congressional majority is.

    January 23, 2013 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  7. independent

    Sec Clinton already has four primary votes from this household, should she decide to run.

    January 23, 2013 07:51 pm at 7:51 pm |
  8. spock500

    Well, the Beirut, Lebanon terrorist attacks x 2 in 1983 that left 300+ American soldiers/diplomats/CIA personnel murdered sure didn't harm Mr. Reagan in his landslide victory in 1984...

    January 23, 2013 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  9. Bill in Florida

    Rand Paul may be even loonier than his father. He calls four dead men at Benghazi being "the worst tragedy since 9/11"? Not by a mile! How about six teachers and 20 first-graders gunned down in Connecticut?

    January 23, 2013 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  10. Phil Muse

    It's a politically motivated circus. The GOP is desperate to score points against the administration. The truth of the matter is, there is no way we could place an "iron dome" over our U.S. embassies in the strife-torn countries of this world, especially the Middle East. Not if we want these nations to feel free to interact with us on the embassy level. As an alternative, we could shut down our embassies in these places, but that is precisely what the extremists want us to do. As long as we are open for business in dangerous countries, another Benghazi incident must always remain a possibility, and we have to face it.

    January 23, 2013 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  11. Diane

    You people who listen to foxnews really need to change the channel. The rest of us are moving forward and Hillary Clinton showed us today if she runs will win and continue forward motion.

    January 23, 2013 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  12. Marie MD

    I would like to thank the old man from AZ for an opportunity to see Hillary Clinton "deballing" the rethugs today. Racist rand will never have the chance of firing anyone because he will NEVER be president. Johnson came off as a mad white man. The AF pilot came off as a complete fool and you will be a footnote, if, by tomorrow.
    Cliton stood her ground and since this is just grandstanding for the party walking the plank into obilvion who cares what any of them has to say.

    January 23, 2013 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  13. gee

    What a bunch of republican hot air and internet bandwidth. A real waste of tax dollars.

    January 23, 2013 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  14. ronvan

    Alot of you are talking about 2016? What about 2014? Are YOU, me, just going to re elect the same idiots whose votes have been "bought" by the NRA, LOBBYISTIS,, & SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS? WE yell & scream about "things must change" but wind up doing nothing! Actually when you look at it I really do not think that OUR votes count for much anymore!

    January 23, 2013 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  15. RainCityLady

    Let's face it. The GOP is still grandstanding, just as they were before the election. They thought it would keep Obama from winning. It didn't. Now they are aiming for the person they THINK is going to be the candidate in 2016. The could not possibly care less about why thing happened the way they did nor how to prevent it next time. They certainly didn't care about things like that when Dubya was there. They are just revving up early for 2016, and some of their lemmings can't see through it.

    January 23, 2013 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  16. Dapple

    They're already making their 2016 campaign aids as we speak. Nothing like using this to fuel their campaigns.

    And yeah... What difference does it make? What has happened has happened and unless someone has a time machine there isn't a whole lot one can do besides continue to look for those involved and make sure it never happens again.

    January 23, 2013 09:07 pm at 9:07 pm |
  17. REGinAZ

    McCain and the Republicans aggressively attack Clinton and the Obama administration over Benghazi, making that their near total concentration for the last several months, with constant venom and vigor that precludes any positive or constructive value, without anything to be gained other than their hoped for political advantage. That is their political strategy to benefit themselves and not a responsible duty representing the people. The voters rebuked the Republicans for their concentration on their political ambitions and on serving only "the money" while taking the people for granted by thinking the majority were just "pawns", to be conned and used, and instead of their getting the message and becoming more focused on honestly and responsibly representing the people, they simply offer more of their efforts to con the people and manipulate public opinion. The only way the Republican Party will ever return to being the Grand Ole Party, focused on serving the people, is when their propaganda and they themselves are totally rejected and they are literally left with no choice.

    January 23, 2013 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  18. S. Clay Grant

    Great point Danny! As a potential presidential candidate one must conduct themselves with a sense of dignity and class, while also setting an example to other potential leaders within countries striving toward Democracy.

    January 23, 2013 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  19. Ben

    Since 1979 after the Iranian revolution and the subsequent hostage taking of US Embassy staff, there have been security procedures in place to prevent occurrences of violence against Embassy and Consular staff. The RSO and SAO in Libya should have been placed on the carpet to explain who they provided the information to before and during the attacks in Benghazi. CNN and the Democrats have worked hard to try and protect SO State Clinton from the fallout which as she stated is her responsibility. She and personnel from the high levels of her office did get 4 brave people killed. And that is the truth of the story. But due to her popularity in the news media and from staunch democrats she will be given a pass as well as her staff in the hopes that in 2016 she will continue public service. Politics as usual. Sickening.

    January 23, 2013 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  20. Mrs b

    The hearings regarding what was known by the State Dept. Prior to the attack on the World Trade Center were tame compared to this inquisition today. Thousands of lives were lost, but there was no obvious Republican motive to denounce Condelezza Rice. Since when did we crucify the Secretary of State when we have a terrorist attack?

    January 23, 2013 09:41 pm at 9:41 pm |
  21. schmez

    Funny, four Kent State students killed on campus in 1970 resulted in national outrage. Four Americans killed in a Consulate by so-called "local protesters" armed with RPGs, among other weapons and the anger is deflected toward those who oppose Hillary. Hmn.

    January 23, 2013 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  22. AK_steve

    It was shocking but not surprising to hear Rand Paul compare Benghazi to 911. Really? Yes, it was horrible to have an embassy attacked but to compare it to 911? That is one of the most outrageous and flat-out dumbest comparisons I have ever heard.

    The American people should be disgusted at the extent the GOP is going to try to discredit the democrats. There is very little if any credibility left in the GOP.

    Shame on you Rand Paul. You are an embarrassment to our nation.

    January 23, 2013 09:47 pm at 9:47 pm |
  23. C'mon

    Americans should be totally offended by the way the GOP is using a true tragedy to score political points. The GOP has forgotten leadership in their mania for politics. They have forgotten the real world in their mania for domination. Shame on the GOP.

    January 23, 2013 09:48 pm at 9:48 pm |
  24. J to the K

    Hillary Clinton should have been removed from her post, just as Senator Rand Paul mentioned.

    January 23, 2013 09:51 pm at 9:51 pm |
  25. ohio

    . . .watched a little of the hearings and it really did seem like a witch hunt to me. With respect because there are
    things i like about the senator, but McCain was way over the top with GOP hyberbole. This was a terrible incident-
    and we need to get to the bottom of it-but the way he addressed her was almost unacceptable. I was really proud
    of her for standing her ground with him. Also–it took me back to the days of the Anita Hill hearings–it for some
    reason seemed reminscent of them. And it really turned me off. I left thinking good for Hillary–she held her own
    and i was honestly really impressed with her.

    January 23, 2013 10:02 pm at 10:02 pm |
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