What Benghazi hearing could say about 2016 White House race
January 23rd, 2013
03:11 PM ET
2 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

    Rick McDaniel wrote:

    There won't be much left of America to preside over, by 2016.
    Obama will have destroyed most of America, by then.
    -----------------–
    America? Don't you mean the Republican Party?

    January 24, 2013 08:19 am at 8:19 am |
  2. Em

    That is the ONLY point of these hearings... the GOP is afraid Hillary may decide to run in 2016 and they are out to derail her chances. So pathetic!

    January 24, 2013 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  3. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    Ron Johnson and Rand Paul proved once again that they are not even American Legion League class ball players trying to cut it in the Majors. Say what you want about Paul's "education", this guy is so unequipped to be in the Senate it just amazes me how the people of Kentucky have been snowed twice for their Senators. You know the real sorry thing is when he gets defeated in his first reelection bid, he will still be receiving a 6-figure pension for the rest of his life.

    January 24, 2013 08:40 am at 8:40 am |
  4. Russ in Md

    The more liberal/progressive retoric I read hear the more I am convinced that only the pot smoking brain-dead hippies from the 60s, children, and racist with there hand in everyones pocket looking for there far share are in bed with King Obama (or was that Lord Obama) and Queen Hilary.

    January 24, 2013 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  5. Nick

    The only thing we learned is that liberals still gush over Clinton. I'm surprised they didn't injure themselves patting her on the back. Her supposed successes:

    Iran closer to having nukes.
    North Korea launching missiles all over the place.
    North Africa going from more-or-less peaceful to being run largely by the Muslim Brotherhood.
    An Arab-Israeli war looking more likely every day.
    Four people dead in Benghazi.

    Electing Hillary President would be one of the worst mistakes the country could make – at some point results matter. Although she'd undoubtedly be better than Obama (which doesn't say much for Obama).

    January 24, 2013 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  6. Eric S

    I wonder if Sen. Paul or any other Republican would have called for President Reagan to be impeached after the Beirut bombing which killed 241 Marines because of lax security.

    January 24, 2013 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  7. Rudy NYC

    Ron Johnson was most disrespectful when he constantly interrupted Sec'y Clinton as she was speaking. Several times she began replying and he would interrupt before she could even finish the sentence. I disliked seeing her blow up at him, but I was most certainly satisfied that she did.

    Rand Paul. Where do you begin with Ron Paul? His performance yesterday truly cleary demonstrated just how arrogant and head strong he is. Some on the far right may though they were seeing strength as he admonished Clinton as he told that he would fire her. What average people saw was a power drunk man talking down to someone because he could. Let's not forget that Paul feels that both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act should be repealed on constitutional grounds.

    January 24, 2013 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  8. joesmith

    this horse and pony show will be exposed in 35 years..

    January 24, 2013 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  9. amf140

    Find out who gave the STAND DOWN order. Everything else is immaterial. We could have at least tried to save those guys who fought for 7 hours. She knows but no one is asking her.

    January 24, 2013 09:07 am at 9:07 am |
  10. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    In the end, all three possible 2016 candidates got something out of this hearing.
    -------------------------------------------------
    Correct.
    Paul, and quite possibly many other Rethugs, got schooled by Madam Sec of State on foreign affairs. "Turkey?". Really?
    Rubio confirmed the fact that he is not ready for primetime, much less to go up against a seasoned, well-respected political giant like Hillary Clinton, so he would be better served laying low and letting his comrades stck their necks out.
    Hillary learned that she would have absolutely NO competition from the clowns that tried to face her down yesterday were she to decide to run for the presidency.
    School's over.

    January 24, 2013 09:13 am at 9:13 am |
  11. Penobscot

    Sideshow? Really?

    If this happened under Bush the Spendocrats would have tried to crucify the administration.

    January 24, 2013 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  12. Ancient Texan

    Russ in MD. Correct ! One thing that has been apparent for decades is that those old drugged out hippies are now the "educators" that have been indoctrinating our students with their dogma for long enough to produce the present "I'm entitled and it's my right" clan of school children that were instumental in saddling us with this "cool rockstar" radical leftist leadership.

    January 24, 2013 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  13. GonzoinHouston

    Nick, let's go over your talking points about Clinton's failings:

    Iran closer to having nukes. (We and most of the world are doing everything short of invading – you want to start another mid-east war?)

    North Korea launching missiles all over the place. (2 or 3 tests in 5 years – one successful launch)

    North Africa going from more-or-less peaceful to being run largely by the Muslim Brotherhood. (Locals trying to throw off dictators and the MB/aQ trying to exploit an opening – you want to try building how many nations?)

    An Arab-Israeli war looking more likely every day. (Bet Israel – give the points)

    Four people dead in Benghazi.(True and tragic, but not grounds for the GOP's hysterics)

    Electing Hillary President would be one of the worst mistakes the country could make – (Other than any of the current republicans: Santorum? Rubio? Perry? Paul?)

    January 24, 2013 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  14. Ancient Texan

    Lots of conversation and very little information forthcoming. Still under the rug with "Fast and Furious".

    January 24, 2013 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  15. Ted van Tol

    Eric S

    – I wonder if Sen. Paul or any other Republican would have called for President Reagan to be impeached after the Beirut bombing which killed 241 Marines because of lax security -.

    How true! Thank you for reminding us Eric.

    January 24, 2013 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  16. cw

    And isn't it convenient how Hilary got conveniently ill when she was to testify about Benghazi before the elections? By doing so, she gave Osama Obama a reprieve so the people of the US would see that he is not the knight in shining armout they though he was. He would never have been elected if this hearing took place before elections. He should be impeached for sacrificing the lives of those 4 men by ordering help to stand down. What kind of president is that?
    And the thought of Hilary running for President in 2016 is laughable. She would be lucky to get 10% of the vote.

    January 24, 2013 09:54 am at 9:54 am |
  17. erin

    Fine, CNN; Rand Paul is *a horrible person* and a total psycho. Everything about him is backwards. He will never, ever lead this nation.

    January 24, 2013 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  18. Marcus

    Ancient Texan – As far as I can tell most 'Ancient Texans' I know and heard of are/were down to Earth folks, some might regret the time they let the 'Mr-know-it-all' dictate social behavior but that... it's up to them. I usually disagree with their point of view but doesn't mean that I believe that they don't have ethic principles and morals...
    I just disagree with theirs.
    Of course, there are those who 'back in the day' either were 'Mr-know-it-all' or were their followers, like those who went to the Republican Party solely because LBJ 'dared' to sign those laws in the early and mid-sixties after being warned to not do so.
    So... were you a follower or a 'Mr-know-it-all'?

    January 24, 2013 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  19. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    One thing that has been apparent for decades is that those old drugged out hippies are now the "educators" that have been indoctrinating our students with their dogma for long enough to produce the present "I'm entitled and it's my right" clan of school children that were instumental in saddling us with this "cool rockstar" radical leftist leadership.
    -------------------------------------------------
    Give the old coot his Pabst Blue Ribbon for providing us with another imaginative and completely unhinged reason why President Obama was elected.
    When you cough Ancient Texan dust bowls are created. LOL!!

    January 24, 2013 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  20. GGOPA

    As an Independent, no one can beat Hillary Clinton in 2016. The same demographics folks that voted for Obama will vote for Ms Clinton. Besides it will be history in the making the first women. Obama will support her 100% he owes Mr. Clinton big time. After watching both the Senate and House testimony, it makes no difference that four Americans are dead. The liberal media are on a roll and I doubt that the conservatives can get a candidate to defeat Ms. Hillary Clinton.

    January 24, 2013 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  21. Rudy NYC

    GonzoinHouston

    Nick, let's go over your talking points about Clinton's failings:

    Iran closer to having nukes. (We and most of the world are doing everything short of invading – you want to start another mid-east war?)
    ----------------
    What conservatives fail to understand and refuse to accept is that taking out Saddam Hussein caused a major change in the balance of power in the middle east. Iran and Iraq had been fighting and skirmishing for decades, even more so after the fall of the Shah of Iran and government takeover by Islamists.

    Iraq had the most powerful army in the region and Saddam wanted to keep it that away. He made regular incursions into Iran to destroy suspected missle sites or research facilities. Once he was removed, so went the might that kept Iran's weapons ambitions in check.

    January 24, 2013 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  22. Rudy NYC

    Ancient Texan wrote:

    Lots of conversation and very little information forthcoming. Still under the rug with "Fast and Furious".
    ------------------------
    Haven't you noticed that your beloved Republicans in Congress have stopped talking about "False and Frivilous"?

    January 24, 2013 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  23. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    @ Marcus
    So... were you a follower or a 'Mr-know-it-all'?
    -------------------------------------------------
    Please keep your voice down, Ancient Texan is taking one of his many daily naps....lol!

    January 24, 2013 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  24. rs

    Republican Senators looked like fools yesterday. Their display of their utter lack of knowledge or credentials on foreign affairs will not enhance their standing with voters- never mind their arrogance and hostility. They are accelerating the end of their own political brand.

    January 24, 2013 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  25. Laurie in Spokane

    I'd take Hilary Clinton for POTUS in 2016 over anything the republican party can offer at this time. They continue to be obstructive, petulant, juvenile, rude, disrespectful and unnecessarily confrontive in every aspect, especially the tea-partiers and newer members of Congress. As long as they remain this way, they don't have a chance.

    January 24, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
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