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. Larry L

    @Penobscot

    Sideshow? Really?

    If this happened under Bush the Spendocrats would have tried to crucify the administration.
    ==================================================================================================== Are you serious? Bush (Cut & Spendocrats) started the Iraq War with fake intelligence data – cherry-picked to gain Congressional support. Over 4,500 people died. They outed the CIA agent Valerie Plame in retribution for her former husband's book (exposing the WMD fiasco) in a cheap act of revenge. When busted for that treasonous act low-ranking staffers were thrown under the bus then released when Bush commuted the sentence. Cheney never was forced to face the investigation. Was that crime an attempt to crucify innocents? Pull your head out.

    January 24, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  2. Malory Archer

    Penobscot

    Sideshow? Really?

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

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    If that's the case why isn't the previous administration in prison? Something much worse happened on their watch and the dauphin prince's handlers had the crime scene cleaned up and shipped to the other side of the planet for recycling before an investigation – that never happened, btw – could even begin.

    January 24, 2013 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  3. rs

    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.
    _______________________

    First, Ms. Clinton will be 70- not as old as Reagan- or other Presidents- and you need to remember women live better, longer than men.
    Second, she is experienced- and after yesterday, obviously much smarter than her idiot inquisitors. Frankly, I want a smart President.
    Finally as to bringing Americans together. You really need to ask- do the Republicans really want to be a part of America anymore? Look at what they stand for: unequal pay; pro-rich legislation; anti-middle class and labor laws; the are the pro-rape party; they hate minorities, gays, and just about any other demographic than old-white men; they've wrecked the economy, and are itching to do it again; they are pro-war, anti-enviromnet; they are against education and science, and attract fundamentalist ideology identical to the Middle East tinpot countries they hate so much.

    Republicans hate America, and hate modernity.

    January 24, 2013 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  4. rs

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

    Obama will have destroyed most of America, by then.
    _______________________
    Will there be UFOs, little gray men, or a bigfoot or two involved?

    January 24, 2013 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  5. Marty, FL

    TP Johnson and Rand Paul were grossly disrespectful and lacked basic qualities for their position. The nonsense about Turkey and other partisan paranoia was beyond ridiculous. Seriously.

    SOS Clinton conducted herself with poise, assertion, and dignity for her position. A big difference.

    January 24, 2013 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  6. i'malib

    I will vote for whoever gives me more free stuff.

    January 24, 2013 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  7. stevenbeto

    I don't know which deck of cards the Secretary was referring to, but she remains the Ace of Hearts in mine. Well done, Madam Secretary!

    January 24, 2013 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  8. Willie K.

    There is one explanation for the difference in strategy - Rubio has a brain and Rant Paul is an idiot. When you talk about his "education," you need to realize that he was admitted to med school without a bachelor's degree. I'm sure that had nothing to do with the fact that his father is a rich, influential Congressman. And when he disagreed with the certfication agency for his profession, he withdrew and started his own certification agency, which is headed by him and his relatives. So when this blooming idiot gets on the national stage, he will be destroyed in a matter of minutes. For him to speak to Hillary Clinton in such disrespectful manner is an indication of his lack of intelligence and class. As a Kentucky resident, I can't wait to help "fire" him in 2016.

    January 24, 2013 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  9. rs

    The Amazing thing about the GOP, and their poor sympathizers here is that they have completely suppressed the foreign affairs CF that was the Bush years. From 9/11, to the more than 100,000 Iraqis killed to failing to get bin Laden they KNOW foreign policy failure.

    Yet, here they are hand wringing over 4 Americans killed by terrorists. What about the 1,173 Americans killed by guns in the last 5 weeks? You'd think that would reduce them to a small puddle on the floor.

    Republicans are hypocritical cowards and fools.

    January 24, 2013 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  10. rs

    Ancient Texan-
    I'd bet you cannot even describe what "Fast and Furious" was about, or factually what happened. You just repeat the Fox Noise, Right-wing lie. Please- enlighten us.

    January 24, 2013 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  11. Rudy NYC

    cw confabulated:

    And isn't it convenient how Hilary got conveniently ill when she was to testify about Benghazi before the elections?
    ------------------–
    Reaality Check: She suffered a stomach virus while traveling abroad *after* Thanksgiving. The Congress was not in session in either late September or October as members prepared for re-elections. While recovering at home from the virus, she fell and hit her head during a dizzy spell. Doctors later found an apparent blood clot on her skull. She has reportedly made a near complete recovery from all of the ailments.

    Do you think it would be wise for someone who is temporarily on strong medications to be testifying under oath before the Congress? Would you do it?

    January 24, 2013 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  12. Wake up People!

    I agree with Sec. Clinton. What difference does it make what the attack was called? It was an attack and 4 Americans lost their lives. But instead of us pulling together as a nation, the way the GOP said we should all do after 9/11/01, the republican party used this tragedy to further their day 1 agenda. To make President Obama a one term POTUS. If I'm not mistaken, didn't Willard hope for something like this during his 47% moment?

    What should be important is us finding the people responsible, bringing them to justice and trying to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again. Oh what a powerful and wonderful nation we could be by coming together as one people. Not democrat, republican, black, white, yellow or brown. Just Americans. What a message we would send to the world. That we are one, Americans, and regardless of our past we come together as one people.

    But no the message we are sending to the world is, come and get us, we're too busy fighting amongst one another to even realize it. Sadly I think many in the republican party would love to see that. Then they can call the POTUS weak.

    January 24, 2013 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  13. KJ

    Britain has just issued this morning notice of evacuation to all British Citizens in and around Benghazi due to "specific and imminent" threats to Westerners. Has the US issued the same?

    January 24, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  14. rs

    The GOP apologists really need to reflect. Remember just how bad Mr. Romney looked with his mistaken "gotcha" moment during the second debate? He got hammered, and was made the fool- all because he believed and repeated the Right-wing lie about the sad events in Benghazi.
    Americans don't like tragic events being politicized. That is what the GOP did yesterday, that's why they look like fools today.

    What do we see on the blog today? Conspiracy theory from the right.
    Sad.

    January 24, 2013 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  15. Larry L

    Ancient Texan you need to quit whipping a dead horse. "The Anatomy of a Failed Operation" was released by Republican lawmakers claiming "Fast and Furious" resulted from a change in strategy by the Obama Administration. The Justice Department was dismissive of the report, saying that it contained "distortions" and "debunked conspiracy theories," and that "gunwalking" tactics dated back to 2006. DOJ spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler, while critical of the report, did credit it for acknowledging that the idea for allowing illegal sales of weapons on the border — originated under the Republican administration before Eric Holder took office in 2009. Schmaler noted that Holder moved swiftly to replace the ATF's management and instill reforms. ATF Deputy Director William Hoover, who was one of the five blamed in the Congressional report, officially retired.

    The Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz publicly released a 471-page report detailing the results of the Justice Department's own internal investigations. The Inspector General's report, which had access to evidence and interviews with witnesses not permitted in previous Congressional reports, recommended 14 federal officials for disciplinary action, ranging from ATF agents to federal prosecutors involved in the Fast and Furious operation. It found "no evidence" that Attorney General Holder knew about Fast and Furious before early 2011. It found no evidence that previous Attorneys General had been advised about gunwalking in Operation Wide Receiver. You need more?

    January 24, 2013 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  16. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    @ Larry L
    Your post yesterday regarding the so-called "race card" should be read by everyone. Your posts are cogent, and informative, I truly enjoy them. Thank you.

    January 24, 2013 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  17. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    @ Larry L
    "DOJ spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler, while critical of the report, did credit it for acknowledging that the idea for allowing illegal sales of weapons on the border — originated under the Republican administration before Eric Holder took office in 2009. Schmaler noted that Holder moved swiftly to replace the ATF's management and instill reforms."
    -------------------------------------------------
    Please Larry, Ancient Texan doesn't want to hear this. No Republican want to hear this.
    It is an inconvenient truth. It is easier to act as if Fast and Furious originated under this administration.
    I will say that President Obama should've known better than to continue anything started by the village idiot from Crawford Texas.
    Let me add:
    Your post yesterday regarding the so-called "race card" should be read by everyone. Your posts are cogent, and informative, I truly enjoy them. Thank you

    January 24, 2013 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  18. Malory Archer

    KJ

    Britain has just issued this morning notice of evacuation to all British Citizens in and around Benghazi due to "specific and imminent" threats to Westerners. Has the US issued the same?

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Actually, Britian URGED BRITISH NATIONALS to leave – British nationals who work at schools & hospitals, etc. There was no "notice of evacuation", whatever that is, nor was any mention made as to whether those being urged to leave include British Embassy/Consulate members. A few other nations have issued warning to their private citizens on the ground in Lybia. How many PRIVATE CITIZENS – meaning NOT WORKING IN A DIPLOMATIC CAPACITY – does America have on the ground in Lybia?

    January 24, 2013 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  19. JerseyGirl

    The only Republican worh running in the 2016 presidential election is Chris Christie. None of the usual clown-car candidates who ran previously would have the nerve to run again. But even Christie is not "right-wing" enough for the new Republican party, a party that even Reagan himself couldn't get into now, as Reagan was for gun control and many other things the Repubs are not for! So it may be Hillary against Chris Christie in 2016! (I think that Biden will step aside if Hillary announces.) We shall see.

    January 24, 2013 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  20. SPOT

    I would love to see any of those nasty GOP 'S that thought they were so smart do half the good job that she has done. You
    must be running real nervous about 2016 to already show your down side once again. I'd ask , what have any of you done to help the country's international standing besides just complaining and playing big shots.

    January 24, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  21. Woman In California

    Dominican mama 4 Obama

    @ Larry L
    Your post yesterday regarding the so-called "race card" should be read by everyone. Your posts are cogent, and informative, I truly enjoy them. Thank you.

    ----
    I enjoy them as well. Very intelligent thought out writings.
    Please continue.

    January 24, 2013 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  22. Disgusted

    She, Rice, and Obama lied to the American people about what happened. No surprise there. They are politicians. After all, it was election time. Then, when a General (who has served honorably) says something about what really happened, he is fired. Sounds to me like the top 3 head honchos need to go, not the General. Billary did not do her job. Period. She resigned before they could get her for it. Do we really want another President that doesn't care about their ambassadors and military people?

    January 24, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  23. DaveC

    Rubio and Paul shouldn't be in the same room with Clinton. Every time these two speak the intelligence level of the world goes down. Both of them are going to be lucky to survive their reelection to the Senate (I don't think Paul will; Rubio is doubtful). Paul seems to think that going to Crazy Town will get him traction every time. It only makes hime look like a fool (not really that hard). Rubio is just a little slicker and prettier. He really hasn't had to face hard questions. When he does he will melt like butter in a microwave.

    January 24, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  24. Cannuck Guy

    Unreal that they Republicans are hammering away at what took place and who is responsible. The ball was dropped period.......Everyone's focus should be what is being put in place to prevent or avert this again and ENSURE the "attackers" are punished to extreme...i.e ...crushed!!!.....2014 Mid terms should really spell the end of the current Rep's ideologies and revamp their whole base etc. Enough is enough........The work of putting the country back to the benefit of the world and the USA is now...........Get to work Dems and Reps.

    January 24, 2013 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  25. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    None of the usual clown-car candidates who ran previously would have the nerve to run again.
    -------------------------------------------------
    Oh I don't know Jersey Girl. They had the nerve to run the first time, that was incredibly hard to believe.

    January 24, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7