8:01 pm Jan. 23, 2013
In the end, Republicans in the House didn't fare any better at rattling Hillary Clinton than their counterparts in the Senate.
Clinton calmly batted back three hours of questions and accusations, mostly from the Republican members of the House Foreigns Affairs committee on Wednesday afternoon, the end of a long day answering for the State Department's reaction to the death of four Americans in Benghazi.
The Senate had at least gotten a rise out of Clinton, when she aggressively turned the questioning back on Senator Ron Johnson, to ask why it really mattered whether the attack had immediately been branded an act of terrorism or not.
"At this point, what difference does it make?” she asked, in the day's most spirited exchange.
Clinton's question invited condemnation on the House side, with Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina offering to explain why the response mattered so much to him and his constituents, as he questioned her acceptance of responsbility for the deaths.
"Madame Secretary, you let the consulate become a death trap," he said. "What does the word 'responsibility' mean to you?"
"We've come here and made a very transparent presentation," she calmly replied, saying that she could have easily kept classified an independent report that criticized the deparment's handling, "and then just said goodbye."
"But that's not who I am," she said. "That's not what I do."
Republicans have stoked the idea of Benghazi cover-up ever since U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on five Sunday shows in September and downplayed the idea that the killings were a premeditated terrorist attack.
Clinton repeatedly defended Rice by saying that there remains confusion about what motivated the attackers, even after the independent review considered all the available evidence. And she offered a candid assessment for why she didn't appear that Sunday morning.
“It is not my favorite thing to do,” she said. “There are other things I prefer to do on Sunday mornings, and I have not been on a Sunday show in way over a year. It is not something that I normally jump to do.”
As they had done in the Senate, Republicans in the House also questioned why she hadn't seen an earlier cable sent from the late ambassador that requested increased security.
Clinton responded that there are 1.43 million cables sent within the State Department each year, and that each one is nominally addressed to her.
It was a schizophrenic three hours, as the floor swung back and forth between Republicans savaging her leadership and Democrats praising her service.
Rep. Juan Vargas, a Democrat from California, said his wife and daughters wouldn't let him come home if he didn't properly laud Clinton's accomplishments.
"You are a hero to many, especially women, and you seem to bring out these deep aspirations that they have in ways that I've never seen anyone do before," he said.
Clinton used the softballs from Democrats to hold forth on her views of foreign policy, after a record-setting tenure traveling the globe.
"We're not doing what we did during the Cold War," she told New York Rep. Gregory Meeks. "We're abdicating the ideological arena. And we need to get back into it. We have the best values. We have the best narrative...We're letting the jihadist narrative fill a void. We need to get in there and compete. And we can do it successfully."
After an hour or so, most of the questions had been asked and re-asked, and neither side could avoid making their references to 2016.
"I wish you success in your future endeavors--mostly," said Republican Rep. Steve Chabot.
Rep. Ami Bera, a freshman Democrat from California, said the other incoming members regretted that they only overlapped with Clinton for a couple of weeks.
"We hope in a few years we'll get that chance to serve again," he said.
Clinton performed her signature laugh each time.
"I just wish you had won the Democratic primary in 2008," said Rep. Tom Cotton, a freshman Republican from Arkansas.
"I did pretty well in Arkansas," she replied.