As Alana mentioned, Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense may hinge not on policy or his qualifications, but something more important to the Senate club: how much the others senators like him. John Kerry, the president’s choice for secretary of state, will almost certainly breeze through his own confirmation hearings for the same reason. But the best contrast to the story about whether the cool kids will let Hagel eat lunch with them is Politico’s story on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s upcoming testimony on Benghazi.
In the wake of the attack, which left our ambassador and three others dead, I wrote that the fact that Clinton’s State Department denied requests for more security for our diplomatic team there made two things clear. First, that declining the security requests was irresponsible given the danger of the posting, and second, that the request itself was evidence that Clinton was negligent in the attention she was paying to the Benghazi team even though the folly of this approach was becoming more obvious by the day. A subsequent accountability review report came to the same conclusions, and painted a picture of a poorly administrated, chaotic, and inattentive State Department. So what is her appearance before a Senate panel expected to be like? From Politico:
GOP members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee promise that Clinton will face a “tough but respectful” grilling when she testifies about the Obama administration’s handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya that killed four Americans.
After all, the outgoing secretary is still on the mend from a concussion and subsequent blood clot she suffered after a bad fall over the holidays. She served in the Senate with many of those she will appear before. And she has close friendships with Republicans like Sen. John McCain, perhaps the most vocal critic of the administration’s response to Benghazi.
In other words, don’t be surprised if the hearing is simply a ruse to throw Clinton a surprise going-away party. We were already made aware that Clinton’s friendship with McCain was enabling her to avoid accountability for Benghazi’s failures. Clinton should have lost her job immediately. Barring that, GOP foreign policy voices should have been raised over her management at State during the debacle. Instead, they targeted Susan Rice, eventually leading to the spiking of her possible nomination to succeed Clinton. (Though no one played a more important role in sidelining Rice’s nomination than Clinton herself.)
The article suggests that Clinton’s recent illness and concussion will earn her sympathy, which of course they should–except she already had the sympathy before her illness. That is, there is no change in the Senate GOP’s posture toward Clinton: they went easy on her months ago, and they’ll continue to do so.
When I wrote about the accountability review report, I mentioned former (Bill) Clinton advisor Aaron David Miller’s theory that the perception that Clinton will run for president in 2016–a perception Clinton has relentlessly fed–has won her fear, not love. That may be. Politico is also running with a story on Public Policy Polling’s recent survey on a hypothetical matchup between Clinton and Chris Christie, and the Clinton-watchers at the Washington Post are scouring her words for a hint that she’ll pursue that course:
“And then retirement?” a reporter asked.
“I don’t know that that’s the word I would use,” she said, “but certainly stepping off the very fast track for a little while.”
No one seems particularly concerned that the upcoming hearing on Benghazi will harm Clinton’s legacy, least of all Clinton. And it could do the opposite: Republicans who try criticizing Clinton on the issue in a future election will surely be asked–and rightfully so–why they exonerated her the first time around.