published Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Corker moderate at Clinton hearing


by Chris Carroll
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, center, back to camera, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., left, listen as the committee's presiding Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday during the committee's hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, center, back to camera, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., left, listen as the committee's presiding Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday during the committee's hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker lived up to his reputation as a moderate Republican on Wednesday, probing but not slamming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing over last year's attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

Unlike various colleagues, Corker, the committee's top Republican, didn't say he would have fired Clinton or that her testimony was unacceptable in response to questions about the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks that killed four Americans, including an ambassador.

Tennessee's junior senator suggested using the incident to modify America's approach to North Africa and the Middle East.

"I think it's an opportunity for us ... as a committee, but also as a country, to develop a foreign policy that reflects the dynamics of the region as they really are today," Corker said.

The retiring Clinton choked up as she recalled the attacks, admitting she hadn't seen urgent security requests from Benghazi by Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

"These requests do not normally come to the secretary of state," she said. "They are handled by security professionals in the department."

In a two-hour hearing in which Corker correctly predicted there would be "no bombshells," Clinton said she's implementing an independent panel's 29 recommendations to ensure that such requests are seen by top staffers at the State Department.

While Corker panned the security situation at Benghazi as "a denial of the world today" and its political aftermath as "all that's wrong with Washington," the former Chattanooga mayor mostly struck a conciliatory tone. In a question to Clinton, Corker said there were "systemic deficiencies" in Libya and asked her to "mention one reform" since then. Clinton replied that she's changing department policy and lobbyng Congress for more money for security.

At one point, Corker thanked Clinton for her service, friendship and transparency.

"All Republicans were respectful and most praised her service," National Journal wrote in a blog post after the hearing. "At times you wouldn't have known the party affiliation of the member who was speaking -- especially when it came to the courtly ranking member, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee."

Corker's questions didn't sit well with some Tennesseans who watched the hearing.

"Love [fest] occurring right now between Bob Corker and Hillary Clinton," wrote Zachary Poskevich on Twitter. "SICK SICK SICK."

Poskevich was one of many challengers to Corker during the 2012 campaign.

Other Republican senators had a different approach, excoriating a former first lady who may run for president again. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said he would have fired Clinton if he had been president, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., described Clinton's answers as "not satisfactory."

Initial haziness about the killings, which occurred as an anti-Islam video circulated around the world, prompted Republicans to criticize U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for incorrectly claiming that the attacks were spontaneous. Several Republicans on Wednesday asked Clinton if she had consulted Rice before she appeared on several talk shows.

"We had four dead Americans!" Clinton said. "Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?

"It is our job to figure out what happened and to make sure that it doesn't happen again," she added.

Her voice cracking at one point, Clinton said the attack and the aftermath were highly personal tragedies for the families of the victims who died -- Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty -- as well as herself.

"I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews. I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters and the wives left alone to raise their children," she told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a packed hearing.

In a second round of questioning on Wednesday, Clinton testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where Republican members pressed her on why cables and other memos about security deficiencies in Benghazi seemed to be ignored.

"The dots here were connected ahead of time. The State Department saw this was coming," said Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the chairman of the panel. "The State Department didn't act."

Today the Senate committee will hold a nomination hearing for its own chairman, Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat that President Barack Obama has nominated to replace Clinton.

Corker on Tuesday said he expected Kerry to "sail through" the confirmation process.

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