Clinton Testifies on Benghazi, and All Seats Are Hot Ones

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 7.09.57 AMCARL HULSE 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Good Thursday morning. The two big open questions that have been hanging over Washington for weeks seem to be resolved as Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced that he would not seek the presidency, and Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin received the pledge of unity that could clear his path toward becoming speaker of the House. And the answers could keep rolling in as Hillary Rodham Clinton is set to testify on the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

After months of sparring at a distance, Mrs. Clinton will face the House special committee on Benghazi in a highly anticipated hearing that has become as big of a test for the committee as it is for her.

Mrs. Clinton, the former secretary of state, is scheduled to appear at 10 a.m. in the Ways and Means Committee room before the 12-member panel — seven Republicans and five Democrats. Questioning could easily last the entire day as the panel tries to establish her role in setting administration policy on Libya, handling diplomatic security, the attack on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, and, of course, her now-famous use of a private email system.

But the atmosphere for the hearing will be markedly different than it would have been even a few weeks ago. Remarks by Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican majority leader, that credited the panel with driving down Mrs. Clinton’s poll numbers have unleashed a torrent of criticism — some by other Republicans — that the main objective of the taxpayer-funded effort is to harm her presidential bid. Representative Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who is chairman of the panel, has vociferously denied the suggestion of partisanship. But Republicans on the committee will be doing their best to appear evenhanded, certainly in the early part of the proceedings that will probably draw the most public attention via television and the Internet.
Mrs. Clinton has some goals of her own. She needs to take the Republican questioners seriously, appear forthcoming and not defensive about her role, and remain composed during what will be hours of hostile and probing interrogation. Her visible frustration over Republican questioning about the cause of the attack at a 2013 Senate hearing and her angry “What difference, at this point, does it make?” remain a signature moment for her critics.
As far as congressional hearings go, this is a big one, with interest running so high that overflow rooms have been set aside for the news media and the public. Both sides are primed and experienced, with Mrs. Clinton in the unusual position of having been both a witness and a questioner during her time in the Senate. Time to gavel this one to order.