Mitchell Reports | January 23, 2013
>>> busy day here, secretary clinton final facing tough questions from senate republicans about benghazi .
>> i'm glad that you're accepting responsibility. i think that ultimately with your leaving you accept the culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11, and i really mean 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.
>> well, joining me now for our daily fix, chris cillizza , msnbc contributor and nbc's capitol hill correspondent kelly o'donnell, and david sanger . welcome, all. chris, we've seen these kinds of dramas before. this one was pretty tough. of course, the house side yet to come. how is hillary clinton , do you think, doing in terms of holding her own with a pretty tough brief?
>> i think she's done quite well, and this is not an easy, as you point out, this is not an easy thing to do, andrea . i think it's fascinating. one democrat asks a question, then one republican. the democrat says, secretary clinton , thank you so much for your service, you've done a great job, there are no questions, then you go over to a rand paul, for example. that was the -- if you are interested in politics, that's the classic backhanded compliment. thank you so much for taking responsibility for your failures, and, by the way, if i was president, i would have fired you. but i wanted to thank you for that. it's kind of a one on, one off for her, but, look, it's not an easy topic, as you point out, andrea . she's kind of stuck to the story at this point. she's taken the heed, and i would say with ron johnson in particular, the senator from wisconsin, you saw that she was, you know, not going to sort of let positions of the administration get characterized in the way that she didn't believe was fair.
>> and, kelly o'donnell, the house side is going to be likely tougher. you've got the house republicans in charge there. she won't have as many people, you know, watching her back. but john mccain , john mccain asked her about that cable that was sent by chris stevens , the ambassador who died on 9/11, the day of the attack. hillary clinton answered by talking about what the house has held back and the holds on security funds for their budget, but never really responded why she had not seen that cable, why all of these requests had not reached her desk.
>> it was a deft sidestep and probably with the mccain/ clinton matchup, it was the most even handed of the exchanges we saw today. they have a long history. they are good personal friends. there's a lot of respect between them. there is a lot of warmth between them, but on this issue, mccain got out of the way all of his thanks and salutations to the secretary, then said he strongly disagrees. she came prepared to put some of the burden back on congress, so she was armed with a lot of facts about things congress has done or not done that might contribute to the overall security picture for these missions in dangerous places. what i was also struck by is, i can't remember another time during a hearing when a senator referred to himself, if i were president. you do hear it on the campaign trail. that is really going beyond what we would normally hear, and that was probably the most notable matchup. ron johnson of wisconsin sort of got it started as far as republicans pressing her on the talking points issue. i thought it was also notable that she said she did not select susan rice to be the public spokesperson. she had nothing to do with the talking points and was very clear to point out that on the 12th of september, relatively hours after this attack, she had, in fact, described it as a terrorist attack and armed militant attack. definitely giving herself some distance from what was a real political football .
>> david sanger , you've watched these kinds of confrontations before, these political debates, over foreign policy . there's a bigger issue here, which is what do we do about libya, what do we do about security, and what's happened since libya with some of those same elements moving into mali and then algeria. this is not going to be an easy issue to resolve in a second term for president obama .
>> it certainly isn't, andrea . i think what was most notable about the testimony was that while the secretary came quite well prepared to talk about the question of benghazi and, of course, as you noted before, whether congress had underfunded the overall embassy security issue, which doesn't tell you very much about whether things would have gone on differently in benghazi . she didn't have very much to say about a strategy for combatting terrorism in north africa or for stepping up aid development, all of the other issues she used to talk about so regularly as a way of trying to stop terrorism from taking root in countries like this. and i think the interesting thing will be to see whether senator kerry, when he goes to testify tomorrow in his confirmation hearing, whether or not he comes to it with more of a sort of big picture strategy of what he would do within the region. now, it's possible that one reason the secretary didn't have that, is, of course, she's been out sick for a good number of weeks and they have been consume consumed by the individual incident in benghazi .
>> of course, the overriding question that the republican critics have been focusing on is susan rice , the talking points , this is another one of the exchanges with senator johnson and hillary clinton .
>> do you disagree with me that a simple phone call to those evacuees to determine what happened wouldn't have ascertained immediately there was no protest? that was a piece of information that koufcould have been easily, easily obtained within hours, if not days.
>> senator, when you're in these positions, the last thing you want to do is interfere with any other process going on -- number one.
>> i realize that's a good excuse.
>> no, it's the fact.
>> kelly , these freshmen senators, we noted ted cruz last week on "meet the press," they are not shy.
>> no, they are not. it takes a lot of sense of self to run for the united states senate , and they certainly displayed that. one of the underlying issues here is these senators who are talking about the details of what happened with susan rice make the argument that this was a case where the american public was told one scenario, that not only was slight of what happened but in contrast to officials say was a terrorist attack . while they are kind of picking on these issues that happened weeks, now a couple of months ago, they are telling me when we talked about that, they are interested in trying to shine a light on the fact that it shouldn't be a case if information is withheld, that's one thing. but if information is sending the public in a different direction, that is worthy of more scrutiny. that's why there's been so much focus on this.
>> david sanger , tom friedman , one of your colleagues at "the new york time" wrote today that we're not looking at the big picture in foreign policy . we have so circumscribed our secretary of state, we evaluate them by how many million- mile markers or how many countries they visited, but not sort of the big breakthroughs because of some of the problems we have with china, with russia. this world is a very complicated place that john kerry is likely going to inherit.
>> is indeed, and i think one of the big questions that we have at the end of secretary clinton 's time is, is this an administration that wants to empower the secretary of state to do those kinds of things? what's interesting is that while the secretary had territory that was clearly her own, a part of china policy, a lot of pakistan policy, a lot of counterterrorism policy, was run directly out of the white house and out of the national security council . in this case, in the case of benghazi , because it got to a question of embassy security, it fell more directly on the state department . but, you know, you heard the echoes of some of those broader questions come up today when the secretary was asked, for example, well, why isn't the military -- why wasn't the military there to protect the benghazi consulate, and the answer is, it's not been a major mission of the military in the past to protect embassies. they mostly protect the classified documents.
>> this wasn't an embassy, it was an intelligence listening post , that's why they didn't want a military presence, they didn't want to draw attention to it. chris cillizza , the foreign policy , in many regards, has been run out of the white house , and perhaps even more so because mcdonagh, the deputy of national security director is going to be the next chief of staff.
>> right. no reason to think that will change. andrea , look, we don't focus enough on foreign policy , but the challenges, we focus on the domestic challenges for barack obama , and as we talked about, his inaugural speech was very domestically focused. look, we just had elections in israel, john kerry not in the same place benjamin netanyahu is regarding a two-state solution, at least right now. there are huge challenges, iran, there are huge challenges in the foreign policy front that don't get talked about as much, but are clearly things that not only will be difficult for the president and his team to navigate, but will also have a significant say in how this president is viewed by history.
>> and, by the way, we just got word that the white house is going to proceed with a nomination of general allen to be the nato supreme allied commander now that he's been cleared by the pentagon investigation going back to the petraeus case. thanks to all of you, david sanger and kelly o'donnell, of course, and chris cillizza , see