On the panel at the Senate hearing were two possible 2016 Republican presidential candidates — Florida’s Marco Rubio and Paul, a new member of the committee — as well as John McCain of Arizona, who was defeated by Obama in November 2008.
Clinton, 65, did little to quiet the presidential chatter earlier this month when she returned to work after her hospitalization. On the subject of retirement, she said, “I don’t know if that is a word I would use, but certainly stepping off the very fast track for a little while.”
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.”
Clinton told senators the department is implementing the 29 recommendations of the review board and going beyond the proposals, with a special focus on high-threat posts.
“Nobody is more committed to getting this right,” she said. “I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger, and more secure.”
Clinton had been due to testify in December but postponed her appearances after fainting, falling and suffering a concussion while recovering from a stomach virus that left her severely dehydrated. She was then diagnosed with a blood clot near her brain and returned to work only on Jan. 7.
She won bipartisan well-wishes on her recovery, but while Democrats were quick to praise her for accomplishments as secretary of state, Republicans then hit her with withering criticism.
“It’s wonderful to see you in good health and combative as ever,” said McCain.
But in the same breath, he dismissed her explanation of events, the administration’s response to warnings about the deteriorating security situation in Libya and even the attention paid to Libya after rebels toppled Moammar Gadhafi. “The answers, frankly, that you’ve given this morning are not satisfactory to me,” McCain said.
To McCain, a friend that Clinton served with in the Senate, she replied matter-of-factly: “We just have a disagreement. We have a disagreement about what did happen and when it happened with respect to explaining the sequence of events.”
Some Democrats raised the point that Congress had cut funding for embassy security.
“We have to get our act together,” she told the panels, chiding House GOP members for recently stripping $1 billion in security aid from the hurricane relief bill and the Senate panel for failing for years to produce a spending authorization bill.
In something of a valedictory, Clinton noted her robust itinerary in four years and her work, nearly 1 million miles and 112 countries.
“My faith in our country and our future is stronger than ever. Every time that blue and white airplane carrying the words “United States of America” touches down in some far-off capital, I feel again the honor it is to represent the world’s indispensable nation. And I am confident that, with your help, we will continue to keep the United States safe, strong, and exceptional.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., expressed incredulity that the independent review board did not interview Clinton for its extensive report. She also complained about the department’s “false narrative” that four employees lost their jobs over the attack.
“There’s just been a shuffling of the deck chairs,” said Ros-Lehtinen.
Clinton said earlier that she was not asked to speak to the review board but would have been available. She said the four employees have been removed from their jobs and have been placed on administrative leave, but federal rules prevent the department from taking more drastic steps.
Her testimony followed more than three months of Republican charges that the Obama administration ignored signs of a deteriorating security situation and cast an act of terrorism as mere protests over an anti-Muslim video in the heat of a presidential election. U.S. officials suspect that militants linked to al-Qaida carried out the attack.