A Shameless Secretary, a Spineless Senate

A Shameless Secretary, a Spineless Senate

What difference does it make?” Hillary Clinton shouted, her words echoing off the walls of the hearing room, outraged that a Senator would dare to ask why she spread the lie that a video provoked the terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. At that point, the presiding chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), should have rapped the gavel sharply: “Madam Secretary, you are out of order.”

Perhaps that is too much to expect of a Democrat. The majority party’s members fell all over themselves to heap praise on the outgoing Secretary of State and likely contender for their party’s presidential nomination in 2016. Few showed any interest at all in what happened in Benghazi, why the State Department failed to provide adequate security, why the White House failed to send help, and why the President ordered a cover-up.

So the ranking member, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), ought to have interrupted. But he did not. The Senator who posed the question, Ron Johnson (R-WI), seemed chastised by Clinton’s outburst. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) asked a few pointed questions that went unanswered. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) told Clinton that her negligence had been a firing offense. But even he went out of his way to say he did not suspect her of bad motives.

That is preposterous. Everyone knows what her reasons were, and she even knows that we know. President Obama did not want to admit the attack was a terror attack, even though he later pretended–with help from CNN’s Candy Crowley and CBS News’ 60 Minutes–that he had, in fact, done so. He could not even admit that the Ft. Hood attack in 2009 was a terror attack–why would he admit this attack, with an election at stake?

When even the toughest inquisitor bends over backwards to offer the Secretary of State a way out, it is a sign that our constitutional system of checks and balances is broken. It is the Senate’s job to hold the Secretary of State accountable, not the other way around. Yet she went on the attack, implying that Congress was to blame for Benghazi because of its failure to fund more diplomatic security–a claim her own department has denied.

Democrats echoed that message in both chambers of Congress on Wednesday, and offered paeans to her performance over the past four years. But it is impossible to find even one major accomplishment by Clinton, and the list of failures is long: the failed “reset” with Russia; the pointless 45-minute tirade against the Israeli prime minister; the attempts to defend Arab dictators before dumping them; and, among others, Benghazi.

Clinton deserves credit for a nearly flawless performance. She was crisp in her replies, when she could be; evasive, when she needed to be; and she turned on the tears when it counted, as she did to great effect in New Hampshire in 2008. Was she so moved by the plight of the victims’ families that it prevented her from lying through her teeth about a video while the flag-draped coffins of the fallen rested behind her? Of course not.

But the committee’s Republicans–all of them–should be rebuked for failing to defend the dignity and independence of the Senate. If Clinton’s testimony is any indication, not only will John Kerry walk to confirmation, but there is little hope for a serious challenge to Chuck Hagel when he comes before the Armed Services Committee next week. If the opposition will not do its duty, then perhaps Clinton is right: it makes no difference at all.