The set-to between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) at the Benghazi, Libya, hearings was fascinating. It said as much about him as it did about her.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Mandel Ngan/Getty Images) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Mandel Ngan/Getty Images)

The Republicans had been champing at the bit for months to get Clinton before Congress to be held to account for the murderous events at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. While I wasn’t expecting kid-glove treatment of the secretary, I certainly wasn’t expecting the disrespectful, argumentative and haughty questioning from Johnson.

He pressed Clinton on whether she should have made a “simple phone call” to find out whether what U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said about a spontaneous protest was true. “Senator, when you’re in these positions, the last thing you want to do is interfere with any other process going on,” she said. To which, Johnson replied, “I realize that’s a good excuse.”

Johnson’s demeanor was befitting a first-term Tea Partyer who has little patience for Washington or the Obama administration and who is deaf to anything other than his own sound and fury. The issue of the talking points that were used by Rice five days after the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks and then used by her critics to hound her out of consideration for secretary of state is a shiny object Johnson and other Republicans just can’t let go. Perhaps with a little more seasoning and polish, Johnson will learn from the cantankerous Sen. John McCain about how to hold an official’s feet to the fire without being (too much of) a jerk about it.

Clinton’s reaction to Johnson demonstrated her reputation for not suffering fools.

Well, no, it’s the fact. Even today, there are questions being raised. We have no doubt they were terrorists, they were militants, they attacked us, they killed our people. But what was going on, and why they were doing what they were doing is still unknown….


With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. 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’s our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, senator. Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this. The fact is that people were trying, in real time, to get to the best information.

It was refreshing to see someone fire back at the kind of rudeness that has come to typify the new brand of GOP swarming Capitol Hill. But Clinton’s fist-pounding reaction was something perhaps only she could get away with.

Clinton has been under the red-hot lights of national scrutiny and has been the object of Republican paranoia and rage for more than 20 years. She’s done pink press conferences, testified on behalf of “Hillarycare,” endured personal and public humiliation due to her wayward husband, moved to a state that wasn’t her home to run for Senate, ran a presidential race that took her within a whisker of being her party’s nominee for president and endured untold numbers of hearings as one of the most traveled secretaries of state in the nation’s history.

With each of these experiences, Clinton learned the do’s and don’ts of public combat, especially with Republicans. That she gave as good as she got from Johnson bespoke a woman comfortable enough in her own skin and with her considerable stature to tell Johnson to stuff it. Brava!

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Read more on this topic:

Dana Milbank: Hillary Clinton storms Capitol Hill

Richard Cohen: Why Clinton drives people nuts

Jennifer Rubin: Clinton’s showstopper at the Benghazi hearings

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