How the Clintons are doing some heavy lifting for Obama
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told CNN on Monday that she takes “full responsibility” for security issues in Libya leading up to the attack that claimed the lives of four Americans there last month. In doing so, she added to the already considerable impact of the Clinton name on this election.
Here’s why Clinton’s statement matters politically, even if politics wasn’t the main factor in her decision: Republicans have been up in arms since the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, noting security requests that went unmet in the lead-up to the assault, and a shifting explanation of the violence by the Obama administration, which first called it spontaneous before later saying it was an act of terror.
Clinton went a step further Monday — the eve of a crucial presidential debate — than she did in answering questions about possible security lapses in Benghazi in part because of the impression that Vice President Biden had left in his own debate with Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) last week.
Clinton was clarifying that it’s the State Department, and ultimately the secretary of state, that bear responsibility for what amounted in this case to a fairly routine personnel decision. But she also was shouldering a political weight that had seemed to shift from the State Department to the White House over the preceding days. Republicans have pointed their fingers directly at President Obama, while his aides have sought to shift the blame to Foggy Bottom.
“I think what [Biden] was talking about was what he and the president knew, because these matters were being handled at the State Department,” Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod said in a Sunday interview. Axelrod was responding to a question about the vice president, who said at the debate that “we weren’t told they wanted more security there.”
In the aftermath of situations like the one in Libya, it isn’t uncommon for the different government agencies involved to cover themselves by (often anonymously) blaming other agencies. But in this case, Clinton absorbed the blame head on.
Her decision does two things. One, it takes some pressure (but not all; Obama is still the president, and national security starts and ends with him) off the president and shifts it over to Foggy Bottom.
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