Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida, was calm and grounded as he questioned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on warnings and indications before the Benghazi attack. And Rubio has aspirations that may mean that his colloquy with Clinton will make the 2016 clip reels. Scoring political points was not his intention, and Clinton answered respectfully.
But it was an exchange with Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican who has been obsessed with the rhetorical aftermath, almost to the point of myopia, that gave Clinton the chance to both vent her anger at what she saw as an irrelevant line of questions as well as demonstrate how formidable a political figure she has become.
Johnson asked why there were different explanations offered at different times, and accused Clinton of "intentionally misleading" Americans.
"We had four dead Americans!" she said, banging the table in front of her. "Whether it was [an] attack preplanned by terrorists or... a guy out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill Americans ... What difference does it make?"
She called Johnson's insinuation "the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen."
Sen. John McCain later tried to pick up Johnson's ball. "Good to see that you are as healthy and combative as ever," he began.
"I categorically reject your explanation as to why [investigators didn't ask survivors the next day what had happened]," he said.
McCain asked Clinton why the administration refuses to release reactions in classified cables that appear to show that there was a real-time source of information about al Qaeda's involvement. He accuses her, essentially, of perpetuating a falsehood. "The American people still have not gotten the answer they deserve."
Clinton began by praising McCain's passion. But she parried his jabs by simply saying that she and he "just have a disagreement about what happened when explaining the sequence of events. .. We had no access to the surveillance cameras for weeks. But with respect to helping Libyans ... since March 2011, Congressional holds were placed on help for Libya... and we've gotten frequent complaints from Congress about why we're doing anything at all for Libya. So, we've got to get our act together between the administration and Congress if we are serious."
Sen. Jeff Flake also wondered why provisional information was given to the American people.
Clinton's explanation: "Maybe the default should be, just withhold. Don't say anything... until we've decided. But that's not who we are as American officials. We all wish that anyone had never raised doubt, but Ambassador Rice...and other administration officials were speaking off of the best determined talking points."