CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa -- Sen. Rand Paul sharply attacked former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, declaring that her actions in the months leading up to the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya last year were “inexcusable, it was a dereliction of duty, and it should preclude her from holding higher office.”
His remarks, which drew cheers Friday night from a crowd of about 500 Republican activists gathered here for the party’s annual Lincoln Day dinner, previewed what could become an often-heard line of attack if Clinton runs for president in 2016.
Coming from Paul (R-Ky.), who is openly considering his own run, the words illustrated how the debate over the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans last Sept. 11 in Benghazi, Libya, has become tied up with the politics of the next campaign.
Republicans have been doggedly critical of the Obama administration for its handling of the Benghazi killings, with most of their attention focused on the question of how and why administration officials altered the “talking points” that the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, used in describing the attacks on Sunday morning talk shows the weekend after the attacks.
While that issue has clearly found a receptive audience among Republican Party activists, it so far has gotten little traction among voters at large, who continue to give President Obama relatively healthy marks for his handling of foreign policy.
Paul, however, focused on a different issue -- one that may be more readily accessible to a wider group of voters.
In the months before the attacks, he noted, the State Department repeatedly had turned down requests from diplomatic personnel in Libya for more security. Clinton, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on which Paul sits, said that the cables asking for additional resources had been handled by lower-level officials in the department and had never reached her desk.
That, Paul said, was exactly the problem.
When asked by committee members whether she had read those requests, “She said, ‘No.’ She says, ‘I’m busy, I get lots of cables,’” Paul said. “A I say, Look, I don’t expect you to read every cable from Bulgaria or Estonia, but I do expect you from one of the five most dangerous countries in the world, Libya, to be reading those cables.’ ”
Administration officials have said Congress did not provide enough money to cover all the State Department’s security needs, but Paul ridiculed that argument, pointing to examples of other places where State spent money on lesser priorities.
Earlier, in a news conference, Paul compared the Benghazi killings with an earlier foreign policy crisis, the deaths of American military personnel in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993. Left unspoken, but clearly a subtext, was that the incident marked one of the low points of the presidency of Hillary Clinton’s husband, Bill Clinton.
The Kentucky senator’s speech here is part of a round of visits he is making to states that play a major role in the Republican presidential nominating process. Next week, he plans a trip to New Hampshire. He also plans a trip later this month to California, where he will combine fundraising with a speech at the Reagan Library.
On Twitter @DavidLauter