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Politics Week Roundup: Benghazi Hearings, Speaker Of The House


Quite a week in politics. Three of the longest-running dramas in U.S. politics took important - maybe decisive - turns. NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving joins us. Ron, thanks so much for being back with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: The Congressional hearings on the Benghazi terror attacks on the U.S. consulate there back in 2012, in which four Americans were killed, finally were held. Just one witness - former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I think if it were a heavyweight fight any judge would say she was way ahead on points.

ELVING: They probably would've stopped it.

SIMON: Yes, they probably would've stopped it after the lunch break. Where does this inquiry go from here?

ELVING: The committee is not done. This is a select committee. It has a heavy responsibility. There are going to be more meetings, more reports. But interest in this group and in their probe and in their eventual report has clearly peaked. Much of the attention throughout this entire inquiry has been focused on the former secretary of state. And to say she acquitted herself, well, does not really cover it. The consensus of response was that over the nine hours of questioning, she had the better of it from hour one through hour nine.

SIMON: But let's make it plain, you're talking politically. This is not to close off the possibility that there are good hard questions to be raised about what happened.

ELVING: That is correct. And of course there will always be hard feelings about the spin that was given during the month in which this happened, which was just less than 60 days before the presidential election of 2012. There was a lot of talk about whether or not President Obama's entire approach to antiterrorism was undercut by this attack. So everything that was said by the administration at the time is seen in a political light and that was a big focus for the committee. We should also say that the committee was responsible for uncovering the fact of Hillary Clinton's personal email server. And that matter has been turned over to the FBI to investigate whether there may have been classified material that she knew was classified that was on that email server. So we'll have to see how the FBI treats this in the long run. That could still make this a big issue for her.

SIMON: Also this week, Vice President Biden said it's too late for him to even consider running for president anymore. Now that the decision's been made, any surprise in it for you?

ELVING: There shouldn't have been except that there had been so much feverish speculation about him getting in at the last minute, much of that driven of course by the emotion surrounding the death of his son Beau earlier this year. That obviously weighed heavily upon him. But some people thought it was going to give him an inspiration to get into the race. In the end, though, he said on Wednesday there just isn't enough time. And in truth, you could officially be getting in right now and there would still be enough time. Others have gotten in later, but he has not even begun to run. He would be starting from ground zero. He has no endorsements, no money, no staff put together. He would just have a band of friends from previous campaigns that, frankly, when he ran for president did not go so well.

SIMON: There may be a new speaker of the House in just a few days - Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Will he be able to lead where John Boehner was not?

ELVING: Yes, at least at the outset, at least from the beginning. He has negotiated with the House Freedom Caucus and all the other factional groups within the House. He's gotten all of them to show him enough support that he is assured of winning first the Republican vote on Wednesday next week and then on Thursday the vote in the full House where he'll have to have a majority of the entire body.

It's not entirely clear from their negotiations who agreed to what and whether or not they entirely understood what the negotiation was establishing. It's a question of what kind of rules are going to be changed, what kinds of rules are going to be respected, what kind of power-sharing this new speaker is going to be willing to acquiesce with. We shall see whether or not they really understood each other because there are quite a list of issues coming up very quickly. You've got the debt limit, which maybe John Boehner can get done before he leaves. Then you've got the next fiscal cliff that could shut down the federal government December 11. And in between you have the Highway Trust Fund and the Export-Import Bank - many things on which this speaker is likely to still have disagreements with some of the most conservative members of the House.

SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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