Transcript: Clinton’s response to Sen. Dick Durbin’s question on how sequestration will hurt the State Department’s efforts to stop the spread of terrorists in North Africa

Transcribed and edited by Jenny Jiang

Partial transcript of Q&A between Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the attacks against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing was held on Jan. 23, 2013: 

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.): 

Madame Secretary, thank you for being here. It’s a little more than 4 years ago that a number of your colleagues – myself included – encouraged you to take on this responsibility, believing you would have a profound impact on the world and on the diplomacy of the United States and you have. Thank you so much for all you’ve done.

I also want to say a word on behalf of Ambassador [Susan] Rice – an extraordinary individual who has served this country well. I think some of the criticism that was heaped on her was unfair and did not reflect the fact that she was reporting the best information she had available at the time, and as you’ve said more information became available and it was dutifully reported.

I do want to make one point for the record here about whether the American people were told everything right away, in the right way so that they can be fully informed, and I’d like to refer to 5 words for them to reflect on: “Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.” We were told by every level of government here there were Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that justified a war – the invasion of [sic] the United States. We’re still searching for those weapons; they didn’t exist. Thousands of Americans lost their lives. We can have a hearing on that, if you’d like.

A point I’m trying to get to is two extraordinarily talented individuals – Admiral [Mike] Mullen and maybe one of the best diplomats of our time, Ambassador [Thomas] Pickering – did a thorough review here, found shortcomings in our protection of our people overseas and reported them honestly.

You not only initiated that review, you accepted their findings in totality. No cover-up. Attempt to be totally honest and to make sure a tragedy like this never occurs again.

The second point I’d like to make is this: some on the committee have already criticized the notion that this is about money. They might argue you can’t solve a problem by throwing money at it. Madame Secretary, you can’t solve a problem by throwing money at it unless the problem is the lack of money.

And what I understand you to testify is you have asked this Congress for the authority to transfer existing funds to protect Ambassadors and diplomatic personnel around the world and you’ve been refused by the House of Representatives. They will not give you the authority to even take existing funds.

If I’m not mistaken, in a few weeks, your department is going to face sequestration and we not only will not have additional funds, we will cut some $50 million when it comes to constructions of facilities to protect people who represent the United States overseas and cut money for the individuals necessary to protect those same diplomats.

So I’d like you to comment how can we keep our commitment to be a leader in the world – in the area of diplomacy, in state craft – to avoid the necessity of war if we don’t give the most basic resources to your department, which commands as I understand it about 1.5% of the federal budget.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

Actually, it’s less than one but let’s not quibble.

Look, I am well aware that there are efficiencies and inadequacies in the department. I went about doing what I could in the 4 years I had through the QDDR [quadrennial diplomacy and development review] process, through creating some additional incentives and changes in culture to try to assist everybody in the State Department and USAID to do as much as they could with whatever they had. Because we were never going to reach parity with the Defense Department; we were always going to be one-twelfth or less of the budget. That was fine but to do what we can.

But at the same time we have asked for the funds we think we need to be able to fulfill the mission you have described, Sen. Durbin.

And we need help from this committee. I am one who believes that we have both walk and chew gum at the same time. We have to deal with our own economy and our fiscal situation. That is a given because that is the source of our strength and our capacity. But we also have to be smart about making the right investments in diplomacy and development to try to solve problems and prevent them.

So you know I have outlined what should be a no-brainer: Let us have the permission to take money we already have – we’re not asking for more money – and put it to work where the ARB told us to do. And then let’s look at the budget as we move forward.

Now, sequestration will be very damaging to the State Department and USAID if it does come pass because it throws the baby out with the bath. Are there programs that we could reduce, make more efficient? Yes, that’s part of what I’ve been trying to do is to push that forward and that’s what the QDDR process was about. But there are also a lot of essential programs – first and foremost, the security of our personnel in dangerous places that we can’t afford to cut more of.

And so I hope we get the transfer authority and then have a sensible budget discussion going forward.

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2 Comments on “Transcript: Clinton’s response to Sen. Dick Durbin’s question on how sequestration will hurt the State Department’s efforts to stop the spread of terrorists in North Africa

  1. Pingback: John Kerry underscores need for better embassy security in his welcome remarks to State Department employees | What The Folly?!

  2. Pingback: Transcript: Clinton’s response to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's questions on the State Department's transfer authority request & cooperation with the DOD in responding to the Benghazi attack | What The Folly?!

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