The controversy over Benghazi doesn’t rise to the level of scandal and won’t hurt Hillary Clinton if she decides to run for president, Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, said yesterday.
“Some of the battling over the wordsmithing about who said what, it could be embarrassing and that will play out,” Kaine, a former head of the Democratic National Committee, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend. “But the real issue is how to fix it.”
Clinton was secretary of state at the time of the attacks on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. The remorse she has shown for the loss of lives will make political attacks seem “shallow” and “cynical,” Kaine, 55, said.
Kaine also predicted the Senate, led by Democrats, would pass legislation to expand background checks for gun buyers. In April, the Senate rejected a bill after an intense push by the National Rifle Association, a lobbying group for firearms owners and makers based in Kaine’s home state.
Kaine, who has said the political strength of the NRA leadership is overstated, said supporters will keep looking for ways to pass the bill.
“There will be a moment where we will either get some people to switch their mind, or we’ll make a change to the bill that will satisfy a concern,” Kaine said. “The American people overwhelmingly support record checks, and the day will come when we pass this bill.”
The first-term senator was governor of Virginia in 2007 when Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history. That experience left “scar tissue” among his constituents, he said.
“We learned through our deep pain and shame, make a better background-check system -- you keep people safer,” he said. “We fixed some things in Virginia, but we got more to fix at the national level.”
Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also talked about a reported rise in sexual assaults in the U.S. military. He said lawmakers would include language designed to fix the problem in a defense budget bill later this year.
“On this issue, we’ve got to see a dramatic upgrade,” he said in response to a question about whether he had confidence in Air Force Secretary Michael Donley.
Asked what the response to the problem should be, Kaine said: “More heads roll and more procedures should be changed.”
Kaine, who is also a member of the Senate Budget Committee, criticized Republicans who control the House of Representatives for not trying to reach a budget deal with Senate Democrats.
“The Republicans banged on us in the Senate for years. ‘The Senate won’t even pass a budget’,” Kaine said. “As soon as we did, we said, ‘OK, now let’s go to conference with the House and find a compromise,’ and they won’t do it.”
Every day, he said, “we’re going to point out their hypocrisy to them.”
The improving economy is generating more government revenue and lowering the projected federal deficit, he said. That takes away some leverage from Republicans wanting to use the debt ceiling to force concessions on spending cuts, Kaine said.
Eventually, each side will have to give in to reach a broad budget deal, he said.
Democrats “traditionally don’t want to talk about smart entitlements reforms,” Kaine said. Republicans “don’t want to talk about revenue, but we’re not going to get the kind of deal we need unless we do both.”
The issue of how the administration handled the attacks in Benghazi continues to be a political flash point in Washington. Congressional Republicans have said the administration failed to provide adequate security to the embassy and then sought to play down the likelihood that Islamic terrorists led the assault.
The Republican-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a six-hour hearing on the subject this week.
Kaine, also a member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said the focus should be on how to prevent further attacks by implementing recommendations of an accountability review board empaneled to look into the Benghazi incident.
“I do not think it’s a scandal; it could be an embarrassment,” he said. “But what would be the scandal is if Congress spends time focusing on that and not fixing the things that need to be fixed that were laid out in very clear detail by that accountability review board.”
Kaine also predicted Democrat Terry McAuliffe would win the governor’s race in Virginia against Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican attorney general. A Washington Post poll showed the Democrat trailing.
“It’s going to be a close race, but I think we’ll win,” Kaine said.