WASHINGTON -- New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez is leading a highly-charged hearing this morning in which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will testify about the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, providing a preview of what will likely be a new, powerful role for Menendez.
Menendez, a Democrat, is presiding over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in place of Sen. John Kerry, the panel’s chairman who is expected to soon be confirmed as Clinton’s replacement as Secretary of State. Once that happens, Menendez is expected to become chairman, giving him control of an influential committee that oversees how the Obama administration interacts with the rest of the world.
This long-anticipated hearing on the Sept. 11 attacks on the American embassy in Benghazi, delayed when Clinton fainted and suffered a concussion, is an early example of the kind of issue Menendez will be leading debate on as chairman.
The hearing room is packed with observers and news agencies from the United States and abroad. Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, also a Democrat, also sits on the committee.
Four Americans, including ambassador Chris Stevens, died in the attacks.
Republicans have strongly questioned the Obama administration’s response, particularly comments from U.N. ambassador Susan Rice that at one point attributed the attacks to a spontaneous demonstration.
Menendez praised Clinton’s candor and cooperation in his opening statement, shortly after 9 a.m.
Speaking of those killed, he said, “We honor their service to our nation and we grieve with their families, but we also resolve to take specific actions to prevent future incidents.”
“It is my intention to work with members of the committee and department in the coming months on legislation that will improve security and better protect our employees.”

But, reflecting the rancor still surrounding the Benghazi attacks, and sensitive nature of the hearing, Sen. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican, opened the GOP remarks by saying the Obama administration's initial response "represented a denial of the world as it is today," and a committee "that has never done the kind of oversight that this committee ought to do."