As the new top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker wants an immediate “top-to-bottom review” of the State Department.
The former Chattanooga mayor’s first big moment as the No. 2 senator on the Democratic-led committee comes this morning as the panel questions Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The former first lady is appearing because of the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
“I personally have seen the security tape, and it’s ... almost surreal to see how easily people came into the compound,” Corker said in a conference call with Tennessee reporters. “It really was a death trap, and I’m sure all of those things will be discussed.”
Corker cited “a lot of stovepipe, a lot of sclerosis” at the State Department, where a spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment over the senator’s remarks.
Dismissive of attempts to paint him as a partisan, Corker also hasn’t been shy about criticizing a Democratic administration that has intervened overseas more than expected. He now finds himself in a position to shape Republican thinking on America’s role in a rapidly changing world.
“Washington prepares for the rise of Bob Corker,” read a bold headline over a Foreign Policy article from October.
In the conference call, Corker promoted Clinton’s appearance as must-see political TV, presenting himself as the State Department’s watchdog as America handles commitments in Afghanistan and potentially accelerates activities across North Africa.
“This is very personal to me in many ways,” he said.
Corker has visited 48 countries since joining the committee in 2007, according to his office. He replaces former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, the former ranking Republican who was defeated in Indiana’s Senate GOP primary in his quest for a seventh term.
It’s a busy week for the committee. On Thursday, members will hold a nomination hearing for John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat selected by President Barack Obama to replace the retiring Clinton.
Corker said he expects Kerry to sail through the confirmation process. If so, Corker will be in a position to oversee the committee’s former chairman in new roles for both men.
“Bob’s smart as they come,” Kerry said in a statement to the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “He’s a straight shooter even when you disagree, he always does his homework and he always asks the tough questions that need to be asked of both sides.”
Beyond questions of war and peace, experts said, Corker’s top committee perch could help Tennessee.
“When state leaders are increasingly trying to get international business to Tennessee — Volkswagen, Nissan, you know — having a high-ranking senator on this committee is a good thing,” said Vanderbilt University professor Joshua Clinton, who studies congressional politics.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., also got some good news Tuesday. The Senate elected him ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.