US POLITICS: ANALYSIS

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Clinton is due to step down in days but her political future is unknown

US secretary of state is due to step down within days, but gives no hint on her job prospects

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 January, 2013, 3:04am

It was vintage Hillary Rodham Clinton. For those who may have thought that prolonged illness might have taken a toll, the feisty secretary of state proved once again why she is a force to be reckoned with.

She may have disappeared off the radar for several weeks - felled by flu and later a blood clot caused after she fainted and suffered a concussion - but Clinton showed on Wednesday that she is back, and in fighting form.

For several hours, the 65-year-old Clinton gave a consummate performance displaying political skills honed over decades first working as a lawyer and then in public life as a first lady and US senator from New York.

At a Senate hearing into the attack on the US mission in Benghazi, she choked back tears over the lives lost but, in a flash of anger, unleashed long-held frustration at Republican charges of a bid to cover up the actual sequence of events.

"Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?" Clinton shot back, pounding the table.

That remark could come back to haunt her.

Clinton's testimony will stoke speculation about her plans. The ghost of campaigns to come stalked the hearings, as Clinton faced questions from young senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul - both of whom have been eyed as possible Republican party presidential candidates in 2016.

If so, they could find themselves up against Democrat Clinton, who many believe will run again for the White House to be the nation's first woman president.

Although Clinton has repeatedly denied ambitions to be the next president, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll said 67 per cent of all Americans had favourable views of her.

In one of her last appearances before US lawmakers, Clinton accepted full responsibility for security lapses in Benghazi.

But with an eye on defending her legacy, she said: "After four years in this job, travelling nearly a million miles, visiting 112 countries, my faith in our country and our future is stronger than ever."

Clinton was yesterday due to appear before senators again to introduce the man tapped to succeed her - Senator John Kerry. He is likely to sail through his Senate confirmation hearing and could take over within days.

And Clinton will step back into the shadows, leaving everyone guessing when or if she will return to public life again.