"We truly, still today -- despite all of our partisan wrangling, and… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)
Hours after Republican members of Congress sharply questioned Hillary Rodham Clinton and the State Department's handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, the former secretary of State did not explicitly mention the controversy in an appearance Wednesday night. But she did reference partisan bickering in the nation's capital as she accepted an award in Beverly Hills.
"We truly, still today — despite all of our partisan wrangling, and the gridlock that sometimes seems to take hold — we stand up for the rights and opportunities of all people," Clinton said in a speech that largely focused on U.S. policy toward Asia.
Earlier in the day, Foreign Service officers testified at a House committee hearing about the Benghazi terrorist attacks that killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
The State Department, under Clinton's watch, has been criticized for failing to provide appropriate security at the Benghazi outpost, and some Republicans have argued that the blame extended to Clinton.
The decision not to step into the political fray was unsurprising for Clinton, who has avoided politics since stepping down as the nation's top diplomat in February. But the Benghazi security, or lack thereof, could become a challenge for her if she runs for president in 2016, as many are speculating.
Clinton did not discuss her plans Wednesday. Instead, she focused on the legacy of the late Secretary of State Warren Christopher as she accepted an inaugural public service award named after him from the Pacific Council on International Policy, a nonpartisan group.
Christopher "understood something America's leaders have to understand and act on: The United States remains a beacon of freedom and opportunity precisely because the American dream has been and must remain open to all," Clinton said.
"He had lived it, from a town of 350 people in North Dakota all the way to the highest levels of the United States government, and he certainly could see it every day around him in this diverse and vibrant city. He felt as I have, every time you land in a far-off country in that big blue and white plane that says United States of America, what an extraordinary honor and privilege and responsibility that is."
Christopher, who served as secretary of State in the Clinton administration, died in 2011.
Clinton recalled advice that Christopher received while he was a clerk for Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas — to get into "the stream of history and swim as fast as you can."
Christopher "lived his entire life in the stream of history, and we are so much the better for that," Clinton said. "And he didn't just swim with the current. Through the strength of his will and force of his talent, he helped change the course of history.... All of us and our country are safer, freer and more secure as a result."
Clinton also discussed foreign policy, notably the United States' relationship with China.
Noting that Christopher "understood, profoundly, the growing importance of Asia," she credited him with putting the U.S. alliance with Japan "back on firm footing," bolstering South Korea in the face of provocations from North Korea and relaunching the U.S.-China relationship "on a positive trajectory."
"I believe the shape of the global economy, the advance of democracy and human rights, our hopes for a 21st century that is less bloody than the 20th century, all hinge to a large degree on what happens in the Asia Pacific," Clinton said.
She praised China's new president as pragmatic, but said she and others were still trying to discern whether his references to "the Chinese dream" were a "rallying cry for resurgent nationalism."
"The Chinese Dream, like the American Dream, can be an aspirational goal that can help organize the forward movement of more than 1.3 billion people, or it can come at the expense of the neighborhood and the rest of Asia," Clinton said. "What we need to be forging is a shared dream — a shared dream of a more peaceful and prosperous region and world."
Political observers are watching Clinton's every move, and she has begun making the rounds on the lucrative speaking circuit. But she agreed to address the Pacific Council gratis — a sign of the respect she and her husband had for Christopher, said Mickey Kantor, who served as President Clinton's Commerce secretary as well as his campaign chairman in 1992.
Kantor, co-host of the dinner, acknowledged the speculation about her future when he introduced Clinton and noted that in 1992, then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton held a fundraiser in the same ballroom at the Beverly Wilshire hotel.
"On that night 21 years ago … we knew Hillary Clinton would be a ground-breaking first lady, but I doubt any of us imagined she would follow in [Christopher's] footsteps to the State Department," he said. "And what extraordinary things she would do, tirelessly traveling the globe, patiently working for peace, standing up to the bullies of the world, empowering and inspiring women and girls everywhere.
"And Hillary continues to be in focus and even the subject of some speculation," he said, to cheers and applause.