Forceful Clinton delights Democrats. What’s next?

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on...
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on...
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Hillary Clinton’s combative and forceful performance on Capitol Hill Wednesday likely further burnished her already sky-high reputation among Democrats. But as she gets set to step down as secretary of state, what she’s planning next—and how her health might play into that decision—remain anyone’s guess.

A Washington Post poll out Wednesday morning put Clinton’s favorability rating at a record 67%—higher even than during the Monica Lewinsky saga—and at 91% among Democrats. Should she decide to seek her party’s nomination for president in 2016, she’d be the runaway front-runner (of course, we all remember how that turned out last time).

Clinton’s feisty and emotional testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday, on the subject of last September’s attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, should do little to hurt her standing with fellow Democrats.

She choked up as she described seeing the “flag-draped caskets” of  Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans killed in the attacks, and comforting the victims’ families.

And in a moment that reverberated online and figures to be replayed frequently on cable news, the secretary of state took direct aim at the GOP charge that the administration misled the public by initially saying the attacks were the result of a spontaneous protest. In doing so, she gave voice to the frustrations of Obama administration supporters nationwide, many of whom see the Republican fixation on Benghazi as motivated solely by politics.

“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” an exasperated Clinton told Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, pounding the witness table with her fist. “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? It’s our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, senator.”

It won’t be her job much longer. Clinton associates told The New York Times last month that after leaving Foggy Bottom, she plans to spend a few months resting, relaxing, and mulling her next move. That could involve a temporary perch at Bill Clinton’s foundation, or perhaps continuing the work on international women’s and children’s health that she pushed at the State Department. She’ll likely also look to make money by giving speeches and writing a book about her tenure at State, the Times reported.

As for another presidential run, nobody—likely including Clinton herself—knows whether that’ll happen. “I’ve said I really don’t believe that that’s something I will do again,” she told ABC’s Barbara Walters last month, but also said that “all doors are open.”

Clinton’s health could play into that decision—and if she does run, it’s all but certain to play a role in the race. She was hospitalized over the new year for a blood clot near her brain, caused by a concussion she sustained in a fall at her home—an episode that “reinforced the concerns of friends and colleagues that the years of punishing work and travel have taken a heavy toll,” the Times reported recently. As Secretary of State, she kept up a grueling schedule, spending the equivalent of 87 full days on a plane.

At Wednesday’s hearing, where Clinton, 65, appeared engaged and alert, Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, was eager to put the issue into play. “As a doctor, I have seen you work yourself into a state of exhaustion,” he told Clinton.

Democratic senators appeared to have no such concerns. Indeed, at least one seemed to urge her to take the presidential plunge.

“You will be sorely missed,” Sen. Barbara Boxer of California told Clinton. “But I for one hope not for too long.”