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Democrats Pack Benghazi Hearing to Lift Clinton's Spirits

Hastings, left, compared the hearing to his impeachment proceedings. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

It's not often that all committee members show up when their panel holds a hearing. It's even more rare that members not even on the committee attend the hearing, just to see what's going on.  

But Thursday was one of those rare occasions, with presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Capitol Hill to testify on the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya on Sept. 11, 2012. Her presence drew lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to the hearing room in the Longworth House Office Building.  

Rep. Alcee L. Hastings showed up in the Ways and Means hearing room to show Clinton he had her back. The Florida Democrat said he knew what it was like to be grilled by lawmakers, and wanted to show his support as Clinton faced the House Select Committee on Benghazi.  

"She's my friend and I'm a supporter. It always — I've been in one of these docks. I was impeached here by this Congress," Hastings said, referring to his 1988 impeachment while he was a federal judge. "I've been there. And when you have supporters around you it helps give you some lift and some feeling to know that there's spirit in the room that's on your side."  

Hastings said he did not have to arrive early to get a seat in the room, pointing to his member pin on the lapel of his jacket, and noting he was given a seat because he is a lawmaker.  

A number of other members opted to sit in on the hearing, rather than watch it on television.  

"I wanted to be as close to the questioning that I could be, but more importantly, yes, as a woman I think it was very important for me," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. The Texas Democrat, who has earned her reputation for her prominent aisle position during State of the Union addresses, snagged a prominent seat that placed her just over Clinton's right shoulder in camera frames.  

Jackson Lee said she has "high respect" for Clinton's professionalism, and wanted to see her answer the questions in person, particularly as they relate to her interests on the Homeland Security Committee. She didn't have to stake out the prominent seat. "Interesting enough, that was there when I got there," she told HOH.  

Rep. Charles B. Rangel found an open spot on the GOP side of the dais , despite not being a member of the committee. "It was a seat on the House Ways and Means Committee," the New York Democrat said, referring to the panel usually assembled in the vast hearing room. "And it was available," he added with a chuckle.  

And current lawmakers weren't the only ones who got in on the action. Former Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., sporting his red member pin, was spotted leaving the Longworth room. He hopped in an elevator after the first break Thursday afternoon, closely followed by a surprised Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who greeted Barber with a hug.  

Former Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., also exited the hearing room after the first break around 1:15 p.m., legal pad in hand.  

"This is high drama," Davis said, when asked why he was there. "This is the most exciting hearing since the steroids," he added, referring to the 2005 hearings he oversaw on steroid use in Major League Baseball.  

Also spotted casually observing the hearing: Republican Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas, Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee and Darrell Issa of California; Democratic Reps. Joseph Crowley of New York and Sander M. Levin of Michigan. Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., also dropped by.

Matthew Fleming contributed to this report. 

Related: The Lighter Side of the Benghazi Hearing Barber's Back and 'Completely Disappointed' in Committee See photos, follies, HOH Hits and Misses and more at Roll Call's new video site. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.