General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker returned to Capitol Hill this morning to make the case that despite recent violence in Iraq, political progress and economic progress are on the rise as a result of the troop surge.
But all eyes - and camera lenses - in the packed Armed Services Committee room were on Sens. John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Both presidential candidates took time away from the campaign trail to attend the hearing. Sen. Barack Obama is not on the committee, but will hear from Petraeus and Crocker later this afternoon at a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. It's a rare opportunity for voters to see the candidates in action, talking war and asking tough questions.
As the most powerful Republican on the committee, McCain had a slight edge over Clinton. It took three hours before Clinton even said a word, while McCain was able to make an opening statement and was the first Republican to ask the general and ambassador how they plan to stop violence in Iraq and whether they trust Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr's ceasefire.
The candidates did have to compete at times with the anti-war group Code Pink. The Code Pink group painted their faces white and wore black hijabs pinned with signs that read "surge of sorrow" and another calling for a "peace surge." One woman held a fake baby made up of white cloth with red paint on it to look like blood.
When Clinton finally took her turn, the protesters applauded her call that any long-term security agreement worked out with the Iraqi government should be passed by the U.S. Congress as well.
The rest of the senators each had their moment to question Petraeus and Crocker, but most were ignored by the cameras and even the protesters. Journalists turned to their laptops and blackberries to sort through e-mails. And when both of the presidential candidates left early, the crowds thinned out to look like any other congressional hearing on any given day.