Republicans Have Created Their Benghazi Select Committee. Now What?

The House approved the special panel, with little Democratic support.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, answers questions during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill, May 8, 2014 in Washington, D.C.
National Journal
Elahe Izadi Sarah Mimms
May 8, 2014, 2:30 p.m.

It’s of­fi­cial: The House has its Benghazi se­lect com­mit­tee, ap­proved along party lines 232-186.

The en­tire Re­pub­lic­an con­fer­ence voted Thursday even­ing to cre­ate the com­mit­tee, with just sev­en Demo­crats join­ing them. Demo­crats vot­ing in fa­vor of the cre­ation were Geor­gia’s John Bar­row, North Car­o­lina’s Mike McIntyre, Flor­ida’s Patrick Murphy, Min­nesota’s Col­lin Peterson, West Vir­gin­ia’s Nick Ra­hall, and Ari­zona’s Kyrsten Sinema and Ron Barber.

The new pan­el comes after nu­mer­ous hear­ings were held by four oth­er House com­mit­tees in­vest­ig­at­ing the Sept. 11, 2012, at­tacks in Libya that left four Amer­ic­ans dead, in­clud­ing U.S. Am­bas­sad­or Chris Stevens.

House Speak­er John Boehner has pre­vi­ously said a se­lect com­mit­tee was un­ne­ces­sary, but that changed with the re­lease of an email that had been sent by White House Deputy Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Ad­viser Ben Rhodes to then-United Na­tions Am­bas­sad­or Susan Rice. The email, which sug­gests the White House played a role in shap­ing how Rice dis­cussed the at­tacks, was ob­tained by the con­ser­vat­ive group Ju­di­cial Watch and has Re­pub­lic­ans con­cerned that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is with­hold­ing in­form­a­tion from Con­gress.

“This doesn’t need to be, shouldn’t be, and will not be a par­tis­an pro­cess,” Boehner said Thursday on the House floor. “Four Amer­ic­ans died at the hands of ter­ror­ists in a well-co­ordin­ated as­sault, and we will not take any short­cuts to the truth. We will not al­low any sideshows that dis­tract us from those goals.”

But Demo­crats have roundly re­jec­ted the need for a com­mit­tee, cit­ing the nu­mer­ous hear­ings and con­gres­sion­al work that has already gone in­to in­vest­ig­at­ing what happened in Benghazi and its af­ter­math. They charge that its form­a­tion is polit­ic­ally mo­tiv­ated, and they re­buked the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee for us­ing the cre­ation of the com­mit­tee to drive fun­drais­ing.

“This is noth­ing more than a kangaroo court in the mak­ing,” House Demo­crat­ic Caucus Chair­man Xavi­er Be­cerra said this week.

Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Car­o­lina, a re­spec­ted former fed­er­al pro­sec­utor known for dra­mat­ic ques­tion­ing who will lead the pan­el, has called on fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans to ab­stain from any fun­drais­ing based on the in­vest­ig­a­tion.

But House Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship hasn’t fol­lowed Gowdy’s suit; Boehner dodged the ques­tion of NR­CC fun­drais­ing, say­ing Thursday, “Our fo­cus is get­ting the truth for these four fam­il­ies and for the Amer­ic­an people.”

The pan­el has slots for sev­en Re­pub­lic­ans and five Demo­crats. Demo­crats are still weigh­ing wheth­er to ap­point mem­bers to the com­mit­tee; while lead­er­ship ap­pears to be lean­ing to­ward a boy­cott, they haven’t made it of­fi­cial yet. They could make an an­nounce­ment as early as Fri­day, ac­cord­ing to a lead­er­ship aide.

House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi and Minor­ity Whip Steny Hoy­er sent a let­ter to Boehner earli­er this week, re­quest­ing equal num­bers of Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats on the pan­el, as well as equal rep­res­ent­a­tion when it comes to the is­su­ance of sub­poen­as and how doc­u­ments are ob­tained and po­ten­tially re­leased, among oth­er points.

The com­mit­tee’s work could go on for years, well in­to the next cam­paign cycle. This par­tic­u­lar com­mit­tee ex­pires at the end of the 113th Con­gress, but the next Con­gress can reau­thor­ize it. If lead­er­ship chooses to do that, it won’t be hard — Re­pub­lic­ans are ex­pec­ted to main­tain con­trol of the House.

The money used for the com­mit­tee comes out of ex­ist­ing funds au­thor­ized for the func­tion­ing of the House, but a spe­cif­ic dol­lar amount for this com­mit­tee has not been spelled out.

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