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.
This article appears in the May 9, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.