Democrats Split on Benghazi Panel Response, GOP Full Speed Ahead
House Democrats remain split on how to respond to a new special committee tasked with re-investigating the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, with leaders and party members vacillating between a symbolic boycott or begrudging participation.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., did not tip her hand in a closed door meeting Wednesday and has not yet decided whether she will allow her caucus to participate in the special panel. But more members who spoke up in the caucus meeting said they think Democrats should boycott, according to sources in the room.
One thing is certain: Democrats nearly unanimously believe the investigation is a political sham. As the Thursday vote on the resolution empaneling the committee approaches, Democratic leaders spent Wednesday whipping their members during and between votes on the House floor against the legislation to keep Republicans from the possibility of picking off a few politically imperiled Democrats.
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., sent a notice to his caucus urging members to vote no.
“A Select Committee is nothing more than an attempt to exploit the deaths of four brave Americans to divert attention away from Republicans’ own do-nothing record, and throw red meat to the most extreme and conspiracy-obsessed parts of their base,” read the email, obtained by CQ-Roll Call.
Yet the email did not note whether leaders would choose to participate, and sources said the choice would be Pelosi’s alone. That did not keep members of leadership from strongly expressing their opinions.
Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York both spoke against participating in the committee, which they believe is a political stunt.
Speaker John A. Boehner announced Tuesday that Republicans would outnumber Democrats 7-5 on the committee, which is charged with investigating the Obama administration’s handling of the attack that killed four Americans.
According to sources, Israel said in Wednesday’s meeting that Democrats will be complicit in the sham if they participate and the public could lash out against them and Republicans alike for wasting taxpayer resources.
Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., perhaps the most forceful voice in the caucus’ weekly meeting in favor of participating, noted that having seats on the committee will be the only way to access the documents Republicans get and rebut them.
Asked after the meeting how his point of view was received, Waxman answered, “Some agreed and some not.”
“Different people have different points of view,” he said.
Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., the DCCC’s finance chairman, agreed with Waxman that the party should appoint members to the committee. But many other Democrats spoke in favor of non-participation.
“I personally don’t think we should be involved,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio.
Donna Edwards, D-Md., agreed that Democrats should withhold their members from the panel.
“There’s no there there,” Edwards said, summoning President’s Barack Obama’s pat line on Benghazi. “We should let them play in the sandbox by themselves.”
Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., said he does not think Democrats should participate either, “at this time.” In terms of process, Connolly said, the committee lacked formal rules of engagement.
“Absent rules, you’ve got chaos,” Connolly said. “We’re not going to create another Darrell Issa,” he continued, referencing the Oversight and Government Reform chairman, who has so far been Republicans’ point-man — and Democrats’ boogeyman — on the Benghazi investigation.
Pelosi had been adamant that the panel should have an even split of Democrats and Republicans. But the resolution authorizing the committee, released late Tuesday, called for a 7-5 split in favor of Republicans.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who will chair the special committee, dismissed Pelosi’s demands in an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday.
“As the president loves to say, elections have consequences. And one of the consequences is there are more Republicans in the House than Democrats. Simply because something is evenly distributed does not necessarily … enhance its credibility,” he said.
While Democrats are split about how to respond, Republicans are unanimously moving forward. Boehner told his conference at a private meeting Wednesday morning that the committee is necessary because he believes the administration was stonewalling congressional investigators and not handing over documents.
“I continued to believe until last week that our four committees that had been investigating Benghazi had done a very good job. But a line was crossed last week,” he told reporters after the meeting. “It was time for us to bring this together into one place and to focus our efforts. … This is not going to be a sideshow. This is not going to be a circus. This is a serious investigation.”
Emma Dumain and David Eldridge contributed to this report.