Updated, 5:33 p.m., May 21 | The House Democrats appointed to the special committee on Benghazi said Tuesday that they consider the panel unnecessary, but will participate if only to ensure Republicans do not politicize the deaths of four Americans.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said that after weeks of negotiations with Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, Republicans made no hard commitments that Democrats would be given power in procedural decisions made on the committee.
Yet Pelosi said she decided to name five Democrats to serve on the special committee looking into the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, because she believes the investigation into the attack carried out by Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., had been run unfairly. “We were not able to reach any agreement,” Pelosi told reporters about her negotiations with Boehner. “Regrettably the Republican approach does not prevent the unacceptable and repeated abuses committed by Chairman Issa in any meaningful way. That is all the more reason for Democrats to participate in the committee.”
Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland will continue to be the Democrats’ point man on the Benghazi investigation. He will serve as the committee’s ranking member opposite Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.
Cummings said he spoke with Gowdy on Tuesday and he hopes that he will be consulted before the committee issues subpoenas.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, but the one thing he did say to me is that he is hopeful that we are going to be able to have a situation where there will be fairness, and I am going to hold him to that,” Cummings told reporters.
Gowdy himself issued a statement following the Democrats’ news conference: “I respect Mr. Cummings and his work in Congress,” Gowdy said. “I look forward to working with him and the members of the committee toward an investigation and a process worthy of the American people and the four brave Americans who lost their lives in service to our country.”
Pelosi and Boehner spent weeks going back and forth about how the committee would operate. At first, she asked that the committee makeup be split evenly along party lines, a request that was summarily denied. Then she asked that the chairman cede unilateral power to subpoena witnesses in favor of a committee vote on those matters. Finally she asked that the committee only vote on controversial subpoenas, should they arise. All of those requests were denied as well, Pelosi said.
“That vote would have to take place in a business meeting, which is an open session, which is I think what they are afraid of,” Pelosi told reporters.
What Democrats do have is a staff memo from Boehner’s office that states that Republicans will attempt to give Democrats fair say in whom to subpoena and equal access to witnesses, documents and interview transcripts, said bipartisan sources familiar with the memo.
“We have offered assurances on committee procedures, but no substantive changes that could hurt the investigation,” a House GOP leadership aide said.
Pelosi met with Boehner on Tuesday and immediately after meeting, met with her leadership. She met with her leadership twice Wednesday before issuing the statement naming the committee members.
Armed Services ranking member Adam Smith of Washington will also sit on the panel, as will Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who sits on the Armed Services and Oversight committees. Smith, however, said he does not have high hopes for the panel.
“At this point it appears that this is a purely partisan and political effort. That is regrettable because my biggest concern here is the blow to Congress’ credibility. We don’t have a lot of that left,” Smith told reporters. “We can’t simply let the Republicans run the show, but I can tell you at this point I’m highly skeptical. When you look at the members they have appointed to the committee there, they’re lacking in experience in national security and foreign policy matters, for the most part.”
Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, who was an early voice calling for Democrats to boycott the panel, will serve on it, bringing expertise from the Intelligence Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.
“We’re going to do our best to make sure this doesn’t become a circus or continue to be a fundraising device,” Schiff said, referring to the National Republican Congressional Committee’s use of the issue to solicit money.
Rounding out the field is Rep. Linda T. Sánchez of California, who sits on the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight and who serves as ranking member on the Ethics Committee.