- - Friday, March 14, 2014

How many House Republicans does it take to change a light bulb?

It’s a trick question. They wouldn’t try. They prefer to just sit in the dark and complain that someone else isn’t changing it.

Their proclivity for trepidation and their ineptitude explains why, a-year-and-a-half after we suffered a brutal terrorist attack in Benghazi, Congress and the American people are still being kept in the dark about so many facts essential for grasping the truth and thereby learning the right lessons from this great national tragedy.

President Obama, Hillary Clinton and their fellow Democrats may not want the American people to learn the whole truth about Benghazi — but it is not within their power to prevent this.

Getting that truth out to the public is absolutely within the power of House Republicans — but so far they’ve refrained from truly trying to make this happen.

This means that the blame for our still being in the dark about Benghazi lies squarely with the House Republicans.

Let me explain.

With the Obama administration resorting to deception and stonewalling to blur and block the truth about Benghazi, House Speaker John A. Boehner announced not long after the attack that he was fed up and was making it a “top priority” to get the truth out to the American people.

On Dec. 4, 2012, Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, introduced a resolution to create a House Select Committee to investigate Benghazi, a select committee being generally regarded as the best approach for an intelligent, well-coordinated, bipartisan investigation.

Unlike a standing committee, which is certain to be constantly distracted by other matters impeding its effective use of time, resource and expertise, a select committee is able to focus its attention solely on a particular issue.

At the beginning, Mr. Boehner said the right things, and Mr. Wolf urged the right approach. Yet we still lack answers to most of the truly essential questions, including this, the most important one: Who is responsible for the utter failure to pre-position U.S. military assets within range to be supportive in the event of an attack, and what, if any, disciplinary action has been taken or is contemplated?

What is the explanation for why House Republicans have not been able to get to the bottom of Benghazi? In a nutshell: either a failure to follow through or a lack of will, with special blame going to Mr. Boehner and his band of so-called leaders.

All Mr. Boehner had to do was approve establishing a single-focused select committee as Mr. Wolf had urged. He has yet to do that. Any focused investigation has been hamstrung because in such a committee’s absence, an unusually large number of different committees could claim some bit of jurisdiction.

However, because those half-dozen committee chairmen apparently didn’t want to lose whatever small piece of the action they might claim for their committees, Mr. Boehner has opted to block the formation of a select committee, though he has to know such a committee represents the country’s only hope of getting at the facts.

Mr. Wolf, to his credit, has persisted, making a consistently intelligent and thoughtful case for the select committee — and the number of House Republicans who joined him by signing on as co-sponsors to his bill urging its formation has steadily increased.

As that number neared two-thirds of the Republican membership, however, “leadership” aggressively discouraged others from joining in, but many signed on anyway.

This brings us to where we are today: 189 of the 232 House Republicans are now on record co-sponsoring the bill demanding a select committee. That’s eight out of 10 House Republicans.

Mr. Wolf is right when he says that “outside groups deserve more credit than Congress” for uncovering crucial Benghazi details. Mr. Wolf is also right when he says that “it is startling how little progress has been made in this investigation” and that “the lack of answers is inexcusable.”

What excuse can Mr. Wolf and his co-sponsors possibly have for not being able to carry the day in the House Republican Conference?

How can 81 percent of House Republicans unite on an issue the country needs and clearly supports, and still manage to be on the losing side within their own party membership? The answer, of course, is that while they have talked a good game, they haven’t truly tried.

Mr. Wolf and his Gang of 189 House Republicans have thus far failed to do anything bolder than whine, wring their hands and meekly complain that someone else — Mr. Obama or Mr. Boehner — isn’t getting it done.

What they should have done long before now is confront the speaker both publicly and before the House Republican Conference and give him this ultimatum: If you make the select committee a reality and you like your job, you can keep it.

If they don’t wise up and do this very soon, the conservative movement should launch a crusade to force House Republicans to do the right thing. We need to judge our elected representatives not just by what they do, but also by what they fail to do.

Fred J. Eckert twice served as a U.S. ambassador under President Reagan and is a former Republican member of the House of Representatives from New York.