Saying they were tired of administration stonewalling, House Republicans voted Thursday to create a select committee to investigate the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi — but drew only scant support from Democrats who rallied around President Obama and called the probe a partisan inquisition.
The 232-186 vote garnered seven Democrats in favor of the committee and no Republicans opposed, bolstering Democratic leaders' argument that the panel lacks bipartisan credentials. Those leaders now must decide whether to participate in or boycott the committee.
Republican leaders said White House intransigence has forced the need for the committee, but House Speaker John A. Boehner promised that the probe will be fair and will follow the facts, not a partisan agenda.
"This doesn't need to be, shouldn't be, and will not be a partisan process," Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said 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, accountability or justice. And we will not allow any sideshows that distract us from those goals."
Democratic leaders dismissed the committee vote as a partisan sham, saying there has been enough investigation into the circumstances surrounding the attack, which left the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans dead.
"Republicans' unending eagerness to exploit these deaths is disrespectful to their families and unworthy of the American people," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said in a statement after the vote. "Our nation deserves better than yet another deeply partisan and political review."
The committee will put the issue back into the headlines as lawmakers gear up for midterm elections.
Democrats said election politics was part of the Republicans' motivation and accused them of using the issue to raise campaign funds.
The committee will be led by Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, and will have seven Republicans and five Democrats — that is, if Democrats agree to participate. Democrats wanted even membership and wanted all subpoenas to require bipartisan support.
For Mr. Boehner, endorsing the select committee amounted to a reversal. For months, he said the House Oversight and Government Reform, Armed Services, and Foreign Affairs committees were best positioned to investigate.
But after a conflict between two of those panels last week, and the revelation that the White House hadn't turned over a key memo suggesting a deeper role by close presidential aides in shaping the public relations response to the attack, Mr. Boehner said a special committee was warranted.
He has charged the committee with exploring security lapses leading up to the attack, the U.S. response to the attack, the Obama administration's initial effort to portray the attack as a mob uprising spawned by an anti-Islam video, and the efforts to go after the attackers. None of the perpetrators has been brought to justice.
Just seven Democrats voted for the inquiry. That was one more than voted Wednesday to find former Internal Revenue Service employee Lois G. Lerner in contempt of Congress, the result of another Republican investigation into the Obama administration.
But 26 Democrats voted Wednesday to ask the Justice Department to name a special prosecutor to look into the IRS more broadly.
Democratic leaders twisted arms to try to keep defections low on the Benghazi vote, and the seven who voted for the probe were chiefly from swing districts.
The number of members who broke rank is small enough that Democrats could justify boycotting the committee. But if Democrats don't participate, it could leave high-profile Benghazi figures such as Susan E. Rice and Hillary Rodham Clinton — the would-be front-runner for the party's 2016 presidential nomination — twisting in the wind if the committee subpoenas them to testify.
Their jeopardy could increase if Republicans win control of the Senate in November elections. Several Republicans have demanded that upper chamber institute its own inquiry or join the House.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he is comfortable with the 25,000 pages of documents that the State Department has turned over, the various reports completed, and a State Department internal review that found several lower-level employees responsible for bad decision-making.
House Democrats scheduled a caucus meeting for Friday morning to determine their next steps.
Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat, circulated a letter to colleagues late Thursday floating the idea that Democrats appoint just one member to the committee, a move that would signify a sufficient protest to Republicans' handling of the matter but also would give the party a voice in the process.
Conservatives, who sometimes have been at odds with Mr. Boehner, cheered the move and said the speaker likely got fed up with White House stonewalling of separate committee investigations.
"A lot of us had been asking for this for a long time," said Rep. Raul R. Labrador, Idaho Republican. "I am really excited that Trey Gowdy is chairing that committee. He is just somebody who is a dogged seeker of the truth, and that is what we are looking for here. I think it is the right thing and I really praise the speaker for it, for making the right decision on that."
Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, said that if Democrats oppose the makeup of the House committee, they could set up a similar panel in the Senate.
"They could set up their select committee in the Senate and run it just the way we are going to run one in the House," Mr. King said.
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