- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2014

With votes looming to create a special committee to investigate the Benghazi attacks, hold former IRS official Lois G. Lerner in contempt of Congress and demand a special counsel to look into the IRS, House Republicans have created a political minefield for Democrats in tough re-election races.

The votes all pit Congress against the White House and the broader Obama administration over key transparency questions — though they also open Republicans to charges of political grandstanding.

First up this week is a vote on holding Ms. Lerner, former head of the Internal Revenue Service’s tax-exempt organizations office, in contempt of Congress. That will be coupled with a vote officially asking the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the tax agency for inappropriate scrutiny of tea party organizations.

Late last week, House Republican leaders said they also would move to create a special select committee to investigate the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, and the administration’s response. That vote, too, could go to the floor this week.

“It’s clear that questions remain, and the administration still does not respect the authority of Congress to provide proper oversight,” House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said in announcing the move. “This dismissiveness and evasion requires us to elevate the investigation to a new level.”

That the votes are so close together is somewhat of an accident.

SEE ALSO: Pelosi says she ‘couldn’t care less’ about Benghazi criticism

“We’ve ended up at this place ultimately for the same reasons: that’s the refusal to cooperate with legitimate inquiries and requests for legitimate information by Congress,” said Doug Heye, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.

Mr. Heye predicted that the House will pass the resolutions without difficulty, given the Republican majority.

But red-state Democrats in the House, some of whom are fighting for their political lives, will have to decide whether to side with the embattled president and resist the investigations and questions or whether to vote with Republicans.

Republicans are certain to point to every Democratic vote for one of the investigations or referrals as added credence.

Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and senior director at QGA Public Affairs, said he would advise Democrats to resist pressure to vote for the investigations and referrals.

“I don’t think they should — at least in the House. They come from safe enough districts that most of them should be able to appreciate the fact that this is nothing other than partisan-driven overreach,” he said. “I’m sure some will vote for some or all of them, but I’m not sure the vast majority need to.”

SEE ALSO: Sen. Kelly Ayotte: ‘Not too late’ on Benghazi: ‘We have to get to the bottom of this’

He said the votes present a “classic example of [Republicans] energizing their base.”

Republicans said their hands were forced on Benghazi by the revelation last week that the State Department failed for months to turn over an email — which they said was part of a subpoena issued last year — showing a top White House official urging the U.S. ambassador to blame an anti-Islam video for sparking protests on Benghazi and other U.S. posts in the region.

Even if the House votes for a Benghazi commission, which seems likely, it’s unclear whether Democratic leaders will appoint members.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Republicans were engaging in “exploitation” of the issue, in an interview that was taped late last week and aired Sunday on MSNBC.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California questioned why Democrats would help Republicans.

“I don’t think it makes sense really for Democrats to participate,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think it’s just a tremendous red herring and a waste of taxpayer resources. So I hope the speaker will reconsider, but it looks as though he has bowed again to those on the farthest right of his conference.”

There is precedent for appointing a commission without any minority members. After Hurricane Katrina, House Republicans created a special investigative committee. But Democrats refused to appoint any members to it, demanding an independent “Sept. 11”-type commission.

As for the IRS, the House votes have been brewing for some time.

One of the votes would officially find that the House believes Ms. Lerner was in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify. It would send the matter to the Justice Department to pursue.

The other vote would directly request the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the entire IRS tea party targeting scandal. That resolution is advisory and would not force the hand of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

Mr. Manley said the series of votes on Benghazi and other issues is a tacit admission by Republican leaders that their attacks on Obamacare have proved fruitless.

“Today finally signaled that Republicans are pivoting away from Obamacare and spending the rest of the session focusing on Benghazi and other partisan investigations,” he said.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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