House Republicans cleared the way Wednesday for a special investigative committee to look into the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack, pushing the resolution establishing the probe through the House Rules Committee and setting up a full House vote later this week.
The GOP defeated efforts to allow Democrats the same number of members as Republicans on the investigation, which Democrats said would have made the probe more fair and kept it from becoming a partisan attack. In particular, they worry about a GOP chairman having the power to issue subpoenas without getting Democrats’ approval, and say that Republicans can use their majority to issue a final report without a nod at bipartisanship.
“Unfortunately, the resolution introduced by the Majority outlines another purely partisan panel to recycle the same tired accusations from now until the midterm elections and perhaps beyond,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter, New York Democrat and the ranking member on the Rules Committee.
But Rep. Trey Gowdy, the man the GOP has tapped to lead the committee, vowed to run a fair investigation that will follow the facts.
“You can say whatever else you want — he’s not smart; his suit doesn’t match; bad haircut — no one will tell you I’m not fair,” the South Carolina Republican said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “And at the end of this, I think you’ll say the same thing.”
House Speaker John A. Boehner said it’s clear that a lack of cooperation from the Obama administration necessitated the special committee, saying it’s not going to be a “sideshow” or “circus.”
“We owe it to the future of our country and to the next administration to do our job, to make it clear that the types of activities that may have gone on here are not acceptable in our system of government,” said Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican.
The GOP effort already has run into some image problems, however.
Mr. Gowdy said the probe shouldn’t be used for fundraising. But the National Republican Congressional Committee, House Republicans’ campaign arm, had a blog post dated May 6 entitled “You Can Become a Benghazi Watchdog Right Now” in which people can enter their personal information. The site then displays the message “Stop Democrats from controlling all of Washington” and a choice of amounts of money the visitor can donate.
The White House seized on that development to label the committee a political ploy.
White House spokesman Joshua Earnest said the NRCC’s move “is a pretty good indication of the political motivation that’s at work here.”
“I’m reserving judgment knowing that we have already produced extensive materials to support a wide range of other investigations that have already been conducted, and noting the political motivation that seems rather obvious at this point,” Mr. Earnest said.
House Democrats were still weighing their options on the extent they plan to participate in the process. Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts said during the rules debate that if Ms. Slaughter’s resolution for equal membership was voted down he’d urge his leadership not to participate.
The expected vote on the resolution could be a double-edged sword for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and some of her more vulnerable members. If a substantial number of Democrats vote to establish the panel, it would blunt the party line that the issue has been turned into a partisan witch hunt. But if Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, allows some of her members in swing districts to go on the record and support the panel, it could provide them political cover in close races.
The new investigative committee would supersede all other House committees that are already conducting investigations. All of their files would have to be turned over to the new committee.
That would effectively end the ongoing investigation into Benghazi that House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, California Republican, has been running.
Democrats on Wednesday raised questions about the potential costs associated with the committee; in one cost-saving move, Mr. Boehner proposed that the new investigative committee try to borrow staff from existing committees.