The House beat back an attempt Wednesday to dismantle the committee probing the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attacks as Republicans rallied around the controversial probe just two weeks before former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is slated to testify before it.
Democrats have accused the Select Committee on Benghazi of being little more than a political attack machine designed to derail Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign, and have seized on comments by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy as evidence.
Rep. Louise Slaughter, New York Democrat, proposed disbanding the panel, but Republicans ruled that out of order and then voted along party lines, 240-183, to shoot down an appeal.
“The core Republican goal has been to use taxpayer funds — and I want to emphasize that — taxpayer funds to damage Secretary Clinton’s bid for president,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the Benghazi panel, who has repeatedly criticized it for what he said was work aimed more at damaging Mrs. Clinton than getting to the bottom of the 2012 attack.
“This is shameful. Republicans have exploited this tragedy and the deaths of four American heroes for political gain,” he said.
Mr. McCarthy gave Democrats valuable ammunition for their attack last week when he told Fox News about the panel: “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee. A select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known that any of that had happened had we not fought to make that happen.”
On Wednesday the California Republican defended the committee and said he’d messed up what he was trying to say.
“Let’s be very clear: Benghazi’s not political,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters. “It was created for one purpose and one purpose only: to find the truth on behalf of the families of the four dead Americans — period.”
Appearing on MSNBC Wednesday morning, Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican and the Benghazi panel chairman, said Mr. McCarthy was “wrong” and he “screwed up.”
Mr. Gowdy pledged to continue to conduct a fair process, including at the Oct. 22 hearing.
House Speaker John A. Boehner came to Mr. McCarthy’s defense, saying any American would want the opportunity to say something over again.
“There’s not one American that hasn’t had this experience,” said Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “Benghazi’s committee is about what happened before, during, and after a terrorist attack in Libya where four Americans died. The American people deserve the truth about what happened, period.”
Mr. McCarthy has mounted a campaign to be the next House speaker once Mr. Boehner leaves Congress at the end of the month.
But the White House said Wednesday it wasn’t buying Mr. McCarthy’s latest explanation.
“It’s quite clear that in trying to make the case to conservatives on Fox News … that Mr. McCarthy was trying to burnish his conservative credentials,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
“The best justification that he could use was the fact that he’d been instrumental in standing up a select committee that had taken its toll on Secretary Clinton’s presidential prospects. That’s the way he described his motivation and the motivation of the committee,” Mr. Earnest said, adding that Mr. McCarthy “seemed quite proud of it.”
⦁ Dave Boyer contributed to this report.