John Boehner and the debt limit
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

The skirmishing over the Benghazi probe is getting, er, fast and furious today. The latest development: A letter from Nancy Pelosi to John Boehner claiming his most recent terms for the Benghazi select committee are still unacceptable.

Democrats have been asking for equal representation on the committee (which will be made up of seven Republicans and five Dems), as well as meaningful influence over subpoenas, the manner in which witnesses will be questioned, and protocols governing how documents and other information will be obtained, employed, and released to the public.

Today Boehner delivered a memo to Pelosi outlining suggestions to address Dem concerns. Pelosi’s new letter rejects Boehner’s latest suggestions, claiming the structure being envisioned is still “fundamentally unfair” and risks duplicating “abuses” we’ve seen from House Oversight Committee chair Darrell Issa’s handling of the Benghazi probe thus far.

This afternoon Dem Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Oversight Dem who has long tangled with Issa, dismissed Boehner’s latest offer as a “slap in the face.”

My general sense, after talking to multiple Democratic aides, is that on balance, senior Dems see more advantage in participating with the committee than not. Initially sentiment within the caucus had leaned against it, and there are certainly plenty of Dems who still think boycotting the committee is the best way to go. But some Dems are arguing internally that having access to documents and witnesses could put them in a better position to do what Cummings has done to Issa, i.e., draw attention to missteps, overhyped claims and selective releases of info as they occur in real time.

What’s more, press coverage of the Benghazi affair thus far has left Dems with a sense that no matter what Dems do, press accounts will accord credibility — initially, at least — to whatever revelations Republicans serve up, even if they turn out to be bogus later. If the goal of boycotting the proceedings is to reveal them to be without credibility, that could be complicated by media treatment of the twists and turns in the probe, which will be unpredictable.

And so, Dems seem generally to be looking for a way to get to participation. There’s consensus internally among Dems, however, that Republicans need to make a genuine structural concession in their direction in order to give them a way to participate. Dems would probably be okay with the current balance of Republicans and Dems; they do need to see a real “give” in terms of process.

The flip side of this is that, by continuing to insist on a fairer structure, they are also laying the groundwork for a strong rationale for not participating if they don’t get a genuine concession in the direction of greater fairness, a rationale that will cast further doubt over the process.

 

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.