House votes to impanel select committee on Benghazi


Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), center, walks with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), left, and Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) as they arrive for a House Republican Conference meeting at the Capitol in Washington on May 7. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The House of Representatives voted Thursday afternoon to form a 12-member committee to further probe the Obama administration's handling of the 2012 terror attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead.

In a 233 to 186 vote — which fell largely along party lines, with Republicans overwhelmingly in support — the House voted to form the select committee, which will be chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). Seven Democrats -- all of whom represent conservative-leaning districts -- voted in favor of forming the committee.

Top House Democrats, who accuse the GOP of reviving their outrage about the attacks as a means of mobilizing their voter base in advance of the midterm elections, had urged their members to vote against the committee.

Speaker John A. Boehner is expected to name the other GOP members of the committee sometime Friday, while it remains unclear whether Democrats will participate at all.

The formation of the select committee, announced last week by Boehner, has been marred by partisan bickering.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had asked that the committee membership be split 50-50, but House GOP leadership instead structured the committee with seven Republican seats and five Democratic ones.

That fueled speculation that Democrats would refuse to participate in the committee altogether, with Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), a member of the Democratic House leadership,  declaring, "I'm not bringing a noose to my hanging." Meanwhile, Democratic Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Israel has privately advised Democrats that it would be wise to boycott the committee.

But the public rhetoric regarding the committee has softened as the week has progressed, with several prominent Democrats saying Thursday that  they were open to participating in the panel, at least partially.

"I will support the leader with whatever she does, I respect her judgement," said Rep. Elijah Cummings  (D-Md.), speaking to reporters prior to the vote.

"I think it's outrageous that they want to, after four or five committees holding hearings on this issue, create another one," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who has argued in Democratic caucus meetings in favor of participating in the committee. "If there is one created, I think the Democrats ought to be there."

Republican aides, who say that GOP leadership wants the committee to be perceived as legitimate and not overtly political, have continually insisted that they believe the Democrats will participate in some fashion.

"This doesn’t need to be, shouldn’t be and will not be a partisan process," Boehner said in a speech from the House floor prior to the vote. "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. Our system of government depends on transparency and accountability. And either we do this well or we face the terrifying prospect of our people having less knowledge and less power over their own government. We owe it to future generations to make the right choice."

House Republicans, meanwhile, are clamoring to participate in the committee. More than a dozen House Republicans have said in interviews this week that they want to be named to the committee, and a large swath of the caucus has petitioned the leadership to be considered for one of the seven GOP slots.

"There's been about 206 members that have asked to be on it," said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), in an interview Wednesday.

Wesley Lowery is a national reporter covering law enforcement and justice for the Washington Post. He previously covered Congress and national politics.

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