House votes to form special committee to investigate Benghazi attacks


The select committee will be chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), center. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The House voted Thursday afternoon to form a 12-member committee to investigate the Obama administration’s handling of the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans.

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

Top House Democrats, who accuse the GOP of reviving their outrage about the attacks in an effort to mobilize their voter base before the fall midterm elections, had urged their members to vote against the measure.

Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is expected to name the other Republican members of the committee on Friday. It is unclear whether Democrats will participate.

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

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had asked that the committee membership be split 50-50, but House Republican leaders instead structured the panel with seven Republicans and five Democrats.

That fueled speculation that Democrats would decline to participate altogether, with Rep. James E. Clyburn (S.C.), a member of the Democratic House leadership, saying, “I’m not bringing a noose to my hanging.”

The Benghazi attacks occurred just weeks before the 2012 presidential election. Initially, the State Department blamed the attacks on a controversial YouTube video that had sparked protests throughout the Middle East, which proved to be an incomplete — if not inaccurate — explanation.

Republicans have accused the Obama administration of purposely crafting dishonest talking points to insulate the president from criticism during an election year.

That furor was reignited this month when a conservative watchdog group obtained new State Department e-mails about the attacks — messages that had been previously withheld from the House committee investigating the administration’s handling of the situation.

Meanwhile, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) has privately advised Democrats that it would be wise to boycott the investigative committee, prompting calls from several prominent Democrats for the party to boycott the panel altogether.

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

“I will support the leader with whatever she does. I respect her judgment,” said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), speaking to reporters before 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 A. Waxman (Calif.), who has argued in Democratic caucus meetings in favor of participating on the panel. “If there is one created, I think the Democrats ought to be there.”

Republican aides, who say that GOP House leaders want the committee to be perceived as legitimate and not overtly political, have continually insisted that they think the Democrats will take part in some way.

“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 before 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 eager to participate. More than a dozen have said in interviews this week that they want to be named to the committee, and many of the caucus members have 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,” Rep. Lynn A. Westmoreland (Ga.) said in an interview Wednesday.

Wesley Lowery covers Capitol Hill for The Fix and Post Politics.
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