In case you missed it, the presumptive next Speaker of the House really stepped in it last night.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), speaking on Fox News, undid a concerted effort over the last year to paint the work of the Select Committee on Benghazi as a substantive probe of the 2012 attacks. Asked for an accomplishment by House Republicans, here’s what McCarthy told Sean Hannity:
“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” he said. “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 any of that had happened, had we not fought.”
It probably didn’t help the GOP narrative that for much of the day, conservatives sought to draft Benghazi committee chair Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) into the majority leader race (Gowdy demurred, preferring to stay atop the Benghazi panel). McCarthy and Gowdy are close, and Gowdy would’ve been seeking the No. 2 job in the House GOP Conference.
The remarks also elicited strong responses from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the Benghazi Select Committee:
“This stunning concession from Rep. McCarthy reveals the truth that Republicans never dared admit in public: the core Republican goal in establishing the Benghazi Committee was always to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and never to conduct an even-handed search for the facts. It is shameful that Republicans have used this tragedy and the deaths of our fellow Americans for political gain. Republicans have blatantly abused their authority in Congress by spending more than $4.5 million in taxpayer funds to pay for a political campaign against Hillary Clinton.”
As our colleague Chris Cillizza points out, the gaffe isn’t likely to upset McCarthy’s ascension to speaker. But it should give Republicans pause for two reasons, he argues:
The first is that being speaker is not sort-of-the-same as being majority leader (McCarthy’s current job) or majority whip (the job McCarthy held until last summer). You are not the man standing next to the man or the man standing next to the man standing next to the man. You are the man. What you say gets endlessly parsed by reporters and picked apart by your political rivals — both those in the other party and those in your party. You can’t get flustered. You can’t blurt. You can’t get bullied by a talk show host.
The second is that McCarthy’s rise to the top job has been remarkably rapid. As Philip Bump wrote in this space earlier in the week, McCarthy would be the least-experienced speaker of the House in more than 100 years.