WASHINGTON – The creation of a special committee to investigate the 2012 Benghazi attacks carries the potential for political gains — and risks — for Republicans.
The panel — approved on a largely party-line vote — is to investigate “all policies, decisions, and activities” dealing with the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi that left four Americans dead. Its timetable is open-ended — virtually assuring that hearings will be held, and reports will be issued, as the 2016 presidential campaign unfolds.
On Friday, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, named six Republicans to join Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., on the committee: Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, Mike Pompeo of Kansas, Martha Roby of Alabama, Peter Roskam of Illinois and Susan Brooks of Indiana.
Democrats are torn about whether to participate. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that “this is a stunt,” and she wanted to talk to Boehner before deciding whether, or whom, to name. She also said the families of two of the victims had called and said, “Please don’t take us down this path again.”
Republicans, who will rule the committee 7-5, sense potential for staggering President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her way to the 2016 presidential race. They see fundraising possibilities, as well as a tool for firing up their base for this midterm election, a time when turnout is traditionally low.
Many Republicans also worry they’re playing with political fire. “The people who are seen as politicizing this are going to get burned” regardless of political party, warned Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Democrats have their own quandary. If they keep saying it’s all politics, they could look like they’re trying to avoid further examination of how the Obama administration responded to the attacks that killed four Americans including the U.S. ambassador to Libya. “If they’re seen as protecting the White House and Clinton, they’ll get burned,” Graham said.
Democrats seem unworried by that prospect. “Trying to politicize a tragedy where people lost their lives is not going to work out,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who last week endorsed Clinton for president in 2016.
Republicans see an opening for embarrassing Clinton, but polling suggests the public is not that interested. And a Pew Research Center survey last year, as Congress held hearings on Benghazi, found one-third of independents thought Republicans had gone too far.
While Republicans tend to follow Benghazi developments, independents and Democrats have been less engaged. When Congress held hearings on the incident a year ago, Pew found that 23 percent of Americans followed the hearings very closely.
Benghazi could matter politically, though, because it motivates Republicans, said Carroll Doherty, Pew director of political research. The party is trying to show Benghazi is part of a pattern typical of Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.