Why The Benghazi Committee Is A Rare Win-Win-Win For Congress

May 9, 2014
Originally published on May 9, 2014 5:20 pm

As hopeful Republicans anticipate how their new select committee will get the Benghazi issue a full airing, and as Democrats gnash their teeth at what they're calling a political stunt, here's another possible scenario: It won't make much difference either way.

The new committee has subpoena power — just like the House Oversight Committee, which has already been investing Benghazi. The new committee will be able to look at classified material — just like the House Intelligence Committee, which has also been investigating Benghazi.

So while the newly minted committee has gotten headlines and will likely get some more at its first few hearings, it's hard to see how it will take the investigation of the 2012 attack on the diplomatic post and the death of four Americans there much further than it has already gone.

In that sense, it could be a rare political win-win-win.

For House Speaker John Boehner, the creation of the committee earns him points with the GOP's Tea Party wing, which had been clamoring for a select committee for months. Boehner, for his part, had been resisting for months.

Just five weeks ago, Boehner went on Fox News and said there was no need for a fifth House panel to look at Benghazi. "At this point in time I see no reason to break up all the work that's been done and to take months and months and months to create some select committee," he said.

Yes, his change of heart came after a White House email that hadn't been given to congressional staff turned up in a Freedom of Information Act request. But it also came after Boehner earned himself some grief for mocking his caucus for not passing an immigration overhaul.

For the Tea Party wing, this is clearly a victory. While some Republicans privately see the whole issue as little more than red meat to fire up the base going into an election, many others honestly believe the Obama administration has conducted a cover-up. For them, the select committee is the long-awaited tool to prove it.

And for House Democrats, who see Benghazi as a tragedy but not a scandal, dealing with a single committee may well be preferable to having to prepare for hearings and testimony at four separate committees. Even though they complain of the committee's 7-5 partisan split in terms of membership, that's not terribly different from their proportion of seats on the other committees that have been probing Benghazi (42 percent on the select committee, compared with 45 percent on those existing committees).

Come to think of it, that point about keeping track of a single committee with a total of 12 members rather than four committees with a combined membership of 170 also applies to journalists covering the Benghazi investigation.

So make that a win-win-win-win.

S.V. Dáte edits congressional and campaign finance coverage for NPR's Washington Desk.

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