House Democrats had a few options when responding to the House Republicans’ latest Benghazi committee. The House minority is well aware that it’s a partisan exercise, focused more on fundraising and base mobilization, but had to decide what to do about it.
Democrats could agree to appoint five members to the select committee – they sought equal treatment so the panel would be bipartisan, but Republicans insisted on a 7-to-5 advantage – if for no other reason than to keep an eye on the GOP witch hunt. They also considered boycotting the sham investigation, denying it legitimacy, and possibly appointing just one member.
This afternoon, however, Pelosi once again took the high road, appointing five House Democrats to the panel:
* Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), Ranking Member, Committee on Oversight & Government Reform
* Adam Smith (D-WA), Ranking Member, Armed Services Committee
* Adam B. Schiff (D-CA), Committee on Appropriations (Subcommittee on State & Foreign Operations), Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
* Linda T. Sanchez (D-CA), Committee on Ways and Means (Subcommittee on Oversight)
* Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Armed Services Committee, Committee on Oversight & Government Reform
Cummings, perhaps best known for effectively pushing back against Darrell Issa’s nonsense at the House Oversight Committee, will serve as the Dems’ “ranking member” on the select committee.
Of the five, four have a background as attorneys. The exception is Duckworth, though she brings her own credibility to the table.
Note, of course, that Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) didn’t make the cut.
As for whether Pelosi’s decision to cooperate with this charade is wise, we’ll know soon enough whether or not House Democrats miscalculated. There can be no doubt that Democratic leaders are approaching this with their eyes open – Pelosi and others have repeatedly condemned this latest committee as a “sham” – but they nevertheless appear to have concluded that it’s better to be in the room looking out than outside the room looking in.
I’m reminded of Greg Sargent’s recent chat with Norm Ornstein.
In purely political terms, this isn’t necessarily an easy call for Dems, because there is some benefit in participating, even if the committee is constructed in a ridiculously partisan fashion. “Some of these hearings are going to be televised,” Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein tells me. “The question is, does it make more sense to be in there, participating in the process and pointing out Republican overkill again and again, or does it make more sense to further destroy the image of the committee by staying out of it?”
Pelosi, who knows a fair amount about Capitol Hill strategizing, has gone with the former over the latter.
I’m not sure if I would have made the same choice, though as we talked about a few weeks ago, if Dems are in the room, they can at least occasionally highlight facts for anyone watching the process unfold. During testimony, Fox will probably break for commercials whenever Democrats ask questions of witnesses, but for anyone else paying attention, a little pushback during the hearings might add some variety to the charade.