With few other options, Republicans double down on Benghazi

John Boehner and GOP leaders finish a news conference following a Republican strategy meeting at the Capitol in Washington, May 7, 2014.
John Boehner and GOP leaders finish a news conference following a Republican strategy meeting at the Capitol in Washington, May 7, 2014.

The economy is looking up. Obamacare isn’t self-destructing. Putin may have overplayed his hand. So what’s a Republican to do?


The GOP-led House voted 232-186 Thursday evening to formally establish a select committee, to be chaired by Rep. Trey Gowdy, to investigate the 2012 Benghazi attacks and the Obama administration’s response to them. Just seven Democrats voted for the resolution.

Democrats are considering boycotting the committee, which they see as a partisan witch-hunt. Democrats are set to meet Friday morning to discuss the potential boycott.

And the press has been skeptical that the panel will uncover anything that wasn’t unearthed by any of the seven existing congressional committees that have probed the attacks.

Still, Speaker John Boehner is sounding angrier and more frustrated than ever.

“When is the administration going to tell the American people the truth?” he asked Wednesday. “They’ve not told the truth about Benghazi, they’ve not told the truth about the I.R.S., they’ve not told the truth about Fast and Furious.”

For Republicans, doubling down on Benghazi—along with the other faux-scandals of the Obama administration that have likewise failed to yield fruit—is almost a no-brainer. The select committee lets Republicans accomplish a political trifecta: They can keep the issue in the news through the midterms, play to conservative activists, and, most important, rough up Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic candidate for 2016, who just happened to be secretary of state at the time of the attacks, all at once.

"Of course there are a lot of reasons why, despite all of the hearings, all of the information that’s been provided, some choose not to be satisfied and choose to continue to move forward," Clinton said at a Ford Foundation event Wednesday. "That’s their choice and I do not believe there is any reason for it to continue in this way, but they get to call the shots in Congress.”

More to the point: Recent developments in other areas have left the GOP without much else to talk about.

Ever since he took office, Republicans have been able to rely on the anemic economic recovery as an easy way to beat up on President Obama (never mind that they’ve simultaneously stood in the way of his efforts to get things moving again.) But now that the jobless rate has fallen to its lowest level since 2008, that attack line doesn’t resonate much anymore. In fact, as the public debate on the economy has shifted toward efforts to combat growing inequality, Republicans have found themselves increasingly on the defensive. They recently blocked a Democratic proposal to raise the minimum wage—an idea with overwhelming public support.

So too on Obamacare. Implacable opposition to the health care law has come to virtually define the GOP brand in the Obama era. For years, it’s been an article of faith on the right that Obamacare is doomed to implode under its own weight: It’ll raise, not lower, health care costs! Or maybe not enough people will sign up for the exchanges to work! Or else maybe not enough young and healthy people will sign up for the exchanges to work! Or it’s possible people who have signed up won’t pay their premiums!

But over the last month it’s become clear that none of these dire predictions is going to be borne out. Perhaps the final nail in the coffin hopes came this week, when GOP lawmakers held a hearing with health insurance execs, apparently hoping to hear them say that the law will cause premiums to rise next year—but came up empty.

Even on the crisis in Ukraine, the GOP has had to tread softly lately. Last month, when Vladimir Putin was annexing Crimea and looking like he might next help himself to large swathes of eastern Ukraine, Republicans and their conservative allies were pillorying Obama for his cautious approach, fretting that Putin was running rings around the U.S. 

But lately Putin appears to have realized that he overplayed his hand. On Wednesday he took a step back, calling for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. That’s left Obama’s strategy looking wise—and taken the steam out of Republican attacks on Obama over the issue.

So that leaves Benghazi. Though of course, that’s a path comes with perils of its own.

One of those was on display Wednesday when Gowdy loudly declared on msnbc’s Morning Joe that using the panel to raise money would be wrong—just minutes after a Republican campaign committee had sent out a fundraising solicitation that touted the establishment of the committee and urged supporters to become “Benghazi Watchdogs” by sending money.

Democrats, eager to portray the committee as a political effort, pounced. “Fundraising off the Benghazi tragedy is despicable and insulting and has no place in the national conversation,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Steve Israel said in a statement Thursday. “Speaker Boehner and Chairman Walden should immediately take down their BenghaziWatchdogs.com website and stop insulting the memory of the brave Americans who were lost there."