On Tuesday night, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) acknowledged a fact that everyone knows, but which Republicans aren't supposed to admit out loud: the GOP's taxpayer-financed Benghazi committee is all about the Republicans' “strategy to fight and win” against Hillary Clinton. It’s not, in other words, about investigating an attack that left four Americans dead.
As the uproar continued yesterday, McCarthy and GOP leaders spent the day "scrambling to undo the damage." That included the California Republican sitting down with Fox News' Bret Baier in the hopes of putting out the fire. McCarthy, the likely next Speaker of the House, stuck to an awkwardly worded script.
"I did not intend to imply in any way that [the committee's] work was political. Of course it is not; look at the way they have carried themselves out. [...] "I do not want to make that harm Benghazi committee in any way because it’s not political.”
On a substantive level, McCarthy's explanation was a mess. Just two days after acknowledging reality, the GOP leader now wants to pretend the obvious partisan exercise isn't "political" at all. As proof, he urges us to "look at the way they have carried themselves out." That's clumsy phrasing, but if we do examine how the committee has conducted itself, a picture of a brazenly political tool emerges.
On a rhetorical level, McCarthy didn't exactly inspire confidence. At one point in the interview, he said, "It wasn't what I, in my mind, was saying out there." Good to know.
Behind the scenes, some Republican insiders are quietly starting to refer to McCarthy as "the new Dan Quayle." I don't think they mean it as a compliment.
With less than a week remaining before the House GOP leadership elections, it's not unreasonable to wonder whether McCarthy's bid to become the next Speaker of the House is now in jeopardy. He has some critics within his party, and his accidental truth-telling this week has them on the offensive.
What's more, away from Capitol Hill, influential Republican media figures -- including Erick Erickson and Bill Kristol -- are making clear that they have real concerns about McCarthy's likely promotion.
The fact remains, however, that McCarthy does not yet have a credible rival for the Speaker's gavel. In his Fox interview yesterday, he added that he's "close" to securing the votes necessary to replace John Boehner.
As for congressional Democrats, who were delighted to hear McCarthy confess what they've feared all along, there's been some chatter that Benghazi committee Democrats might resign from the panel in protest. Yesterday, however, the Washington Post's Greg Sargent reported that House Democrats have decided not to do that.
Greg's report added that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) warned that Democrats "just might pull their participation one of these days, but that she is encouraging Democrats to attend, for now, anyway."
Senate Democratic leaders, meanwhile, urged Boehner yesterday to shut down the committee, ending this farce. The outgoing Speaker is unlikely to pull the plug, however, on his own party's taxpayer-funded election stunt.