By Alexander Bolton
and Mike Lillis - 05/07/14 06:00 AM EDT
Senate Republicans want to broaden the new Benghazi special committee to include members of the upper chamber.
Their call for a bipartisan, bicameral panel similar to the 9/11 Commission puts pressure on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is resisting the idea.
Republican lawmakers on Tuesday spoke out after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) outlined her conditions for establishing a select committee in the lower chamber to probe Benghazi. She said Democrats would participate only if the panel were “equally divided” between Democrats and Republicans.
A spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) immediately rejected Pelosi’s demand, but Senate Republicans said they would agree to an evenly divided special committee that included senators as well as House members.
“It would make sense if it were bicameral,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), a senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence panels.
“I would like to see that, with the ability to get information out of the State Department. That’s where the fault lies all the way to the top,” he told The Hill.
A bicameral special committee is necessary, according to Chambliss, because it would allow investigators to subpoena members of the State Department. He complained the Senate Intelligence Committee, on which he is the ranking Republican, lacked that power when it probed the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic annex in Benghazi.
“We were frustrated in our investigation by the lack of ability to subpoena witnesses and, particularly, subpoena documents from the State Department,” he said. “The State Department was not complicit in our investigation. They stonewalled us time and time again.”
Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), another senior Republican on Armed Services, said he would support setting up a bipartisan, bicameral special committee.
“Absolutely,” he said. “So there’s equal representation.”
McCain said it would be important to create such a panel because “the Senate has its responsibilities as well as the House.”
The Arizona senator noted that he and former Sen. Joe Lieberman, a centrist Democrat turned Independent from Connecticut, called for the creation of the 9/11 Commission more than a decade ago.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), another member of the Armed Services panel who has been outspoken about Benghazi, endorsed the idea.
“I’d like to see a bicameral committee, simply because Congress as a whole is affected by Benghazi. Both bodies I think have been manipulated by the White House,” he said.
Graham said the 9/11 Commission could serve as a model.
Both Graham and McCain voiced doubts that Reid would agree to such a proposal.
“It’s clear to me that both leaders of the Democratic Party do not have the same zeal to find out what happened at Benghazi as Republicans did with 9/11,” Graham said.
Graham noted that then-President George W. Bush initially opposed the creation of the 9/11 Commission but relented after McCain and Lieberman gave bipartisan backing to the idea.
Soon after the GOP comments, Reid dismissed the prospect of senators participating in a special investigation of the attack, which he argues have been reviewed ad nauseam.
“No, we’re not going to do any select special committee over here on Benghazi,” he told reporters.
House Republicans are poised to vote later this week to create the committee, and the motion has the backing to pass. Speculation has swirled about whether the Democrats would boycott the process, as they did a similar 2005 investigation into the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, which they deemed a partisan whitewash.
Pelosi on Tuesday didn’t go that far, though a boycott is clearly still an option on the table. The minority leader amplified the Democrats’ criticism that the select committee on Benghazi is unnecessary in light of numerous other probes into the tragedy. But she also suggested the Democrats would participate if the process is open and evenly bipartisan.
“If this review is to be fair, it must be truly bipartisan,” Pelosi said in a statement. “The panel should be equally divided between Democrats and Republicans as is done on the House Ethics Committee. It should require that witnesses are called and interviewed, subpoenas are issued, and information is shared on a bipartisan basis.
“Only then,” she added, “could it be fair.”
It’s unclear if Pelosi’s 50/50 stipulation is a mandatory condition of the Democrats’ participation on the panel. If it is, then the committee might consist only of Republicans.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who will head the special panel, suggested Tuesday that the Republicans, who control the House, will hold more seats on the panel.
“We’re the majority right now,” Gowdy said, according to reports. “We’re the majority for a reason.”
At press time, House Republicans announced that the panel would consist of seven GOP members and five Democrats.
Pelosi’s openness to participating in the probe is hardly an endorsement of the special investigation. Democrats have characterized the new probe as a politically motivated stunt to embarrass both the Obama administration and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Pelosi’s move reveals that Democrats are wary of giving up a presence on the panel, which would allow Republican investigators to take shots at the White House without rebuttal.
Boehner’s office on Tuesday accused Pelosi of a double standard because, as Speaker in 2007, she created a special committee on global warming that consisted of nine Democrats and six Republicans.
House Democrats fired back, noting that the climate change panel was launched at the outset of the 110th Congress, just as the Democrats were taking back power, to complement standing committees. It was not, the Democrats emphasized, a special panel created to investigate the White House response to a specific incident.