Pelosi demands equal split on Benghazi select panel

Good luck with that. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi faces pressure from all sides in regard to the newly-launched select committee to investigate Benghazi. Participating would legitimize the results, while boycotting it might open up Democrats to attacks on their concern for diplomatic personnel abroad, four of whom were killed in the attack on September 11, 2012, and leave administration officials no way to set the narrative through the friendly questioning of Democrats on the panel during public hearings. Pelosi hedged in the direction of participation by demanding an equal number of seats on the committee:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the select committee probing the attack in Benghazi should be split equally between Democrats and Republicans.

“If this review is to be fair, it must be truly bipartisan,” Pelosi said in a Tuesday morning 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 could it be fair.”

Unfortunately for Pelosi, her own track record with select committees sets the precedent in the other direction. John Boehner pointed out — and Politico’s Jake Sherman did as well — that Pelosi gave Democrats nine of the fifteen seats on the House select committee on global warming in 2007.

Newly-appointed chair Trey Gowdy poured cold water on that demand immediately (via The Right Scoop, at the 4:30 mark):

MARTHA: All right. So talk to me a little it about the makeup of this committee because Nancy Pelosi just said moments ago, to our Chad Pergram, he reported that she wants this to be an evenly divided select committee, an even number of Democrats and Republicans.

And you know that up to that statement, there have been a lot of calls for Democrats to completely boycott this committee. And there’s going to be be very little credibility if it is full of Republicans, many would say.

GOWDY: Well, I certainly hope the Democrats participate. I, Martha, continue to think that some things transcend politics like the murder of four of our fellow citizens and whether or not you trust government. That is not a red or blue issue. That is an American issue. As for whether or not they boycott, I hope they don’t.

I can tell you this. It is not going to be evenly constituted and when she was Speaker Pelosi, she certainly showed no interests in having an equal number of Republicans and Democrats.

We’re in the majority. That may or may not be the case after November but we’re in the majority right now and we’re in the majority for a reason. And I just find it interesting that people’s ability to do math changes when they go from being the Speaker to the Minority Leader.

MARTHA: So what, tell me what composition you see on this select committee? What would you like it to be?

GOWDY: Well, the Speaker is going to decide that. Something in the 10-7 range or like what we have with other committees now. Every committee of Congress is constituted with more Republicans than Democrats because there are more Republicans than Democrats. And i hasten to add, every committee in the Senate is constituted with more Democrats than Republicans. I mean there are consequences to elections.

That leaves Pelosi back at square one. Does she boycott the committee and leave administration officials in the hands of the GOP with no way to push back against their interrogations, or join up and offer cooperation in the probe? Bear in mind, a refusal to cooperate will mean that Democrats won’t be able to participate in the depositions either, which Gowdy points out will be much more effective in uncovering the truth than televised hearings. Republicans will be able to release testimony at will without any opportunity to provide the context in which it was given. If the panel digs out truly scandalous information, House Democrats will be left twisting in the wind.

I’d bet on Pelosi deciding to participate. There are too many ways to lose in the other direction, and even with their participation Democrats can still claim that the entire process is politicized anyway. Why give up the small advantages they’ll have just to sit on the sidelines?