Democrats still delaying decision on Benghazi panel

Maybe they’re not actually delaying the decision, but suffering from smoke inhalation after putting up a screen of attacks on Republicans for consolidating the Congressional investigations into a single select committee. Despite a fairly straightforward issue of whether it’s better to boycott the unified investigation into Benghazi as simply partisan nonsense or to participate in order to shape the outcome, Democratic leadership still can’t make up their minds about it:

It remains to be seen whether the House select committee to investigate the Benghazi will turn up any new information about the 2012 attacks that left four Americans dead. But with every day that passes it looks less and less likely the panel’s conclusions will be regarded as nonpartisan as Democrats and Republicans have spent the past week engaging in a fierce battle over which party is responsible for politicizing the tragedy.

Although the House formally approved the creation of the panel in a virtual party-line vote last Thursday (7 Democrats joined the entire Republican conference in voting for it), Democrats have yet to decide whether they will participate. On Friday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said her members were divided: some feared participating in a “kangaroo court,” while others think it is important to have at least one Democrat on the committee to monitor what the Republicans are doing.

Pelosi’s office is negotiating with staff to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to determine the conditions under which Democrats will participate. They are seeking Democratic input and concurrence on issuing subpoenas, decisions to depose witnesses, the release of any reports, documents or information by the committee, which was not guaranteed in a proposal offered by Boehner’s office Friday, they said.

“We’ve participated in all the other seven investigations. If it’s a fair, open and balanced process, absolutely [we will participate],” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., said on “Fox News Sunday.” “But we don’t want to see reckless, irresponsible handling of an affair that took the lives of four brave Americans.”

Well, that’s one way to put it. Most Democrats, though, have scoffed at the need to investigate the attack and its root causes at all. The latest talking point, that there have been seven investigations, is designed to make it sound like another investigation will do nothing but duplicate the others. That leaves unspoken the fact that the White House has repeatedly lied about releasing all of the documentation to Congressional committees, and that they still haven’t answered basic questions about what happened, why the US wasn’t prepared for a terrorist attack on the anniversary of 9/11, and why that facility was allowed to operate with substandard security while every other Western agency left town.

Committee chair Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) pledged to keep partisan considerations out of the investigation:

Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, the newly appointed Benghazi Select Committee chairman, vowed Sunday to keep politics and political fundraising out of his group’s fact-finding mission.

“The facts are neither Republican nor Democrat,” the South Carolina lawmaker told “Fox News Sunday.” “They’re facts.”

Gowdy, a former prosecutor, also dismissed the notion that he wants Democrats to boycott joining the committee.

“How does it benefit me when from Day One they’re excluded?” he asked. “I want this to transcend politics.”

CNN offered a quick take on the politics of boycotting the committee, and the consensus is that boycotting is “not even a serious option”:

“You can’t win the game if you’re not on the field,” said one commentator, and she’s right. A boycott in this instance would be self-satisfying for all of one or two news cycles. If Democrats want to compete for media attention past that on Benghazi, they have to participate. This is so stunningly obvious that it’s unclear why Democratic leadership hasn’t figured it out yet, and perhaps indicates why a leadership change should have been made after their loss in the previous midterm election of 2010.

Update: Salena Zito takes a walk through the history of the select committee in Congress, and finds that there has never been an even split between parties:

Until Congress established standing committees — the House in 1793, the Senate in 1816 — it largely worked through special and select committees.

The first session of Congress appointed more than 200 such panels. Since then, “tons” more have been impaneled, according to one Senate historian.

In the 20th century, select committees veered toward specific matters. Not all dealt with scandals or impeachments; subjects ranged from the seemingly mundane to the highly pressing: from a 10-year examination of the “production, transportation and marketing of wool,” initiated in 1935, to investigations of unemployment in the 1960s and the impact of technology in 2000.

Each time, the party controlling the House or Senate determined a committee’s partisan makeup.

“The idea that has been floated of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats is not going to happen” in the case of Benghazi, said Smock. Only “a few entities — minor commissions, etc.,” have had equal representation over two centuries, he noted.

The Senate’s select committee on Watergate in 1973 had four Democrats and three Republicans. A year later, the standing House Judiciary Committee, which voted articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon over the Watergate scandal, had 21 Democrats and 17 Republicans.

Committees probing the Iran-Contra affair in 1987 were equally partisan: The House panel had nine Democrats and six Republicans; the Senate’s had six Democrats and five Republicans.