Republicans are scrambling to contain the damage from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) remarks about the Benghazi Committee amid a firestorm of criticism.
Outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was forced to defend the Benghazi panel on Thursday after McCarthy (his presumed successor for the job of Speaker) linked the success of the investigation to Hillary Clinton’s falling poll numbers.
Pressing their advantage, Democrats have called on Republican leaders to disband the committee.
“It is unconscionable that the U.S. House of Representatives is continuing to use millions of dollars in taxpayer funds for political purposes, and we urge you to immediately disband the Select Committee on Benghazi,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other Democrats said in a letter to Boehner on Thursday.
McCarthy gave an opening to critics of the Benghazi investigation during an interview late Tuesday on Fox News in which he said the panel had played a role in Clinton’s declining poll numbers.
“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping,” McCarthy said on Fox News.
“Why? Because she’s untrustable.”
The remark has undermined the GOP’s message that they are only seeking to learn what really happened when four Americans where killed during the 2012 assault in Libya. The attack occurred while Clinton was secretary of State.
Several Republicans have repudiated McCarthy’s remarks, saying they disagree with the implication that the investigation is politically motivated. The remarks also come the same week that the committee reached dubious milestone.
As of Monday, the House Select Committee on Benghazi, has been active for 72 weeks which has now set a record for the longest investigation in Congressional history. It has surpassing the record previously held by the Watergate Committee in the 1970’s.
Created by House Republicans in May of last year, the select committee is charged with investigating the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which left U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead.
Led by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the panel has homed in on Clinton’s role in the attacks with a focus that launched the private email scandal that’s dogged the former secretary of State on the presidential campaign trail.
Benghazi Select Committee has already outpaced the entire annual budget of the House Intelligence Committee, with the committee’s 18 Republican staffers being paid an average full-time salary of more than $128,000 per year and if total the entire cost of the investigation to date it has cost the taxpayers a little over $4.5 million and counting.
Besides besting the Watergate probe in the 1970’s it also beat congressional investigations into the attack on Pearl Harbor, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and the Iran-Contra scandal. All of those government investigations took less than a year to complete.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has called on McCarthy to apologize for the “inappropriate statement” that he says mischaracterizes the investigation.
“We started because there were four dead Americans and we didn’t have answers,” Chaffetz told host Wolf Blitzer on CNN’s “The Situation Room” Wednesday evening.
“I think he should apologize. I think he should withdraw it. I think it’s an absolute inaccurate statement as to what we’re doing.”
“I totally disagree with those comments,” added Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) on CNN. “I think it should be a concern.”
Democrats, who fought the creation of the Benghazi committee from the start, have seized on McCarthy’s statement, portraying it as evidence that the effort is a partisan exercise aimed at taking down Clinton.
While McCarthy is popular with the House Republican Conference, the Benghazi flap has cast doubt on whether he is prepared to step into the line of fire as the next Speaker, with Republicans seeking a fresh start after years of turmoil under Boehner.
One thing that you can bet on is that McCarthy’s comments are sure to be used against Republicans when Clinton testifies before the Benghazi committee in an open hearing on Oct. 22. He may have taken the moral high ground away from the committee and jeopardized any of its findings.
That said Clinton will still have to explain the email problem so while McCarthy made a major gaff the committee may still see some political gain.
Quotes from CNN and Fox News were used in the writing of this story.