The House voted Thursday night to establish a select committee to investigate the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya that resulted in the death of four Americans, amid complaints from Democrats that the vote is an act of partisan politics.
Members passed the resolution in a 232-186 vote. Despite broad Democratic opposition, the resolution was supported by seven Democrats: Reps. Ron Barber (Ariz.), John Barrow (Ga.), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Patrick Murphy (Fla.), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Nick Rahall (W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.).
The vote came just a week after House Republicans exploded over the news that Judicial Watch was able to obtain an email showing that the White House purposefully downplayed the idea that the attack was orchestrated by terrorists. Instead, White House officials said the attack was the result of a protest over a video, an explanation that a former military official rejected in House testimony.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reacted by saying he was left no choice but to create a select committee, as the email showed the Obama administration has not been forthcoming about the attack or how it responded to it. Boehner said the email showed that the White House has “crossed the line” in two places.
“First it came to light that the White House did more to obscure what happened and why than what we were led to believe,” he said on the House floor.
“Second, we now know that the administration defied a formal congressional subpoena. Our committees sought the full truth, but the administration tried to make sure that they wouldn’t find it, which means they tried to prevent the American people from finding the truth as well.”
Other Republicans said they need to keep up the pressure on the administration to investigate the attack, as there has been no apparent progress in finding out who is responsible. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the attack resulted in the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was the first U.S. ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since the 1970s.
“To this day, not a single perpetrator of the attacks has been arrested or brought to justice,” he said.
Democrats responded by saying the vote is a purely political exercise that Republicans are using to create bad press for President Obama and his allies in Congress. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and several others criticized the decision of the Republican National Congressional Committee to seek political donations based on the ongoing Benghazi story.
“I’m appalled by this posturing,” she said. “To use the tragedy of those four deaths for political and financial gain is shameful and contemptible.
“Have you no shame?” she asked.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said Ambassador Stevens’ family has said it does not want his death to be used in a political fight.
“Unfortunately, that is what House Republicans have been doing for the last year and a half,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).
“They have been using the deaths of these four Americans for political campaign fundraising,” he added. “I call on the Speaker of the House to end that process right now.”
Democrats also oppose the structure of the committee — after insisting on an evenly divided committee, Republicans proposed one with seven Republicans and six Democrats.
For these reasons, Democrats are considering boycotting the committee by not naming any Democrats to it. House aides said Democrats would meet Friday morning to discuss how to proceed.
Boehner has tried to encourage Democratic participation, and on the House floor Thursday, he said promised the process would not be politicized.
“This doesn’t need to be, shouldn’t be, and will not be a partisan process,” he said. “Four Americans died at the hands of terrorists in a well-coordinated assault, and we will not take any shortcuts to the truth, accountability or justice.”
Boehner is expected to name his seven picks for the Benghazi committee on Friday. He has already said he wants Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) to chair the panel.