Pelosi's 'Bipartisanship' Demand Underscores Democrats' Benghazi Ambivalence

Posted: May 06, 2014 4:56 PM

Sarah's piece ran through the basics of Nancy Pelosi's new request that the forthcoming House Select Committee on Benghazi be split evenly between Republican and Democratic members. That idea is going exactly nowhere, but the fact that she publicly floated it offers an intriguing window into Democrats' internal deliberations over how to handle the investigation. First, here's the former prosecutor who will preside over the committee swatting down Pelosi's suggestion:

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.

As a matter of precedent, Gowdy is correct. The majority party wields the gavel in committee settings, and Pelosi didn't see fit to waver from that pattern when her caucus ran the show. In any case, George Will predicted over the weekend that Congressional Democrats would end up boycotting the investigation in an attempt to marginalize it as a partisan fishing expedition. The White House spin team has been setting the stage for exactly that scenario by repeatedly ridiculing Republicans' concerns on the issue as "delusional" and "conspiracy theories." Translation: This is a garbage witch hunt, and Democrats have our permission to refuse to play along. But evidently the equation isn't quite that simple for Democrats in Congress. Yes, there are obvious reasons for Pelosi's crew to take their collective ball and go home. First and foremost, participating in the probe would lend credibility to it as a bipartisan exercise. On the other hand, the public is strongly in favor of continued investigations, with a substantial majority expressing the belief that the White House was involved in a cover-up. A boycott wouldn't necessarily reverse those opinions, and Democrats would run the risk of coming across as the more intense partisans; people who are unwilling to get to the bottom of a terrorist attack that killed four Americans in order to protect an unpopular president. If the inquiry were to turn up any significant new revelations (what might these emails contain?), Democrats sitting on the sidelines mindlessly reciting the Team Obama's "nothing to see here" mantra would look horrible. Plus, if Democrats decline to show up, every single news sound byte from the hearings would come from a Republican. Is that a sound messaging strategy?

As for the administration's churlish efforts to demean Benghazi skeptics, some members of the mainstream media aren't impressed. A handful have been quite critical of the White House's sneering attempted white-wash of recent developments, including the court-ordered release of a relevant administration email that had been withheld from the supposedly "exhaustive" document dump last year. CNN's Jake Tapper slammed Jay Carney's approach to questions on the issue, while National Journal's Ron Fournier likened Carney to Baghdad Bob. Jim Geraghty also highlights this assessment from John Dickerson of CBS News and Slate:

The Obama administration's story has never been straight on the Benghazi attack. Press Secretary Jay Carney once said the White House and State Department had only been involved in changing one word in crafting the first public response about the attack — the infamous Susan Rice talking points. Emails released in May showed that wasn't the case. This new batch underscores the White House's involvement in shaping the story. The Obama administration left the impression that everything related to the Benghazi attack had been released to the investigating committees months ago. That is also clearly false.

Is Dickerson a delusional paranoiac for noticing these inconsistencies? Now that GOP leaders have rejected the "even split" idea, perhaps Democrats have their pretext go through with their boycott, then keep their fingers crossed that continued White House stonewalling will prevent any major new information from coming to light. The press may gripe from time to time, they'll assume, but journalists won't cover the issue too heavily. All said, that might not be a bad bet for Pelosi and friends, for reasons elucidated below. Step one: "Controversialize" the story. Step two: Count on the media to "do the right thing" by mostly burying it (don't miss the red section of 2014's bar graph):