Republicans can prove they're serious about preventing another attack like the one in Benghazi by getting behind an embassy security bill, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations panel charged on Thursday.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) took to the Senate floor to say he was “outraged” at allegations that congressional Democrats haven't done enough to investigate last year's terror attack on the U.S. mission.
He said the House and Senate have held 11 hearings on the issue — including four by his panel — and that time and again Republicans have focused on “politically driven” attacks instead of on improving security at U.S. diplomatic posts.
“We have fully vetted this issue. We have held hearing after hearing. We have all — on both sides — had the opportunity to have our questions answered,” Menendez said. “Our focus now should not be on the work product of the CIA or State on draft talking points we’ve seen in hundreds of emails released by the White House yesterday. It should not be to score political points at the expense of the families of the four victims.
“It should be on doing all we can to protect our personnel serving overseas and provide the necessary oversight and legislative authority to carry out the recommendations of last year's independent review of the administration's response to the attack."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) opened Thursday's session of the upper chamber by declaring that the White House emails proved that the media were “fed a false set of goods” by Republicans.
But Republicans said the emails released by the White House confirm that the State Department pushed edits to the talking points to downplay warnings about security at the Benghazi outpost, and said many unanswered questions remain.
"[The emails] contradict statements made by the White House that it and the State Department only changed one word in the talking points," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “The seemingly political nature of the State Department’s concerns raises questions about the motivations behind these changes and who at the State Department was seeking them.”
“This release is long overdue and there are relevant documents the administration has still refused to produce. We hope, however, that this limited release of documents is a sign of more cooperation to come” Buck said.
Menendez's bill would give the State Department the authority to hire the best instead of the cheapest security contractors “where conditions require enhanced levels of security.”
The legislation would also authorize disciplinary action in cases of unsatisfactory leadership by senior officials related to a security incident, a power the Obama administration has requested after the Accountability Review Board (ARB) said it did not have the legal authority to recommend that anyone be fired over security lapses in Benghazi.
The bill would also authorize funding for the Capital Security Cost Sharing Program to provide extra security at more high-risk posts, for Arabic language training, and for a Foreign Affairs Security Training Center to train diplomatic security personnel. It also requires planning to incorporate additional Marine Security Guards at overseas facilities and requires extensive reporting on State’s implementation of the ARB recommendations and on the designation of high-risk posts.
“I have been working to ensure full implementation of all 29 recommendations made by the [Accountability] Review Board, recommendations to ensure that — going forward — we are providing adequate personnel and resources to meet local conditions at more than 280 facilities in over 180 countries around the world,” Menendez said.
“And I call on our Republican colleagues to join in that effort. Today, I am introducing that legislation — and hope we will be able to count on the support of all of our colleagues — to enact this crucial, time sensitive legislation without delay, without obstruction, without political grand-standing.”
Please send tips and comments to Julian Pecquet: email@example.com.