By Mike Lillis - 05/07/14 12:03 PM EDT
House Democrats are still weighing their options about whether to participate in a special probe into the deadly 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, party leaders said Wednesday.
"We'll wait for a written response from the Speaker's office, and we in the leadership, in consultation with our members, will make a decision going forward as to how we'll deal with this," said Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) sent a letter to Boehner late Tuesday night blasting the GOP's "partisan" proposal creating a special investigative committee and requesting more powers for Democrats on the panel.
But the leaders stopped short of saying they'll boycott the process, even in its current form. And leaving Wednesday's meeting, Hoyer, while amplifying his criticisms of the special panel as unnecessary, said Democratic leaders remain undecided on the boycott question.
"This is all about their politics and not about substance," Hoyer said.
The Democrats are requesting an even bipartisan split on the panel in lieu of the proposed 7:5 ratio favoring the majority Republicans. They also want the Democrats to have subpoena powers and more explicit authority to depose witnesses.
Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.) characterized the GOP's current blueprint as "a kangaroo court in the making."
"The signs have been distressing that it won't be balanced; that this will be a partisan endeavor; that full power will divest in one person, the chairman; that the length of the select committee's life is indeterminate – it could go on forever; that the amount of money that they could spend is undefined and could be unlimited," Becerra said Wednesday. "So it's a very disconcerting matter … and we're hoping to get more clarification."
They shouldn't hold their breath. Boehner has characterized the proposed panel as "a responsible approach." And Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who will head the committee, suggested Wednesday morning that Republicans have no intention of altering their bill.
"Do you challenge the credibility of the Senate Judiciary Committee? Because it’s certainly not evenly split,” Gowdy said in an interview on NBC's "Morning Joe" program. “As the president loves to say, elections have consequences.”
With the House expected to vote to create the committee on Thursday, Democratic leaders are lining up in opposition. "We are going to vote against it. There's no doubt about that," Hoyer said. But it remains unclear if any Democrats will cross the aisle to back the measure.
Democrats are accusing the Republicans of extending an investigative process that's already been exhausted by a series of hearings and investigations, including an ongoing probe by House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
Democratic leaders said Wednesday that Boehner's decision to launch the special investigation after many months of opposing that option was aimed largely to defuse an escalating feud between Issa and House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif), who had taken the rare step of criticizing Issa's star witness during the Oversight panel's Benghazi hearing last Thursday.
"There's no indication that this select committee will act any differently than the government Oversight Committee and the authority that they have already today," Crowley said. "This is the full neutering of Chairman Issa and his 16 months of work, but nothing new will come of this."
The Democrats also maintain the GOP's continued interest is designed largely to embarrass the White House, as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is a potential 2016 presidential front-runner.