Dems reject GOP offer on Benghazi

Anne Wernikoff

House Democratic leaders on Friday rejected a Republican proposal designed to entice the minority party into participating in a special investigation of the deadly 2012 attack on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya.

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Although the GOP bill creating the select committee passed the House on Thursday, the offices of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are in talks to define rules that will govern the panel in the face of Democratic allegations that Republicans simply want to embarrass the White House ahead of this year's elections.

With that in mind, Republicans proposed several overtures on Friday, which were soundly rejected by the Democrats.

"I consider it a slap in the face," Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said after a closed-door meeting with Democratic leaders in Pelosi's office in the Capitol. "It is actually worse than the current situation that we have in Oversight and Government Reform [Committee]. It's a step backwards."

In a Friday letter to Boehner, Pelosi echoed that message.

"Regrettably, the proposal does not prevent the unacceptable and repeated abuses committed by [Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)] in any meaningful way, and we find it fundamentally unfair," Pelosi wrote.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said, "The ball is in their court."

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel suggested the Speaker was done negotiating.

"We made a fair offer," he said. "We hope they appoint members. At this point, it's time to get to work."

The Republican members of the committee held a preliminary meeting Friday afternoon in the Speaker's office.

Democrats have criticized the Benghazi panel for its 7:5 membership ratio, in favor of the majority Republicans. They're also concerned that their members will be props, while all the authority is vested with the Republicans.

According to the Democrats, Boehner's proposed rules would empower Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), the chairman of the select committee, to issue subpoenas without Democratic input and conduct witness interviews without Democrats present — if Gowdy deemed it not “practicable” to consult the minority.

"It basically left the door open for abuse, the same kind of abuse as we saw in Oversight and Government Reform," Cummings said.

Democrats are not ready to boycott the panel, Cummings said. Instead, staffers for Boehner and Pelosi will continue their discussions, even as the House leaves town Friday for a week-long recess

"I'm hopeful that the conversations will continue," Cummings said. "But right now, what he has sent is extremely … disappointing."

Other participants in the Democrats' meeting were Pelosi and Reps. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), Joe Crowley (N.Y.), Steve Israel (N.Y.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and George Miller (Calif.).

Cummings was the only Democrat to address the media afterwards.

Russell Berman contributed.

— This story was last updated at 3:37 p.m.