GOP defies Boehner on special Benghazi panel

House Republican members are defying Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and five committee chairmen by endorsing a measure that would set up a special panel to investigate the deadly attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

A growing number of members on the committees with jurisdiction over the Benghazi matter — Intelligence, Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform, Armed Services and Foreign Affairs — have signed onto Rep. Frank Wolf’s (R-Va.) resolution. 

Boehner and the chairmen of those committees do not support the legislation. Instead, they have worked together to investigate the Obama administration’s handling of the Sept. 11, 2012 assault.

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Despite that resistance, Wolf has garnered a sizable majority of the GOP Conference as co-sponsors since introducing the measure in January. It has 146 GOP co-sponsors, with more than 80 Republicans backing it over the last month. 

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has also embraced a special committee and attempted to pry the GOP-led House to schedule a vote. That would put pressure, McCain has pointed out, on the Senate to act.

According to a review of the House co-sponsors, a majority of GOP lawmakers on the Armed Services, Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees and half of the GOP lawmakers on the Foreign Affairs panel have endorsed the Wolf resolution.

Former Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) signed on to the resolution Monday, while former Homeland Security Committee Chairman Pete King (R-N.Y.) endorsed it during a television interview. Late last week, former Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) became a co-sponsor.

Two of the Intelligence Committee’s 12 GOP lawmakers, Reps. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Tom Rooney (Fla.), have signed on.

Not one Democrat has co-sponsored the Wolf resolution.

President Obama on Monday dismissed GOP charges that his administration covered up the truth about the attacks in Benghazi, calling them a politically motivated “sideshow” that does “dishonor” to the nation’s diplomats.

He added: “The whole issue of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow. The fact that this keeps getting churned out, frankly, has a lot to do with political motivations.”

Wolf told The Hill in an interview, “I think you want to bring together the very best minds, you want to focus like a laser beam ... bring an outside counsel to coordinate, direct and unify ... bring it together in 90 days.”

Should Boehner not seek a vote on Wolf’s resolution, the Virginia congressman revealed he might have several opportunities to offer the measure as an amendment on the House floor during the appropriations bill process in June.

“I would look for a way to offer an amendment on the floor. Appropriations bills are coming. There will be opportunities,” Wolf explained.

Detractors say that creating a select committee would be counterproductive to the work that has already been undertaken by the five committees of jurisdiction.

They maintain that the 90-day timeline would allow for administration stonewalling, and with only 19 members on the committee — 10 of which would be the committee chairmen and ranking members of the panels with jurisdiction — said it would be difficult to appoint standout questioners to the select panel.

On Sunday, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) dismissed the idea of a creating a select committee: “... it needs to be investigated. Our committee can investigate.”

Last Thursday, Wolf sent a stinging letter to Boehner, citing the support for his select committee cause the day after Oversight and Government Reform held a high-profile hearing on Benghazi.

“The revelations at [last week’s] hearing have raised serious questions about the administration’s efforts to respond to the Americans under fire at the annex in Benghazi. What remains to be seen is whether the House will be complicit in that failure, or if we will pursue the truth — wherever it may take us — to ensure that we continue to deserve the sacrifices made by the men and women who serve our country,” Wolf wrote.

Boehner last week remained firm in his commitment to follow “regular order” and allow the committees with jurisdiction to continue to share the workload. 

He highlighted the Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s performance in questioning State Department whistle-blower Gregory Hicks. 

“I thought that Chairman Issa and the members of the Government Reform and Oversight Committee ... did a fabulous job in a very long day of hearings of eliciting more information that, frankly, we haven’t had for the last eight months,” Boehner said. 

A senior House Republican aide said, “It should be pretty clear after last week that there is already a committee leading the overarching investigation, and that is Chairman Issa’s committee. After last week’s hearing, there is growing concern, even among members who’ve advocated the creation of a select committee in the past, that throwing all this to a select committee now instead of letting Issa’s panel continue to do its work would actually impede the investigation.” 

Since the hearing last week, seven House Republicans have formally co-sponsored Wolf’s legislation, including Deputy Whip Tom Cole (Okla.).

On Monday afternoon, Issa’s committee sent out a notice that it would be taking testimony from Ambassador Tom Pickering and retired Adm. Michael Mullen, who led the State Department investigation on Benghazi. Issa gave notice during recent media appearances that he might subpoena additional witnesses. Former Vice President Cheney last week suggested the GOP should subpoena former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  

— Noura Alfadl-Andreasson, Alex Lazar and Julian Pecquet contributed.