Pick battles carefully

Between a heavy load of congressional oversight, the imperative of governing — passing spending bills, for example — and their plan of “emphasizing working families,” Republicans in Congress should ignore the promotions President Obama has given Samantha Power and Susan Rice. 

Sure, Rice’s elevation to national security adviser was likely half meant to be a savory steak for Pavlov’s dogs — Obama couldn’t wait to give Rice the job after GOP criticism over her botched response to the Benghazi attacks cost her the job of secretary of State. Rice will forever be remembered in her dark blazer, silver-gray pearls and bright pink shirt repeating on five Sunday talk shows on Sept. 16, 2012, that the attack on the diplomatic annex in Libya just days before was the result of a “very hateful, very offensive video” — words that turned out to be false. 

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Yet it was later revealed that Rice delivered a politically constructed narrative vetted and massaged by the State Department, the CIA and other executive branch employees and was doing what she was told. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who has defended Rice’s role in the Benghazi response in the past, said in his four years of service on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee while Rice was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, “I don’t remember her ever coming under any criticism before Benghazi.”

Rice is free from the confirmation hearings that Power will have to endure as Rice’s replacement, but heavy criticism of either of them seems unwise. So is turning scorn or questions about Benghazi or Rice or former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Power at her confirmation hearing. She should be questioned thoroughly on foreign policy but not be made a surrogate for the other two women.

The timing of Obama’s announcement, given the political heat of multiple investigations, is tricky for Republicans — and that may have been part of the calculus. On Tuesday, several male GOP senators defended military commanders who insisted they could handle a burgeoning rape rate within the armed forces when clearly they have not, with Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) suggesting hormones are possibly to blame. This prompted a strong reaction not only from Democrats — and surely a fundraising letter or two — but also from GOP Rep. Michael Turner, co-chairman of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, who issued a statement insisting criminals cause rape, not hormones, and that “perpetuating this line of thinking does nothing to help change the culture of our military.” 

Much has been made by Democrats and commentators of GOP overreach, and 1996 is repeatedly cited as a warning to Republicans that sometimes voters see a congressional investigation as a partisan witch hunt. Former President Clinton’s adulterous affair and his subsequent lie cannot compare, however, with the revelations that the Obama administration refused to tell Americans the truth about a 9/11 anniversary attack that killed four Americans; that the IRS targeted specific groups for unfair scrutiny; and that the Department of Justice hunted through reporters’ email and phone records, fraudulently labeling them “flight risks” in order to score a secret search warrant.

But Republicans should remember the midterm campaign will start soon enough. Democrats have no choice but to run against the GOP thirst for scandal, and perpetual gridlock replacing governance. Yes, there has been no end of unsolicited advice to Republicans of late, but here is more: While they should investigate executive branch failures, they should also push to build the Keystone oil pipeline, pass tax reform, bring some form of immigration reform to the floor and create a realistic plan to raise the debt ceiling.

Choose your battles. Don’t pile on.

Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.