By Jeremy Herb and Justin Sink - 10/28/13 09:57 AM EDT
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Monday he will block confirmation of all of President Obama’s nominations until U.S. personnel who witnessed the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, are made available to congressional investigators.
Graham’s threat was prompted by a CBS “60 Minutes” report Sunday night that noted more than two-dozen Americans who survived the attack have not been seen or heard from in public since. The administration has also not publicly provided the names of survivors and witnesses to the attack.
“I’m going to block every appointment in the United States Senate until the survivors are being made available to Congress,” Graham told Fox News on Monday.
Under Senate rules, individual lawmakers can place holds on nominations and legislation, which requires unanimous consent to proceed. But, like a filibuster, holds can be defeated through a successful cloture vote, which requires at least 60 senators voting to proceed.
Graham’s declaration to block all nominees is the latest Republican effort to try to convince the Obama administration to give Congress access to the Benghazi survivors, which has been the focus of congressional Republicans investigating the attack since the one-year anniversary last month.
The House Oversight Committee and several other Republican-led House panels probing the Benghazi attack have accused the administration of stymieing their investigations and covering up damaging details.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) last month wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry asking him to make the survivors available — and threatening to subpoena their testimony if the State Department refused.
Democrats say that Republicans have made a political spectacle of the Benghazi attack, arguing that GOP lawmakers are pursuing the investigation even though an independent accountability review board (ARB) issued a report outlining the U.S. failings that led to the attack nearly a year ago.
Asked about Graham’s threat Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that Republicans were politicizing the attack, though he declined to specifically call out the South Carolina senator.
“I think it’s unfortunate to hold up any nominee or any nomination process,” Carney said, noting that he was talking about Republicans generally.
“The State Department has worked in good faith to meet the Hill’s many requests and they will continue to review legitimate incoming requests,” he said. “But let’s be clear that some Republicans are choosing to play politics with this for partisan purposes and we find that unfortunate.”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Monday that a diplomatic security official in Benghazi the night of the attack was made available to Issa’s committee for an interview, in response to a subpoena. The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that the official and a security officer in Tripoli were secretly interviewed this month.
But Psaki indicated other officials in Benghazi that night would not be made available.
“Our response is that we need to have these officials in place,” she said. “That’s the only way to strengthen our interests overseas and to be able to represent our diplomatic agenda. It also is important for our security interest, which is something that many of these members of Congress seem very concerned about, for good reasons.”
Both Carney and Psaki cited the ARB report in response to questions about GOP criticisms, which was led by former U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen.
Republicans have criticized the report, however, because then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was not interviewed.
Clinton, who testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Benghazi earlier this year, is a frequent target of Republican criticism on Benghazi.
“She was behind all of this. And I think it’s going to haunt her in any potential presidential election,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said on Fox News Monday while discussing the latest “60 Minutes” report.
The CBS report included an interview with an anonymous British security official tasked with guarding the U.S. facility in Benghazi, who said he warned that a coordinated assault was imminent.
Citing the report, Graham told Fox News that the survivors “have not been made available to the U.S. Congress for oversight purposes.”
“I’m tired of hearing from people on TV and reading about stuff in books,” Graham said. “We need to get to the bottom of this.”
He once again on Monday called for the creation of a select committee to lead an investigation, which most Republicans in the House have endorsed.
Graham’s threat on Monday is not the first time that Benghazi has played a role in Obama’s nominations.
Graham and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) threatened to block Susan Rice from succeeding Clinton as secretary of State due to her role in Benghazi and her “talking points” about a spontaneous protest that turned out to be false.
Obama opted to nominate Kerry instead, and later named Rice his national security adviser, which does not require Senate confirmation.
Graham has also expressed opposition to past Republican efforts to block Obama nominees — critics pointed on Monday to his July comments in opposition to GOP senators preventing Richard Cordray from becoming director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.