By Mike Lillis - 05/09/14 10:06 AM EDT
House Democrats on Friday said they are awaiting a response from Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerDem drops out of race for Boehner's old seat Conservative allies on opposite sides in GOP primary fight Clinton maps out first 100 days MORE (R-Ohio) before they decide whether to participate in a special GOP investigation into the 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi.
The question has divided the party, with some members concerned that participating would legitimize a process they've condemned as a partisan witch hunt against the White House, and others warning that a boycott would leave the administration defenseless in the face of a one-sided probe.
Leaders emerging from the much-watched meeting said they remain undecided because BoehnerJohn BoehnerDem drops out of race for Boehner's old seat Conservative allies on opposite sides in GOP primary fight Clinton maps out first 100 days MORE has not yet answered requests from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) about giving Democrats specific powers on the panel.
"We had hoped that by now the Speaker would have responded to our respectful and reasonable request for bipartisan standards. He has not responded. He did not return any phone calls that Leader Pelosi made to him yesterday," Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told reporters.
"If this is going to be a true, bipartisan inquiry, we'll participate. If it's engineered to be a Republican campaign strategy, it's much harder for us to participate," he added.
"We're still waiting for the Speaker to tell us, Option A, or Option B."
Boehner said Thursday that he was in talks with Pelosi about the setup of the panel. Aides from both parties said they were discussing a potential compromise that, while not altering the text of the GOP proposal, might provide enough concessions to Democrats that they would participate.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Friday that those talks are continuing.
“The Speaker spoke with the Minority Leader on Wednesday. Staff met yesterday, and those discussions continue,” Steel said in an email.
Democrats said they aren't happy with the pace of the process, particularly as the House is poised to leave Washington on Friday for a weeklong recess.
"The ball's in their court in terms of the question of fairness," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). "We are disappointed we haven't heard back from the Speaker."
The House on Thursday approved the Republican proposal to create the select committee to investigate the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, which killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya. The 232-186 vote cut largely on partisan lines, with only seven Democrats crossing the aisle to join all Republicans in supporting the measure.
Boehner had long-resisted the push from many in his conference to form a special panel to probe the Obama administration's response to the tragedy. But he reversed course last Friday, saying a new White House email, released to a conservative watchdog group under a Freedom of Information Act request, have given him a change of heart.
The panel created under the Republicans' bill allows for 12 members, seven Republicans and five Democrats.
Pelosi, Hoyer and many other Democrats have called for an even split between the parties, as well as more explicit powers for Democrats to issue subpoenas and depose witnesses.
Boehner on Thursday said the 7 to 5 ratio is "eminently fair" considering Republicans control the House.
Israel on Friday declined to say whether an even bipartisan split is a mandatory precondition of Democratic participation.
"I don't want to go into one request versus another. This is a process," he said. "There are some things that the Speaker may agree to. There are some things he may not agree to. As long as, at the end of the day, this truly is a bipartisan and fair and reasonable inquiry, not a witch hunt and not a Republican campaign strategy, we will participate."
Boehner has tapped Rep. Trey GowdyTrey GowdyTrump is right about one thing Benghazi Report and Hillary: What it means for Philadelphia Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation MORE (R-S.C.) to head the panel, and is expected to name the other six Republican members on Friday.
— This story was updated at 10:47 a.m.