Dem lawmaker blasts chairman Issa for rushed hearing on security at Benghazi

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) lashed out at House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on Thursday for quickly convening a hearing on U.S. security in Libya that he and 17 other lawmakers missed because of prior commitments.

Democrats have accused Republicans of politicizing the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi to hurt President Obama four weeks before Election Day. They say Issa's hearing Wednesday played into that because he refused to allow Democrats to interview a key witness ahead of time and gave them less than 24 hours' notice of a congressional delegation to Libya.

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In a phone interview from his district, Welch said the way the hearing was set up made it likely that many Democrats would not be able to attend to counter Republican attacks against the State Department.

“It was impossible for me to be there as I had a debate on Vermont radio with my Republican opponent,” Mark Donka, Welch told The Hill. “We weren't really invited to the hearing.”

Republicans said they needed to act quickly because American diplomats around the world could be at risk.

"Urgent attention to this security failure is required,” Issa said in his opening statement.

In all, 18 lawmakers — almost half of the 39 members on the panel — missed Wednesday's hearing, which was the central focus of legislative activity all week while Congress is in recess. The Hill counted nine Republicans out of 22 and and nine Democrats out of 17 missing.

The list includes vulnerable members including Reps. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.), Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), John Tierney (D-Mass.) and Bruce Braley (D-Iowa). Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), who is running for the Senate against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, was also a no-show.

A spokesman for Buerkle told The Post-Standard that she would submit questions to the committee in writing. Buerkle, the newspaper points out, is a strong critic of U.S. policy in Libya who has proposed legislation to pressure the Libyan government to cooperate with the investigation into the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 35 students of Syracuse University, which is in her district.

Several lawmakers told The Hill they had previously scheduled commitments in their districts, including Reps. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Jackie Spier (D-Calif.). Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), the No. 2 Democrat on the committee, was out of the country.

—Jordy Yager and Grace Magan contributed.