High stakes in Benghazi showdown

Hillary Clinton isn’t the only one with a lot riding on this week’s Capitol Hill hearing on the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attacks.

The 12-member Select Committee on Benghazi is loaded with ambitious lawmakers from both parties looking for a breakout moment on the national stage with the Democratic presidential front-runner.

{mosads}More than half the Republicans serving on the panel have been mentioned as potential candidates to replace Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). And the committee’s chairman, GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy (S.C.), is widely viewed as having a bright political future back home in South Carolina.  

Clinton’s Democratic allies on the panel include one declared Senate candidate, Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, and another potential one, veteran Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland.

Here’s a look at seven members of the Benghazi panel who could shine in the spotlight during Thursday’s showdown.

Reps. Jim Jordan, Peter Roskam, Mike Pompeo and Lynn Westmoreland

The Benghazi panel is small but counts at least four potential Speaker candidates among its ranks: Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), former Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), and Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.).

With Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) bowing out of the Speaker’s race and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) reluctant to take the job, the contest for the House’s top job could become a free-for-all with dozens of lesser-known candidates.

Thursday’s long-anticipated Benghazi hearing could offer a national platform for the quartet of Speaker wannabes.

Both Pompeo and Westmoreland, who questioned top Clinton aide Huma Abedin on Friday, have been reaching out to GOP colleagues to gauge support for a potential Speaker bid. Roskam, who’s been pressing leadership to improve internal rules, isn’t running for Speaker but would return to the leadership table if there were an opening.

And while Jordan has repeatedly insisted he doesn’t want the Speaker’s gavel, members of his conservative Freedom Caucus are pushing his name anyway.   

For all four of the Republicans, the hearing also carries enormous risks.

Clinton, who is coming off a strong presidential debate performance, was a formidable foe the last time she testified on Benghazi in 2013. She is nearly certain to go on the attack when testifying Thursday, partly by using the words of Republicans against them.

McCarthy suddenly dropped out of the Speaker’s race after suggesting the Benghazi panel was political. If another Speaker hopeful gets tripped up while sparring with Clinton, it could spell the end of their candidacy as well.

Benghazi Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy

Rep. Gowdy recently told GOP colleagues he’ll return home to South Carolina after his investigation is done, and there’s speculation that the three-term congressman will launch a 2018 bid for the governor’s office or attorney general, or seek an appointment to the federal bench.

Those who know Gowdy best call him a “bulldog” and expect that he won’t pull his punches against Clinton. But he also has an interest in burnishing his reputation as a tough but fair prosecutor who’s above the political fray.

In recent weeks, fellow Republicans have made that task difficult for Gowdy.

McCarthy put Republicans on the defensive by linking the Benghazi panel to Hillary Clinton’s drop in the polls. Gowdy aggressively rebutted his close friend McCarthy’s remarks, but then a Republican staffer on Gowdy’s own committee handed Clinton another gift, saying on CNN that the panel is a “partisan investigation.”

Further fanning the flames, Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) insisted last week that McCarthy had been right all along, saying the taxpayer-funded investigation had been “designed” to target the Democratic presidential front-runner.

Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor appointed by then-President Bill Clinton, has made no secret about his disdain for D.C. When Utah Republican Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Mia Love pushed Gowdy to run for leadership, he recoiled at the prospect, telling colleagues he was solely focused on the Benghazi probe and hoped to return home to “where my heart is.”

“I think he’s a little disappointed in how partisan other people have become, too, but it’s D.C. where politics are going to creep into everything,” said one South Carolina Republican who knows Gowdy.

“He is a bulldog and will get to the bottom of it. At the end of the day, people will judge him from there.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings

Rep. Cummings, the Benghazi Committee’s top Democrat, has fought on the frontlines against what his party describes as a taxpayer-funded “witch hunt” against Clinton.

He could use that role as a launching pad to the upper chamber, with a Maryland Senate seat up for grabs next year.

Before Benghazi, Cummings had made a name for himself as the top Democrat on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where he repeatedly sparred with then-Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and struck an unlikely friendship with current Chairman Chaffetz, another candidate for Speaker.

Earlier this year, Cummings grabbed the media spotlight after the violent protests in his native Baltimore, urging calm while making repeated trips to the city. But his perch on the Benghazi panel has thrust him into the heat of the political fire, elevating his profile even more.

Cummings has not said whether he’ll run to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Md.); the crowded Democratic field already includes two rising stars, Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards.

But Cummings hired veteran Senate campaign fundraiser Ashley Martens in August, and could be poised to take the plunge. He would be the early favorite in the race, according to a new poll that gave Cummings a double-digit lead over Van Hollen and Edwards.

In an interview with The Washington Post earlier this month, Cummings said no announcement about his plans would come until after Clinton’s testimony.

“That’s one of the main reasons I have not put out a decision,” he told the Post. “I’m going to get this behind me and then I’m going to go from there.”

Rep. Tammy Duckworth

Rep. Duckworth is running for the Senate next year, with an eye on unseating vulnerable Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.).

The freshman congresswoman holds a slight edge in the polls, and could benefit from coming to Clinton’s aid during the hearing, as Illinois is a blue state that is also Clinton’s childhood home.

Judging by current polling, the odds are good that Duckworth and Clinton will be on the same ticket next year. For the time being, their political fates appear to be at least partially tied together.

As a double-amputee veteran of the Iraq War and former assistant secretary in the Department of Veterans Affairs, Duckworth could also be primed for a Cabinet slot in a future Clinton administration.

Tags Barbara Mikulski Bill Clinton Boehner Hillary Clinton Jason Chaffetz John Boehner Mark Kirk Paul Ryan Trey Gowdy

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