By Mike Lillis - 05/06/14 10:09 AM EDT
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) suggested Tuesday that Democrats would participate in a select-committee investigation of the deadly 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, but only if the panel is “equally divided” between the parties.
House Republicans are poised to vote later this week to create the committee, and questions have swirled about whether the Democrats will boycott the process, as they did a similar 2005 investigation into the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, which they deemed a partisan whitewash.
“If this review is to be fair, it must be truly bipartisan,” Pelosi said in a statement. “The panel should be equally divided between Democrats and Republicans as is done on the House Ethics Committee. It should require that witnesses are called and interviewed, subpoenas are issued, and information is shared on a bipartisan basis.
“Only then,” she added, “could it be fair.”
It's unclear if Pelosi's 50/50 stipulation is a mandatory condition of the Democrats' participation on the panel. If it is, then the committee may consist only of Republicans, as Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who will head the special panel, suggested Tuesday that the Republicans, who control the House, will also hold more seats on the panel.
“We're the majority right now,” Gowdy said, according to reports. “We're the majority for a reason.”
Pelosi's openness to participate in the probe is hardly an endorsement of the special investigation, which the Democrats have characterized as both a politically motivated stunt to embarrass the Obama administration and a waste of congressional time and taxpayer dollars. But the remarks are some indication that Democrats are wary of giving up a presence on the panel, thereby allowing the Republican investigators to take shots at the White House without a rebuttal from Democrats.
The office of Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerOvernight Finance: GOP makes its case for impeaching IRS chief | Clinton hits Trump over housing crash remarks | Ryan's big Puerto Rico win House GOP changes rules to thwart Dems Ryan secures big win with bipartisan Puerto Rico deal MORE (R-Ohio) was quick to respond to Pelosi's statement, blasting an email accusing the Democratic leader of applying a double standard because, as House Speaker in 2007, she had created a special committee on global warming that consisted of nine Democrats and six Republicans.
“Let the record show, in 2007, Ldr Pelosi thought a 9-6 ratio was 'fair,’”reads the subject line of the GOP email.
House Democrats fired back, noting that the climate change panel was launched at the outset of the 110th Congress, just as the Democrats were taking back power, to complement standing committees. It was not, the Democrats emphasized, a special panel created to investigate the White House response to a specific incident, like Benghazi or Katrina.
The push to create a select committee on Benghazi took off on Friday, when Boehner, who'd resisted such a move for many months, reversed course. He said the reluctance of the White House to cooperate with congressional investigations — combined with a newly released administration email the Republicans’ consider a “smoking gun” revealing White House deception — left him no choice.
“It’s clear that questions remain, and the administration still does not respect the authority of Congress to provide proper oversight,” Boehner said.
GOP leaders are taking some risk by doubling down on the investigation in the lead up to November's mid-term elections, as the ongoing probe by Republicans on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee – while generating much interest in the GOP's conservative base – has not resounded with voters at large, who appear much more concerned with jobs and other bread-and-butter economic issues.
Democrats have hammered the Republicans' focus on Benghazi, saying it's more proof the Republicans are out of touch with working class America.
“[They're] gonna spend taxpayer money for doing something that they've already spent taxpayer money to do,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, said Monday. “Our view is that we've done that [and] we don't believe the administration covered it up. And we believe that this is political only.”
Hoyer said he would vote against the creation of the select committee and would urge other Democrats to do the same.
On Monday, Boehner tapped Gowdy to head the select committee, though GOP leaders have yet to outline other details of how the process will work.
A vote on the select committee is expected before the end of the week.
This story was updated at 2:45 p.m.