“They’re Going to Waste a Lot of People’s Time”: House Democrats Gird for Benghazi 2.0

To say expectations are low that Republicans will work with Democrats on anything substantive once they retake the House majority in January would be an understatement. Republicans are champing at the bit to launch a dizzying flurry of investigations into everything from the origins of the COVID pandemic to Hunter Biden. The 118th Congress hasn’t even begun yet, but House Democrats are girding for information warfare. “It looks like we may move into a Benghazi-era again,” Congressman Joaquin Castro said of the next Congress.

Republicans spent last week exposing internal fissures in the party as Republican leader Kevin McCarthy struggles to secure his party’s backing to be the next Speaker of the House. (The leadership race is so fraught that McCarthy supporters felt the need to don buttons emblazoned with “O.K.”—an underwhelming acronym for “Only Kevin.”) But the one thing House Republicans can agree on is the need to go after political enemies. GOP lawmakers already have said they will investigate the Department of Homeland Security under Alejandro Mayorkas, the Department of Justice under Merrick Garland, the FBI under Christopher Wray, the Afghanistan withdrawal, Anthony Fauci, and more. Democratic lawmakers and congressional staff close to the January 6 investigative committee have reportedly been advised to be careful about what they put in emails and purchase professional liability insurance; some aides have asked supervisors if it’s worth preemptively lawyering up in preparation of any GOP counter-investigation, per Rolling Stone. Pete Buttigieg even said he’s ready to testify. 

Democrats know the drill—and the stakes. After two years of Benghazi investigations, that cost far into the millions, House Republicans fell short of concluding that either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama bore direct personal responsibility for the the 2012 terrorist attack on the US embassy in Libya. And yet, the damage was done. Not only did conservative news outlets have wall-to-wall coverage of the Benghazi hearings, the fallout was covered pretty much by everyone. The probe birthed a bevy of other investigations and scandals—Clinton’s use of her personal email among them—and tanked career moves. In an alternate timeline wherein the Benghazi investigations hadn’t happened it isn’t a stretch of the imagination that: Susan Rice would have served as Secretary of State; Clinton would have even bested Donald Trump in the 2016 elections; and, in a curious plot twist, McCarthy would have already served as Speaker of the House. It is this vortex of conservative conspiracy theories that Democrats are forced to prepare for again. 

Still, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Pelosi’s successor to lead the House Democratic caucus, was judicious in explaining how Democrats would handle the next Congress. “The Democrats are going to continue to look for opportunities to partner with Republicans on quality of life issues for everyday Americans whenever possible,” he said between House votes last week. But, he added, the party is ready to strongly call Republicans “out if they attempt to engage in extreme investigations, solely designed to score political points.” 

Already there’s been some jockeying about who should be the face of the response, especially on the House Oversight Committee, which has the broadest jurisdiction of any investigative body in the House, and whose current chair, Carolyn Maloney, is leaving Congress at the end of this term. Last week, Congressman Jamie Raskin emerged as the early favorite to succeed Maloney as the ranking Democrat when he secured more votes from Democrats on the Steering Committee than his two challengers, representatives Gerry Connolly and Stephen Lynch, to be the top Democrat on the committee. While Raskin’s ascension isn’t a given yet—the entirety of the caucus will cast its votes this week—it is not wholly surprising that the Maryland lawmaker is currently the front-runner for the role. After serving as an impeachment manager and on the January 6 committee, Raskin’s profile has grown substantially over the past several years. A former constitutional law professor, he has cemented himself as a levelheaded and informed counterweight to former president Donald Trump and some of the more bombastic Republicans in the House like Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz. Should Raskin secure the appointment as the top Democrat on the committee, it would buck the caucus’s tendency toward seniority. But it would also lay bare a recognition among rank-and-file Democrats of the importance of the role. As Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who is backing Raskin, recently put it to the Daily Beast: “It’s incredibly important for us to be able to lay out the case to the American people over the next two years—what the contrast is.”

Part of Democrats’ response will be pointing out the political gamesmanship, Castro said. “The Republicans look like they’re going to waste a lot of people’s time on things that are not improving Americans lives…. I think you’ll see all of us pointing out that the Republican approach is not a practical or useful one.” Ami Bera, a California Democrat, added, it will be key for Democrats to “relentlessly hit on bread-and-butter economic issues.” The tables have turned, he added, “We’re on offense now.” 

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