WASHINGTON, DC — Two top Democrats slammed their Republican colleagues on Wednesday for the “insulting way” they have carried out a year and a half worth of investigations into the supposed Benghazi scandal, urging them to relent and focus on preventing another such tragedy from occurring.
Reps. Adam Smith (D-CA) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) are the ranking members on the House committees on Armed Services and Oversight respectively, two of the four that have devoted considerable time and effort to getting to the bottom of just what happened the night of the Benghazi attack in 2012. Together they have sat through dozens of hours of hearings and depositions related to the Obama administration’s response to the assault that left four Americans, including the ambassador to Libya, dead at its end. “When something happens like happens in Benghazi,” Smith said, “we absolutely have to investigate, we have to exercise [our] oversight function in a responsible manner to figure out what happened and most importantly how to prevent it from happening again.”
But enough is enough according, they said. “That’s the great tragedy of this investigation that the Republicans have led,” Smith said, calling it “relentlessly partisan” and focused on finding something that can be used to embarrass the administration. Smith pointed to the fact that a week after the attack a Republican member of Congress first mentioned possible impeachment as evidence of the blatantly partisan tenor the investigations have taken on from the start.
“As a member of the Armed Services Committee, my biggest objection is that it makes Congress look bad and it undermines the legitimate reason that we should be exercising oversight,” Smith said. “When you do that, when you [launch investigations] in a partisan manner as the Republicans have done … we are not performing the function we are supposed to be performing, which is smart, valid oversight,” he continued.
“Frankly, it is an embarrassment for our committees,” Cummings agreed. “It undermines our credibility, and nobody will take us seriously.” Cummings also hit out at Oversight Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), noting the numerous times he has massaged facts or outright fabricated them in order to move the Benghazi scandal forward. “Take a minute and think about what he suggested: that Hillary Clinton told the Secretary of Defense of the United States to withhold military assistance when her friend, Ambassador Chris Stevens, and three other Americans were dying,” Cummings said, referring to the conspiracy theory that the Obama adminsitration had ordered the military to “stand down” the night of the attack. Despite a Republican-written report debunking the existence of such an order, Issa went on to repeat the claim only days later. “That is a horrendous and baseless accusation,” Cummings chided.
The latest push from the GOP to rekindle Benghazi involved calling Gen. Carter Ham (Ret.), the former commander of U.S. Africa Command, before a closed session of the Armed Services Committee on Wednesday morning. This, Cummings pointed out, marked the sixth time that Ham had been compelled to appear before Congress since the attack nearly nineteen months ago. “This is the insulting way Republicans have conducted this investigation,” Cummings lamented. “Instead of honoring his service and looking for ways to save future lives, Republicans are playing a game of political ‘gotcha’ with our military.”
Smith described the process that Republicans have taken in the Benghazi instance as “throwing something against the wall and hoping something sticks” without any basis in fact. “There’s too many hypothetical, too many suppositions,” he said, in response to a question from the crowd about allegations that former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell’s helping clear the pathway for Hillary Clinton’s possible presidential run. The question, Smith added, mirrored the Republican model of “make it up first, then try to figure it out later.” Cummings jumped in, adding: “Try to find facts that don’t exist to support the allegation.”
Democrats have spent the last few weeks urging their friends across the aisle to end their Benghazi witchhunt, citing a recent letter from the Department of Defense saying that millions of dollars have been spent in pursuit of facts that don’t exist. And while Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) seems content to let these investigations run indefinitely, he’s resisting calls from even more conservative wings of his party to appoint a special committee in the House to seek out White House malfeasance.
As if to punctuate how the supposed scandal isn’t going away anytime soon, however, on Wednesday afternoon on the other side of the Capitol, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Kelly Ayotte (R-AZ) will be holding a press conference. The subject? Why the media refuses to cover the Benghazi cover-up and demanding a joint committee investigate the Obama administration. If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s at least the fifth such call for a committee.
The Violence Against Women Act first became law in 1994 and has since been routinely reauthorized without controversy. By providing resources for law enforcement to combat spousal abuse, it has protected countless women from domestic violence.
But the 2012 re-authorization, like many initiatives of the just-concluded Congress, fell prey to House Republican resistance — in this case, to expanding the Act to cover more women. In the end, House GOP leaders refused bring to a vote a bill that passed the Senate with a bipartisan supermajority.
“The House Republican leadership’s failure to take up and pass the Senate’s bipartisan and inclusive VAWA bill is inexcusable,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), a Democratic leadership member, told TPM. “This is a bill that passed with 68 votes in the Senate and that extends the bill’s protections to 30 million more women. But this seems to be how House Republican leadership operates. No matter how broad the bipartisan support, no matter who gets hurt in the process, the politics of the right wing of their party always comes first.”
A Republican source familiar with failed last-minute negotiations to save the measure between Vice President Joe Biden and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) disputed that view. The source blamed Senate Democrats for making a resolution impossible by “constantly shifting the goalposts” and adopting a “my way or the highway approach.”
But Senate Democrats peeled off enough Republicans for the new provisions. In April, they passed the expanded version by a whopping 68-31 vote, winning over 8 Republicans.
The legislation then moved to the House, where Republican leaders faced pressure to act, but had no intention of supporting the added provisions. So they introduced a scaled-back version that omitted them and made it harder for illegal-immigrant victims of domestic violence to obtain legal status under a special category called the U Visa.
Republican leaders deployed their female members to make the case for it, notably Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA), a leadership member, and Rep. Sandy Adams (FL), herself a victim of domestic violence. Over the objections of some advocates for abused victims, but with thesupport of a so-called men’s rights group, House GOP leaders passed their version on a partisan vote, despite a White House veto threat.
And that’s when the legislation stalled, never to recover.
Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) invited the Senate to go to conference to resolve the differences. He also argued that the Senate bill was unconstitutional because it would raise new revenue with visa fees (bills with revenues are supposed to originate in the House, though leaders can dodge that problem if they want to). Republicans also said provisions involving tribal jurisdiction were constitutionally impermissible.
Democrats demanded that the GOP take up the Senate version, comparing its strong bipartisan support with the lack of cross-party appeal for the scaled-back re-authorization, and citing President Obama’s veto threat. Boehner stonewalled. The stalemate deepened.
A bipartisan letter authored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), two key sponsors of VAWA, urging Boehner to accept the Senate bill had no impact. Months later, a large House coalition including 10 Republican members pushed him to accept a Senate-like version — again, to no avail.
In December, there was a glimmer of hope for the measure when Biden, the chief architect of the original VAWA, entered negotiations with Cantor to see if they could resolve the disputes. But that, too, went nowhere.
A top Senate Democratic aide said Cantor refused to budge on the LGBT, undocumented immigrant and especially tribal jurisdiction provisions. A GOP source familiar with the negotiations countered that the vice president showed “good faith” but Senate Democrats kept throwing up “roadblock after roadblock” and showed no interest in compromising.
The 112th Congress ended Wednesday, and the Violence Against Women Act perished with it. The new Congress now has to start all over. A spokesperson said Leahy was disappointed by the failure of VAWA re-authorization and looks forward to soon reintroducing an “inclusive, bipartisan bill covering vulnerable victims.”