Speaker Boehner has appointed Rep. Trey Gowdy to chair the House Select Committee on Benghazi. Gowdy is an experienced prosecutor who has consistently impressed me (and, obviously, Boehner) during hearings before the Oversight Committee on Benghazi and the IRS.
Gowdy breaks the mold for chairman of a big ticket investigative committee. The typical chairman is a stern but somewhat subdued father figure — think Sen. Inouye of Iran Contra fame — or a venerable, or at least folksy, grandfather figure — think Sen. Ervin of Watergate fame. The old-fashioned chairman may press witnesses, but will leave the true attack dog stuff to counsel or colleagues.
Gowdy won’t cut it as a father or grandfather figure and he will be neither subdued nor folksy. He will likely be his own attack dog.
This will make it easier for Democrats and the mainstream media to attack him as a raw partisan. But that attack would have been launched with some effectiveness regardless of whom Boehner picked. With Gowdy, we know we’ll be getting a vigorous, rigorous questioner who has been committed to this investigation from the beginning.
In addition, Boehner knows he’s getting a favorite of the conservative base. The Speaker has been criticized for not establishing a select committee a year or more ago. But no one will be able to accuse him off going only half way once he finally got around to setting up that committee.
The Democrats have said they might not participate on the committee. I think that would be a mistake from their perspective.
If they participate, Democrats can break the Republicans’ momentum and rehabilitate, or at least assist, administration witnesses after they have been worked over by the likes of Trey Gowdy. Imagine you’re Susan Rice testifying before the committee. Would you rather face non-stop questioning from Republicans or have Democrats offering their spin and their softball questions for nearly half of your time in front of the cameras?
Democrats will also be better off participating when it comes to witnesses who are critical of the administration. Eighty percent of what a witness like Gen. Lovell or Gregory Hicks has to say may be adverse to Team Obama, but the other 20 percent might be helpful. Without Democratic participation, that 20 percent is likely to go unsaid.
The Democrats hope that by not participating, they will cause the hearings to be ignored by all but Republican partisans. But that’s probably wishful thinking. Plenty of non-partisans will watch the proceedings on C-SPAN. They will mostly be retired folk with a strong interest in politics — in other words, people who vote in midterm elections.
Moreover, if the hearings become explosive, they will be impossible to ignore. By then, it will too late for the Dems to send in the fire brigade.
Barring an explosion, the hearings won’t be a game-changer regardless of whether the Democrats participate. But they may well be of some marginal benefit to the Republicans both in the upcoming election and in 2016 if Hillary Clinton runs.
In any event, the hearings are worth having. It’s not okay to lie about events that result in the death of an American ambassador and three other Americans. As Boehner says, the American people deserve “answers, accountability, and justice.”