What happened in Benghazi was serious, but don’t expect the hearings of the House Select Committee on the attacks to be.
Here are Five Things we already know about the Benghazi hearings:
1. It will be a Kangaroo Court.
If you have unanswered questions about what happened in the tragedy that took the lives of four Americans, you have lots of places to look. The State Department’s report is here, the Senate did a bi-partisan report and the partisan back and forth is unpacked here. And by all means, you should read about one of those we lost, Ambassador Chris Stevens, here.
However, the GOP is not holding these hearings to answer any substantive questions. They’re merely trying to feed the outrage monster, ding up Hillary, and give their Members of Congress something to do amid all the Washington gridlock. Lawmaking has effectively stopped in DC while politicians take cover during the midterm elections and House Speaker John Boehner needed a diversion for all the idle hands in his workshop.
2. The Republicans Will Overreach.
I’m looking at you Westmoreland.
Speaker Boehner is not a slash and burn kind of guy. He seems to realise the credibility of the committee relies on it not seeming too crazy. Good luck with that.
These hearings are a way to appease the right wing base and provide content for Fox News. Do either of those constituencies want a reasonable, fact-based hearing?
Even if the Speaker tried hard to pick committee members he could control and who seem reasonable (I hear Illinois Rep. Peter Roskam is there to be a chaperone) this group has a job to do – draw blood.
Sure, the chairman Trey Gowdy and committee Susan Brooks are both former federal prosecutors. But the panel also includes a guy who made anti-Muslim remarks on the House floor (Mike Pompeo), a 2nd term member who was silent while a constituent let loose on her “foreign born anti-American” president. And, of course, who can forget when another Committee member, Lynn Westmorland, called the president “uppity.” This is not a group that seems to err on the side of thoughtfulness.
3. The Democrats Will Not Field their Best Defence
If we were about to embark on a trial or an impeachment of a federal judge or a thorny ethics investigation, the Democrats appointed by Nancy Pelosi this week would be the A Team. However, in the Alice in Wonderland world of Tea Party inspired conspiracy theories and facts-be-damned television coverage,
I’m not sure having a thoughtful legal eagle like Adam Schiff is the right fit. Adam Smith is the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. He is studious and serious. What the hell use would be he on this Committee? Linda Sanchez has been skillful in the yucky, mostly bipartisan world of the Ethics Committee. The Benghazi Committee will have yuck, but there’s no way her knack for bipartisanship will come in handy.
Pelosi tapped Elijah Cummings, who deals with Benghazi Committee chairman Darrell Issa’s crazy every day on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. I suppose I see the thinking in bringing an experienced Issa wrangler like Cummings on board. As a fresh-faced Iraq vet, Tammy Duckworth is another good call. However, none of Pelosi’s picks seem likely to really raise hell for the GOP’ers running the Committee. However, for a group that knows these hearings aren’t on the level, it sure seem like the Democrats are preparing for a knife fight by arming themselves with library books.
4. The Democrats Will Walk Out At Least Once.
Lots of House Democrats didn’t even want Pelosi to appoint members to the Committee. She did the right thing. However, when you are in the Minority on a Congressional Committee and many of your colleagues think it is folly to be there in the first place, you can’t just sit and watch the whole time. Because of this, you can count on a dramatic walkout when the Republicans commit the inevitable procedural or rhetorical abuse.
5. The TV Ratings Will Stink
There have already been 13 hearings on the tragic events of Benghazi. They went the way most Congressional hearings go in the recent era. These hearings will follow the same script. Though the Benghazi Committee members secured themselves more than the customary five minutes members of Congress are normally limited to during hearings, there’s still no doubt their remarks will follow the standard three step playbook:
Step 1. An expression of how outraged the hardworking people of the 5th District are.
Step 2. An expression of how “troubled” the member is by some phrase or reference in a document that has been extracted from a document by the member’s staff (remember to wave the document).
Step 3. Just as the light turns red on the 5 minute clock, ask the witness some formulation of the question, “How did President Obama let this happen?”
The Democrat who speaks next will then spend 5 minutes decrying the outrageous behaviour of the previous speaker.
Of course, this standard congressional theatre is not going to captivate the public. Sadly for the good people at C-Span, no one is going to tune into this predictable spectacle.
As a base energizing exercise, this may be smart politics for the Republicans. But you have to wonder if this isn’t part of a larger brand-damaging trend that seems to focus more on appeasing the shrillest voices in the GOP tent rather than looking for ways to appeal to the national appetite for something more reasoned. The Democrats’ strategy seems to be to sit back and wait for the Republicans to do something stupid. These hearings sure make it look like the GOP is obliging.
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