WASHINGTON — A number of Democrats are arguing the caucus should appoint members to the soon-to-be formed Select Committee investigating the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, saying not participating will give Republicans an open forum to launch political attacks on the administration.
While virtually all Democrats are united in opposing the formation of the committee, which will investigate the deaths of four Americans including ambassador Chris Stevens, rank-and-file Democrats argued during a closed-door meeting Wednesday leadership's inclination to boycott the committee would be a mistake. As more members are starting to lean in favor of participating in the committee, the caucus will have another Friday morning meeting to debate the issue again before a final decision is made, sources said.
"I think it would be very valuable for people to see us fighting, particularly a fight I know we can win. The other side on this is clearly acting politically and they do not have a leg to stand on and I say that as someone who has spent hearing after hearing on Benghazi," Rep. Jim Himes, a member of the House Intelligence committee, told BuzzFeed. "I think if we had a talented team of thoughtful, articulate members, we could draw a huge contrast between a nakedly political, fact-less other side," added Himes, who is one of several members who has raised the issue during recent meetings with leadership.
One of Pelosi's strongest allies, Rep. Henry Waxman, also reportedly spoke in favor of appointing members to the panel during Wednesday's meeting.
House Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday that the committee would not be a "sideshow" or "circus" and only recently decided to move forward with the committee's creation after new emails were released that had previously been withheld from congressional investigators. Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina prosecutor, was tapped to chair the panel. Gowdy said on MSNBC Wednesday that the investigation would be serious and cautioned fellow Republicans to not fundraise off of Benghazi. But the fundraising arm of the House, the National Republican Congressional Committee, had already been asking for contributions.
"This is going to be a serious investigation. Our system of government depends on transparency and accountability," Boehner told reporters.
Democrats have roundly rejected that characterization. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Whip Steny Hoyer have called for the panel to be split evenly between Democrats and Republicans to be fair, but Boehner and the GOP leadership set the panel at seven Republicans and five Democrats.
Even without an even split, Rep. Alcee Hastings agreed that showing up would be in their best interest, though he acknowledged that the ultimate decision would be left up to the leadership.
"My overall view is they are going to make much of it either way. And if they're going to conduct an investigation, I want to have five of our very sharpest people — who are calm, collected, and good students — who are going to participate. You can't win arguing on the outside with this crowd," he said.
Members caution that no decision has been made yet, and likely won't until after Thursday's vote. To highlight the difficult position Democrats find themselves in, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver said after a whip meeting Thursday he understands both sides of the argument, but was nervous about leaving witnesses without backup.
"You know, I tend to side with [Maryland Rep.] Elijah Cummings, who said you'd make something illegitimate seem fair, but at the same time he knows that if we leave our people in there unprotected they will be bludgeoned," Cleaver said. "I probably lean a little more toward being in the room."