“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy
Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015
These were not impulsive and indiscreet remarks overheard by a nearby passenger on an airplane flight. Congressman McCarthy made this (now viral) statement on Fox News, in response to a question asking about accomplishments of the Republican majority. The fact is that Republicans have accomplished very little on Capitol Hill. That’s why Rep. John Boehner is leaving, and so should Senate Leader Mitch McConnell.
McCarthy has said something that is untrue. The Benghazi probe was not a political tactic against Hillary Clinton but a serious inquiry into American policy and the Benghazi debacle, which happened under her watch as secretary of State.
- The administration’s policy in Libya was a disaster, and conditions there had deteriorated.
- American Ambassador Chris Stevens had unsuccessfully sought additional protection.
- When he was under siege, our government did not — or even try to — provide support to rescue him and his colleagues.
- President Barack Obama, in the midst of his re-election campaign, had claimed victory over Al-Qaeda, so the administration went on television to assert that a video critique of Islamists was the reason for the unruly mob that mounted a sudden attack, when the administration knew that terrorists orchestrated and pursued this premeditated attack on Sept. 11, 2012.
The Obama administration lied for political reasons. And what does McCarthy do? He implies the essential investigation of this politically inspired cover-up was itself politically motivated. He has deprecated a momentous and continuing inquiry, and now, by implication, he casts an especially untimely shadow on the Benghazi hearings scheduled for October 22. He has played into the Bill-Hillary narrative that Republicans misuse tax dollars to bring down Hillary. He has, in effect, discredited the upcoming hearing as yet another political inquisition. Now Republicans, not Hillary, may be on the defensive as their motives are called into question.
More than two years ago, the House Foreign Affairs Committee conducted hearings on Benghazi. Democrats and Republicans respect Congressman Ed Royce, the able committee chairman who is renowned for his integrity and fairness. Royce is highly intelligent and well informed, hard working and conscientious. But he was no match for his Republican colleagues on the committee who made a mockery of the hearings.
Many of them sought their 15 minutes of fame by shouting poorly phrased questions at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and interrupting her responses. No matter how she replied, her interrogator likely would not probe an area of weakness but instead ask a previously written shrill question or just go for a diatribe. Some of the committee members are not that bright, others are simply inept. As a group they seemed unable to strategize or coordinate with each other.
Republicans have not learned anything, as evidenced by their incompetence the other day as they questioned the head of Planned Parenthood. They seemed like a bunch of bullies.
In the old days, committee members in an investigative hearing would yield to the committee counsel to pursue a strategy that included a carefully prepared line of questioning. If members of the committee had questions, they were not bombastic accusatory harangues, but precise and specific inquiries as part of that grand strategy. And the questions were complementary – each member would have a particular question, or a question and follow-up(s), and then transition to the next colleague in sequence, to build a case.
Experienced trial lawyers know you go after a hostile witness with civility and courtesy because the jury is watching. In this case, the jury consisted of the American people who saw middle-aged and older Republican men ganging up on Hillary Clinton, and they made fools of themselves without getting incriminating responses except perhaps her classic “What differences does it make?” (The reality is that Hillary Clinton is her own worst enemy. She doesn’t need Republicans or congressional hearings to bring her down.)
Since those hearings, Mitchell Zuckoff has written the compelling 13 Hours in Benghazi, to be released as a movie in early 2016. That clinical exploration of the events surrounding Benghazi may damage Hillary Clinton, if she is still in the race. But the Benghazi hearings two years ago had limited impact because at times Clinton looked like a victim of mudslinging. And now, McCarthy reprises that impression with his gratuitous bravado. Hopefully, his outburst will not taint the movie which is, after all, based on a solidly credible book.
Both parties choose their Congressional leaders for their negotiating skills in backroom deals, their record in dispensing patronage and perks, and their ability to raise large sums from special interests, which they dutifully serve. Democrats don’t get that it’s workers, not unions. Republicans don’t get that it’s Main Street, not Wall Street. Whether it’s Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner, Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell, or possibly now Kevin McCarthy, we see politicians alienated from the electorate who are inarticulate and inelegant in their language, not only unable to create the optimum sound bite on message, but mistake prone; in short, they are remarkably unqualified to appear before the camera.
Perhaps Republicans need a speaker of the House who is a telegenic and media savvy leader who can see the big picture. How about those qualifications? Then the speaker can find someone else, out of view, who doesn’t talk in public, to raise money and dispense patronage.