McCarthy comments on Benghazi a gift to Hillary Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s upcoming appearance before the U.S. House Select Committee on Benghazi was supposed to be a crucible: a chance for Republicans to prosecute the former secretary of state for her handling of the 2012 terrorist attacks that killed four Americans as well as for her use of private email.

Instead, it may have turned into a political gift for Clinton following this week’s suggestion by the likely next House speaker, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), that the taxpayer-funded Benghazi investigation was politically motivated. Clinton’s allies say his comments will help recast Clinton’s scheduled Oct. 22 hearing as a partisan inquisition rather than a fact-finding mission about the attacks in Libya.

McCarthy boasted in two television interviews on Wednesday that the committee’s work already had achieved a desired result: Clinton’s decline in the polls. The statements riled Democrats by seeming to validate their suspicions about the probe, which led to the discovery of Clinton’s use of a private email server – a controversy that has dogged her for seven months.

“The Benghazi committee has been a huge part of the email story from the beginning, so it takes the entire email story and admits to everybody that it’s in a political context,” said Steve Elmendorf, a Clinton supporter and former House aide. “Now I don’t know what they can do to make that hearing at all successful for Republicans.”

As strategist James Carville, a longtime Clinton ally, put it, “The thermostat has changed.”

The select committee’s chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-South Carolina), has maintained its work was a neutral examination of the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks. But McCarthy told Fox News host Sean Hannity: “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 un-trustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought.”

On Thursday morning, Senate Democratic leaders called on House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to disband the committee. Boehner defended its work and insisted its aim is to “know the full truth about what happened” and “never” has been about Clinton.

McCarthy’s Fox News comments – which echoed remarks from a CNN interview earlier in the day – raised concern among congressional Republican about his political skills and preparedness to ascend to the top leadership position on Capitol Hill when Boehner steps down on Oct. 30.

“He has to learn a lesson which I found very difficult: When you move up to speaker, everything you say is like being a presidential candidate,” said former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia). “Everything you say is national, everything you say is subject to scrutiny, and you simply have to be careful to say precisely what you intend and nothing more or less. It’s a transition problem.”

The affable McCarthy has cultivated tight relationships with fellow Republicans and has tended to internal House affairs. But with relatively scant legislative experience, McCarthy is now trying to step forward as a competent and politically sharp leader of his party.

Regardless, the controversy is unlikely to rupture McCarthy’s campaign for the top job. His lone opponent ahead of next Thursday’s leadership elections, Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Florida), is a little-known conservative who won only 12 votes on the House floor when he tried to challenge Boehner earlier this year.

“This is one of those blips you wish hadn’t happened, but it’s not hurtful or crippling to McCarthy,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma). “The real driver of this story isn’t what any Republican congressman said; it’s the emails and the server.”

With Clinton struggling to gain momentum in the Democratic nominating fight, McCarthy’s comments amount to a unifying force for the party to rally to her defense, as well as give her an opening to do what she finds most comfortable: fight back against Republicans.

“I think it will pull people together,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to President Obama. “The email situation is a complicated one… . All of that is gobbledygook to the American people, but political motivation is easily understood.”

David Brock, a Clinton ally who runs an assortment of Democratic groups that have aggressively defended her, said McCarthy’s suggestive comments “changes everything entirely.”

“To put it simply, the game is over and they’ve lost,” Brock said. “This was supposed to be the big moment for Gowdy and his committee and instead what we have is the person who’s likely the next speaker validating everything critics have been saying… . Now everyone can see the fact that this has been a partisan charade all along.”

Looking ahead to the general election, Brock added: “With this clip, we now have the ad we want.”

Clinton and her campaign have responded aggressively. On Wednesday, she said in an interview with MSNBC host Al Sharpton that McCarthy’s comments were “deeply distressing.”

“When I hear a statement like that, which demonstrates unequivocally that this was always meant to be a partisan political exercise, I feel like it does a grave disservice and dishonors not just the memory of the four that we lost, but of everybody who has served our country,” Clinton said.

On Thursday, her campaign pushed out a video to supporters in which press secretary Brian Fallon, speaking from Brooklyn headquarters, says McCarthy exposed “a political farce.”

“This is a big deal,” Fallon says in the video. “This committee, masquerading as an attempt to look into the deaths of four brave Americans we lost at Benghazi, is actually a taxpayer-funded sham and they’re focused on only one thing: driving down Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers.”

On Capitol Hill on Thursday, GOP lawmakers called the episode a wake-up call and learning experience for McCarthy – and said he still needed to douse the fires.

“Kevin should call it back and say it was an obvious mistake,” said Rep. Peter King (R-New York), a Boehner ally. “You give Bill and Hillary Clinton an issue and they’re going to run with it. You’ve got to be on your guard and realize this is the big leagues, the World Series, and every error is magnified.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a committee chairman and close friend of Gowdy’s, said Thursday on MSNBC that McCarthy’s comments were “just absolutely inappropriate. They should be withdrawn. Mr. McCarthy should apologize.”

Other Republican lawmakers were less agitated, however. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said there was no need for McCarthy to apologize – a view he said other conservatives share.

“When I heard what he said, it didn’t light me up at all,” King said. “There is nothing wrong with saying that Benghazi has a political effect.”

Talk to us

More in Local News

Photo by Kira Erickson/South Whidbey Record
Freeland resident Kevin Lungren has been commuting to the office using his paddleboard. It's a commute he can do in all seasons and just about any type of weather, except wind.
Whidbey commuter paddleboards his way to work in all seasons

The financial advisor says he’s only fallen off his board twice in the past five years.

Photo by Heather Mayhugh
Stuart Peeples demonstrates how to enter Heather Mayhugh's wheelchair van. In recent months, while navigating the new Mukilteo ferry terminal, Mayhugh has struggled to unload her clients who need access to the restroom.
People with mobility issues find new ferry terminal lacking

Some disabled folks say not enough thought went into improving the Mukilteo facility’s accessibility.

Temporary Lake Stevens Library to open this summer

The location will serve as the Sno-Isle branch until the proposed civic center campus is complete.

$500,000 available for Edmonds nonprofits

Organizations can apply for Edmonds Rescue Plan funds until Aug. 20.

Parts of Snohomish County under weekend heat advisory

Monroe and areas of the county near the Cascades were expected to see highs in the 90s.

Marysville man wins $100,000 in military vaccine lottery

Carmen S., who served in the Vietnam War, claimed his $100,000 cash prize this week.

Tirhas Tesfatsion (GoFundMe) 20210727
State AG says it can’t investigate Lynnwood Jail death

Tirhas Tesfatsion’s family pushed Lynnwood leaders for an independent inquiry. Her death was ruled a suicide.

JaNeen Aagaard donates blood at Bloodworks NW Friday afternoon in Everett at July 30, 2021.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Blood shortage strains local agencies, hospitals

Some blood types have reached critically low levels, and blood collection agencies are pleading for donations.

COVID-19 case reported at crowded Lynnwood council meeting

A person who attended the Monday meeting tested positive for the coronavirus just days later.

Most Read