June 6, 2023

What is Boehner up to?


Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – What is Speaker of the House John Boehner up to? All is not as it seems.

In an election year where the economy and Obamacare will be front and center, it’s unlikely that many votes are riding on the outcome of a special House committee charged with looking into the attack on Benghazi in Libya.

Yet questions remain, fueled by conservatives convinced that the White House by downplaying the role of Al Qaeda inspired terrorism misled the American people on the eve of the presidential election, an action that Republicans believe cost Mitt Romney the election, and should be punishable somehow. This latest House panel on Benghazi is the GOP’s attempt to inject the issue into the November elections, and to lay the groundwork for 2016 when Hillary Clinton is the likely Democratic nominee for president.

Hammering away on Benghazi is not going to gain Republicans any more votes. Most people made up their minds about it long ago, and now the GOP is just taking pot shots and lofting trial balloons to keep its activist base angry and engaged. The surprise is that Speaker John Boehner gave in to pressure to create the select committee. He had been resisting, conveying the impression that he thought it was time to move on.

The Tea Party wing of the party had other ideas, and Boehner relented, naming South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, a self-described constitutional conservative and former federal prosecutor to chair the committee. In the days since Gowdy was announced, he has said publicly he will demand every scrap of paper directly or remotely connected to the 9/11 attack in Benghazi. When it is pointed out to him that much of this ground has been covered in seven previous investigations, he says that’s all the more reason to have another given the fragmented nature of what’s been uncovered.

When Boehner chose Gowdy as the face of this investigation, he knew he was getting an outspoken, often explosive critic of the administration. Gowdy likes to say he is “a prosecutor not a politician.” His family dogs are named “Judge, Jury and Bailiff,” and before being elected to Congress, he built his reputation as a tough prosecutor in Greenville, S.C., winning the death penalty in each of the seven cases where he sought the ultimate punishment.

Maybe this is what Boehner wants, but politics is more nuanced than a murder trial, and the word in Washington is that if anyone is likely to overreach and generate a backlash against the GOP, it’s Gowdy. He won election in the Tea Party wave of 2010 when he ran far to the right of longtime conservative Rep. Bob Inglis, defeating him by 40 points in the Republican primary.

By installing Gowdy as chair of the select committee, Boehner underscores the partisan nature of the exercise. There is a fine line in Congress today between a committee hearing and a kangaroo court. Democrats are debating whether to name anyone on their side to even join the group.

What is Boehner up to? That’s an ongoing question on Capitol Hill, and all that appears certain is that Boehner wants to continue as Speaker or he probably wouldn’t be running for reelection in November. He has to keep the Tea Party insurgents in check, and giving them this committee is one way to do that.

On the other hand, if Gowdy overplays his hand, what Boehner giveth he can take away. By putting an activist in charge, the Speaker appears ready to let nature take its course, and the Tea Party to rise or fall on the merits of an issue that the mass of voters couldn’t care less about.

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© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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