When in doubt, talk up Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's epic Benghazi gaffe. That's the plan of attack from the White House, the Hillary Rodham Clinton campaign and Democrats on Capitol Hill, who clearly hope his remark will be the gift that keeps on giving.
The new plans for a committee to investigate Planned Parenthood? More politics like the Benghazi committee, said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday. Earnest weaved the idea of another committee into a stew of Republican headlines in the last month — from Speaker John A. Boehner retiring amid an internecine shutdown fight to the Benghazi remarks of McCarthy of California, his likely replacement.
"Nowhere have I've seen much reference to the plight of middle class families, the desire to create jobs in this country. There certainly hasn't been any legislative actions on the transportation bill or reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank. ... And the result has been a couple of public announcements from American companies that they're going to have to ship American jobs overseas. ... I do think it is a useful explanation for how Republicans find themselves at the bottom of the polls when it comes to the public's view of our nation's capital."And Earnest wasn't buying McCarthy's repeated disavowals of the remarks he made on Sean Hannity's Fox News show.
"Look, I think it's quite clear that in trying to make the case to conservatives on Fox News, in an interview with a conservative Fox News commentator, that Mr. McCarthy was trying to burnish his conservative credentials. And the best justification that he could use was the fact that he had been instrumental in standing up a select committee that had taken its toll on Secretary Clinton's presidential prospects. ... That's the way he described his motivation and the motivation of the committee. And when he was talking to that television news personality, he seemed quite proud of it. ... The fact is, what happened in Benghazi was a tragedy, and there were four innocent Americans who were trying to serve their country who were killed. And the fact that even three years later now, the congressional Republicans continue to politicize that effort, it's offensive."Earnest didn't go so far as to say Obama wouldn't be able to work with McCarthy should he get the gavel.
"The real question is, will the next leader of the House of Representatives be somebody who recognizes that compromise and bipartisanship are not dirty words?" he asked.
On the Hill, Democrats continued to force the issue, with firebrand Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida bringing an ethics complaint and Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York, the ranking member of the Rules Committee, forcing a vote on closing down the committee on the House floor.
The measure failed, of course, but gave Democrats another chance to vent and try to capitalize on both sides of the Capitol.
Pelosi: Members' Choice Whether to Quit Benghazi Committee
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, on Wednesday applauded the work of prior select committees, like the select committee on assassinations, which looked into the deaths of President John F. Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., but said they’ve now become an "enormously political tool.”
She called both committees part of a "war on women."
McCarthy, she said, "went on national television in a celebratory moment and shouted out that [the Benghazi Committee] had finally led to the lowering of number of a presidential candidate,” Lee told reporters. "A woman. Who is running for the presidency of the United States of America."
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., piled on from the other side of the Capitol with gusto. A typical line: “House Republicans have used the tragic deaths of four Americans as political fodder to win elections. Don’t the victims deserve better? Don’t the families deserve to not have their deceased loved ones pulled into a political inquisition?”
The Clinton campaign also continues to try and capitalize, tweeting out a video with another Kevin McCarthy — who owns the @KevinMcCarthy Twitter handle — to make light of the incident.
A contrite McCarthy himself appeared before the cameras with other House leaders Wednesday morning and once again hoped to put the comments behind him.
"Let's be very clear: Benghazi is not political. It was created for one purpose and purpose only: to find the truth on behalf of the families of the four dead Americans, period. I've been very clear about this and don't use politics to try to change this around. That is the only reason why that committee was created. The integrity of Trey Gowdy, the integrity of the work that has been done has never come into question and it never should be. Stop playing politics."Boehner himself sought to expunge the comment.
"Let me just add this. There's not one American who in the course of their lifetime wouldn't rather have the opportunity to say words over again," he said. "Not one."
But the comment — and the subsequent walk-backs — haven't helped McCarthy with the same band of conservative House Republicans who long plotted to topple Boehner.
Indeed, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., told reporters at the regular Conversations With Conservatives luncheon Wednesday that McCarthy's comment was so bad it might disqualify him from continuing to serve in leadership.
"McCarthy's absolutely not an option," he said, calling him Boehner's "right-hand man."
"There is absolutely no way that I think that you can vote for McCarthy and go back home and tell your constituents you did the best thing for them. I feel like his comments on Benghazi may have disqualified him not as speaker, but also as majority leader," he said.
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, was more charitable, criticizing McCarthy's comments but saying the reason why the committee was created was because Clinton and Obama politicized their reaction to the Benghazi attacks before the 2012 election and withheld information from the Congress.
Matthew Fleming contributed to this report.
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