7:33pm

Wed May 21, 2014
It's All Politics

Pelosi Picks Democratic Team For Benghazi Panel

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's decision to have Democrats participate on the House Benghazi select committee? A defensive move.

Some of her Democrats had urged Pelosi to boycott the committee. In their view, to take part would be to play into the hands of House Republicans who want to use the ninth investigation of the September 2012 attack in Libya, which left four Americans dead, to rally conservatives for the midterm elections.

But Pelosi ultimately determined it would be riskier for Democrats if they didn't participate than if they did. In a variation of the lottery slogan that says you can't win if you don't play, Pelosi knows the party is virtually guaranteed a loss if it doesn't play.

For starters, Democratic no-shows would give Republicans a chance to bash the House minority for abdicating its oversight responsibilities. Now Democrats won't have to explain to voters those images of empty chairs.

And it's a lot easier to win an argument with an empty chair rather than an occupied one. Just ask Clint Eastwood.

Just by being there, House Democrats make it harder for Republicans to make their case against the Obama administration. Democrats can, and will, contest — in the moment — GOP claims about what happened at Benghazi and during the aftermath.

House Democrats will also be in a position to defend the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and potential 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, from attacks.

Pelosi said Wednesday, however, in announcing the Democratic participation that Clinton and Secretary of State John Kerry are quite capable of defending themselves.

Democrats are also hoping to help shape the select committee process although their ability in that area is likely to be very limited, given that Republicans will have a two-vote majority.

Still, at least Democrats will be in the room when the issue of subpoenas comes up (as it invariably will).

"I could have argued this either way — why give any validity to this effort?" Pelosi told reporters. "But I do think it is important for the American people to have the pursuit of these questions done in a fair and open and balanced way as possible. That simply would not be possible leaving it to the Republicans."

The five Democrats Pelosi picked for the committee included some interesting choices. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, who will be the top Democrat on the committee, has gotten plenty of practice leading the Democratic resistance at committee hearings. As the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Investigations Committee, Cummings has frequently and forcefully tangled with that panel's chairman, Republican Darrell Issa of California.

"I believe we need someone in that room to simply defend the truth," Cummings said, leaving few doubts as to who he thought that would be.

Pelosi also named California Rep. Adam Schiff, who made news recently as one of the first Democrats to say publicly (on Fox News, no less) that Democrats should boycott the Benghazi committee. He represents Democrats who see the panel as, at best, a waste of time and at worst, a politically driven witch hunt.

Pelosi also chose Illniois Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a former Army helicopter pilot who lost both legs during the Iraq War and model of patriotic sacrifice. The other two Democrats are Rep. Linda Sanchez of California and Rep. Adam Sharp of Washington.

So Democrats will participate. If nothing else, that guarantees that the panel's hearings will generate even more sparks than they would have without them in the room.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.