WASHINGTON – A renewed GOP push to investigate the 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi got off to a partisan start Thursday when the U.S. House voted mostly along party lines to create a special committee to look into the attacks..
The House voted 232-186 to create the panel. Seven Democrats voted with Republicans.
The select committee will be chaired by Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina. House Speaker John Boehner on Friday is expected to name six Republicans to join Gowdy on the panel.
Democrats, who have been allocated five seats on the select committee, are divided on whether to participate. They are scheduled to meet Friday morning to decide.
"This is a serious effort to get to the truth," Boehner said. "I would hope my colleagues across the aisle see it the same way I do and appoint members to serve."
Debate on the House floor largely focused on whether the select committee is necessary, given the 13 congressional hearings and 50 briefings that have been held on the attacks. Republicans said prior committee investigations were hampered because the White House and State Department weren't forthcoming with documents and information.
"The Obama administration has strung roadblocks at every turn in the road," said Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas.
Democrats said the select committee is duplicative, wasteful and political.
"We have bottomed out on Benghazi," said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.
Gowdy, a former prosecutor from Spartanburg, S.C., has said his committee will address all three aspects of the Benghazi debate: security lapses, the military's apparent inability to respond quickly enough to the attacks, and whether the White House deliberately misled the public about the circumstances that led to the attacks.
Gowdy monitored the debate on the House floor Thursday afternoon before the vote.
Terrorists, none of whom have been caught yet, stormed the consulate facilities in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others. The initial explanation from the White House was that a protest over an anti-Muslim video — rather than coordinated action by terrorists — was responsible for the attacks.
Although Gowdy is firmly among House Republicans who believe the administration mishandled the situation, he has generally adopted a neutral tone in discussing his committee's investigation.
"I'm interested in the facts, and facts that we can prove," Gowdy said in a recent interview. "You, your family and my colleagues on the other side of aisle are free to draw different conclusions from those facts, but we can't draw any reasonable inferences or conclusions until you have them."
Democrats also complained that the National Republican Congressional Committee issued a fundraising plea based the creation of the select committee. They said the GOP is trying to benefit politically from another investigation that likely will continue through the November elections.
"This is a cynical attempt to fire up the GOP base before the midterms," said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.
Gowdy has disavowed the fundraising appeal, and Democrats commended him for it on Thursday.
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., called Gowdy "a good man." The two spoke and shook hands on the floor.
Boehner, talking to reporters, declined to address the NRCC fundraising strategy.
In February, a House Armed Services subcommittee concluded that military personnel were not ordered to "stand down" during the attacks, and that U.S. forces did everything they could to respond. The subcommittee report, not joined by Democrats, also said the White House overstated its security preparations at the consulate in Benghazi before the 2012 anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
An independent report by an Accountability Review Board found severe shortcomings with the State Department's security at the consulate. The board's recommendations to address those problems have been implemented.