House Republicans voted to formally create a special panel to investigate the 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi Thursday.
The vote, in which all but a handful of Democrats voted against the bill creating the committee, reflects Democrats' belief that the investigation is a political tactic by Republicans designed to embarrass the administration, despite Republicans who insist it's not.
"This doesn't need to be, shouldn't be and will not be a partisan process," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said on the floor of the House before the vote. "Four Americans died at the hands of terrorists in a well coordinated assault and we will not take any shortcuts to the truth accountability or justice we will not allow any side shows that distract us from those goals."
Earlier this week, Boehner, named Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the chairman of the committee. Gowdy has pledged to seek "every single solitary relevant material document," surrounding the attacks as well as witnesses. A former federal prosecutor and member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Gowdy has indicated he will be unsatisfied with summaries of previous interviews and will seek to start fresh.
This will likely include matters that the White House considers settled, such as whether the military response to the attack was sufficient. When Retired Brig. Gen. Robert Lovell, who was in the U.S. military's operation center during the attack, said last week that the U.S. should have tried to do more to counter the attack, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney pointed to a review by Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen - which was given to the House Oversight Committee - that concluded the military did everything it could. The Republican-led House Armed Services Committee similarly concluded that although the military's response was "severely degraded" by insufficient information about the attack that would have allowed them to prepare, they did not identify any other actions the military could have taken to change the outcome of the attack.
Democrats are still weighing whether to participate in the panel. On one hand, the White House and Democratic leaders in the House have portrayed the investigation as an unnecessary redundancy given the amount of time and effort that has already been expended looking into the aftermath of the attacks. They also have suggested that it is motivated by partisanship. But ceding all involvement in the investigation will rob them of the ability to shape the investigation in any way, especially if the panel is given subpoena powers.
A leadership aide said Democrats will likely decide on their participation in the panel sometime after the vote. They are scheduled to huddle in the Capitol first thing Friday morning.
One matter up for debate would be the makeup of the panel. A senior leadership aide told CBS News earlier this week that the committee would include seven Republicans and five Democrats, even though House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called for the panel to be split equally between Republicans and Democrats. Other top House Democrats have reportedly advocated a Democratic boycott if the numbers are not even.
An aide to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was quick to remind reporters that the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming the Democrats created in 2007 had nine Democrats and six Republicans. Boehner himself said Thursday that the makeup was "eminently fair" given Pelosi's global warming committee.
Republican attempts to portray the panel as apolitical have been complicated by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), whichinvited supporters on Tuesday to "become a Benghazi watchdog" by donating. "House Republicans will make sure that no one will get away from Gowdy and the Select Committee," the pitch read.
Gowdy has said the investigation should "transcend politics" and suggested earlier this week that members of Congress should not try to raise money off the investigation.
Boehner dodged questions about the fundraising in a press conference with reporters Thursday morning.
"Our focus is getting the truth for the American people and these four families," he said.