WASHINGTON: Republicans are reviving well-worn political scandals as they bid to seize control of Congress in mid-term elections while seeking to check Hillary Clinton’s momentum towards a possible presidential bid in 2016.
GOP leaders and strategists have steadily rolled out the plan in recent weeks, including the House voting to recommend the attorney general appoint a special counsel to probe IRS targeting of political groups.
But Thursday marked a potential watershed, when the House, pushed by its Speaker John Boehner, voted to create a select committee to investigate the 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi.
The two scandals consumed Washington for months in 2012 and 2013, and the GOP managed to put the administration, including its high-flying then secretary of state Clinton, on the back foot.
The question is whether re-investigation of the scandals at a time lawmakers struggle to cooperate on jobs initiatives to improve a shaky US economy will rally voters to the GOP side, or prompt a backlash.
“This is a story that’s not going to go away,” conservative congressman Joe Barton said of Benghazi.
No fewer than eight investigations have been conducted on the tragedy, in which four Americans were killed by extremists. Republicans insist the White House interfered politically in the attack’s aftermath, and that White House “stonewalling” is only making it worse.
“This doesn’t need to be, shouldn’t be, and will not be a partisan process,” insisted Boehner as his chamber, on a party-line vote, approved the new Benghazi probe, whose chair will be two-term Tea Party Republican Trey Gowdy.
“We will not take any shortcuts to the truth, accountability, or justice. And we will not allow any sideshows that distract us from those goals.” But that is exactly how congressman Steve Israel, head of the House Democrats’ campaign arm, sees it.
“These are political strategies Republicans have to excite their base in the mid-term election,” Israel told AFP, adding that the broader electorate won’t bite.
Voters “want us focused on the economy and not these distractions.” Another reason for the refocus could be the improving performance of Obama’s controversial health care law, highlighted Wednesday by testimony from insurers who said premiums were not soaring as Republicans predicted and that the vast majority of enrollees have paid their coverage. Conservatives who relentlessly sought the law’s repeal and blasted its disastrous rollout last year were now “pivoting” away to past scandals, Israel said. “When one issue fades, they’ve got to invent another one.”
But Republican National Committee press secretary Kirsten Kukowski said it was “ridiculous” to expect her party to abandon the Obamacare campaign theme.
“There are many issues that the American people are not happy with, whether it’s Obamacare, the economy or Benghazi,” she told AFP. Adding to Republican pressure, a House panel voted Thursday to subpoena Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki over accusations that a “waiting list” for sick veterans at an Arizona hospital contributed to deaths there. The administration has found itself knee-deep in investigations, Kukowski stressed, because “from the very beginning the Democrats have been handling these issues in a non-transparent way.” In private, however, Republican strategists admit the party has revived Benghazi because it serves as a political battering ram against Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential frontrunner in 2016.
“Americans have known Hillary Clinton for a very long time, and this is an opportunity for Republicans to present her back to the people and show them what happened on her watch,” a Republican aide said on condition of anonymity.
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