It’s not all about Hillary
BREAKING: a politician said a stupid thing on TV last night.
By now, you’ve probably seen breathless coverage of House Majority Leader and presumed future Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) comments propping up the Select Committee on Benghazi as an example of House Republicans’ efforts to fight for conservative principles. He appeared in an interview with Sean Hannity last night, and after 4 minutes of back-and-forth, fumbled a damaging talking point:
“Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee—a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened, had we not fought…”
Hannity interrupted McCarthy here, but it was enough. Pundits and journalists latched on to the gaffe, making hay out of an already contentious issue.
David Weigel at WaPo [emphasis mine]:
The interview ran late Tuesday night, giving Hillary Clinton’s campaign and allies time to prepare a counterattack. They — and Democrats, generally — had always described the May 2014 creation of the Select Committee on Benghazi as a political fishing expedition. All of a sudden, McCarthy was saying so, just to mollify a partisan conservative TV host. Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon quickly argued as much on Twitter.
McCarthy’s answer was indeed at odds with 16 months of Republican talking points on the investigation, led by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). Whenever he was asked if the committee was political, outgoing Speaker of the House John Boehner typically expressed disgust at the mere suggestion. Democrats were talking politics while lifetime prosecutor Trey Gowdy was talking about events that led to the murders of four Americans.
He wasn’t “saying so.” He said that the American people would not know now what they do about Clinton had it not been for the committee’s investigations.
Did he say it stupidly? Yes. But he did not say what you claim he said.
Chris Cillizza, also at WaPo, takes a slightly different tack, but also paints the comments as concerning:
While McCarthy isn’t directly contradicting Boehner’s past justifications for the Benghazi committee, he quite clearly is painting the committee’s work in a political light and tying the committee’s work to Clinton’s poll slippage. While anyone with a brain would have concluded a while ago that the Benghazi committee wasn’t solely about policy, having the man who is about to be the next speaker of the Republican-controlled House say exactly that is not smart. At all.
What McCarthy said was not smart, but I don’t believe anyone “had” him say it. Watch the video again: Hannity’s guns were blazing, and he was definitely trying to press McCarthy on his previous work with Republican leadership. McCarthy slipped up. Everyone—including Hannity, McCarthy, and the various journalists having a free for all with this—knows that Hillary’s dip in the polls is a pleasant side effect of the work Trey Gowdy and the Benghazi committee members are doing, but to suggest that policy and politics should not cross during the course of a congressional investigation is to suggest an impossibility. Yet is the alternate scenario that the media is now using to prove that McCarthy “admitted” that the Benghazi committee is all about elections.
Congressional Democrats are having a field day with the clip, demanding the dissolution of the committee:
“I believe it is time to end this investigation,” committee member Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) said in a statement.
She also called for McCarthy, committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to “apologize” for “abusing the memories” of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and the three other Americans killed during an attack on a U.S. compound in the Libyan city in 2012.
“The decent thing to do is to wrap up the committee’s work as soon as possible,” said Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), another member of the committee and a 2016 Senate candidate.
“[T]he majority leader’s partisan disclosure breaks the promise we made to the victims’ families to make sure a tragedy of this magnitude never happens again.”
The comments also raise questions about McCarthy’s ability to serve as the next leader of the House GOP. The California Republican has only been in Congress for nine years, and his apparent off-the-cuff remarks likely inspired concern about whether he was sufficiently tested to serve as Speaker of the House.
McCarthy’s comments are blowing up because they fall neatly in line with what Democrats have been complaining about since Republicans formed the committee last May, which is why I’m standing up for McCarthy on this one. You may not like him, or his tactics, or the role he played in Boehner’s House, but allowing the media and the Democrats to run away with this one would constitute an actual disservice to Gowdy, the committee, and the men who lost their lives in Benghazi.
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