As much as congressional Republicans would like to do otherwise, there are three reasons why they, collectively, will not seek to further politicize future Benghazi hearings in 2013.
First, the Obama administration has signaled it has no intention of allowing the tragic attack on the U.S. consulate that occurred in Benghazi on September 11 to metastasize into a political liability. Following rumors of UN Ambassador Susan Rice’s possible nomination for Secretary of State, the president responded first with a firm defense of Rice’s judgment and qualifications. Then, when it appeared that the nomination process would be bogged down due to Republican critiques of Rice’s statements on Benghazi, promptly announced that Senator John Kerry would be the administration’s nominee for the cabinet post.
It should be noted that Rice was never actually nominated by Obama . The “floating” of her name as a possible nominee should be seen as nothing more than an attempt by the administration at gauging how salient the Benghazi issue was to Republicans in Congress. By promptly shifting gears and nominating Kerry, Obama acted shrewdly in further burying the issue before it tainted his second term.
Second, by nominating Kerry to replace Hillary Clinton at State, Obama has ensured that its foreign policy will have an advocate that is both forceful of its objectives and commands the respect of Congress. A long-time member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and its current Chairman, Kerry’s knowledge and insight on foreign affairs run deep. He is an ideal candidate for this position, and most Republicans know this.
With respect to the tragedy in Benghazi, Kerry has proven to be a moderating influence on the Foreign Relations Committee’s several hearings on this issue. While acknowledging that the administration made mistakes in its handling of the aftermath of the Benghazi attack that left four Americans dead, Kerry has consistently shown little interest in allowing the hearings to devolve any further along partisan lines. His tenure as Secretary of State will provide the administration with a certain cover of credibility that will deter Congress, or at least the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — the one foreign relations committee that does matter in Congress — from further politicizing the issue of what happened in Benghazi going forward.
Third and lastly, timing is everything in politics, and the timing for a congressional witch-hunt on Benghazi could not be any worse. January 2013 will be a busy month politically: the new Congress will be sworn in on January 3, the president’s second inauguration is on January 20, issues such as the resolving of the fiscal cliff and, following the Newtown massacre, gun control will be at the forefront of our national discourse. As it currently stands, the GOP will have a difficult time playing defense when it comes to holding the line on taxes, spending, and protecting the Second Amendment. Launching a conspiratorially-tinged offensive on a popular president with a Democratic senate and more pressing issues at hand — an approach that was pursued for over a year as an election strategy with disastrous results — would be ill-advised in the extreme.
Following the political trouncing the GOP got this past November, I suspect the party leadership to be particularly risk-averse. There are simply too many other issues that will take priority over this. The administration clearly made mistakes in its handling of the attack in Benghazi. Yet, any attempt at pursuing a politicized investigation into the Benghazi affair would backfire, and I suspect the party leadership, in both the House and Senate, but particularly in the Senate, know this well.