Politics In The News: Benghazi Attack Resurfaces

As a result of a newly released White House email, House Speaker John Boehner has decided to set up a special committee to investigate the attack in Libya but Democrats are balking at serving on it.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The attack in Benghazi, Libya that took the life of the American ambassador is once again the subject of intense political debate. As a result of a newly released White House e-mail, House speaker John Boehner has decided to set up a special committee to investigate the Benghazi affair. But Democrats are balking at serving on that committee.

For more on this and other political news, we're joined now as we are most Mondays by Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So bring us up to date. What is the new email that has everyone worked up about it including speaker Boehner who initially, I must say, resisted a special committee to investigate this affair?

ROBERTS: Well, he did resist it because he thought it was not necessarily politically wise. But this is an email from the White House for talking points for then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice before she went on a whole raft of Sunday programs, after the Benghazi attack and other demonstrations going on around the Mid-East at the time.

It was released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request from a conservative group. And so, conservatives are saying: Look, this was supposed to - everything was supposed to come to the Congress before now. So they're charging a cover-up. They say this is reason to have this special committee. Now, there've been eight committees so far: 13 hearings, 25,000 pages of documents, but this will be yet another one.

And the person who will be heading it, South Carolina Republican Trey Gowdy, says he has evidence that the administration is hiding Benghazi information and has an intent to hide it. The speaker will name the Republican committee members.

The Democrats are trying to figure out whether to even participate in what is supposed to be a bipartisan committee. They think that if they don't participate they can show its partisan ploy, but they would also put them in a position where they have no voice. So they haven't figured out what to do.

MONTAGNE: Well, one of the reasons the Republicans have tried to keep the events in Benghazi in the news is they think it will work for them in the coming election. But, Cokie, is that really a winning strategy?

ROBERTS: Well, the speaker has certainly thought not. And it could help you out the Republican base. There are people very excited about this and it plays into the storyline that this administration is weak on foreign policy. But there's no indication that's what anybody cares about in this selection, Renee. It's really an election about the economy.

But this could be geared to the next election and there are lots of Democrats who believe that it's really a shot aimed at Hillary Clinton who, of course, was Secretary of State when all of this happened. And it's likely that the special committee would subpoena her.

But this election right now is looking pretty good for Republicans without all the controversy a special Benghazi committee would entail. They just have to, you know, ride the tales of a weak economy.

MONTAGNE: Well, speaking about the economy. At the end of last week, the new numbers came out and they were pretty good about jobs. Will that make any difference in the Republican calculations?

ROBERTS: If people start to perceive the economy as being better, that could make a difference. But right now, they are not perceiving it that way. And all of the numbers are looking good for the Republicans: the presidential approvable rating is very low; the question of which party would you prefer to have Congress is good for Republicans right now - what we call the generic House number.

And, you know, the reason that we pay attention to these polls at this stage of the process, Renee, is that there are certain markers that you can look at going into even a congressional election, that gives you a pretty good sense of how it's likely to come out. And right now, all of those markers - as I say, presidential approval, the view of the economy, the sense that the country is off on the wrong track - all of those are working right now for the party out of power and that's what the Republicans are counting on.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much, Cokie Roberts.

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