Updated 4 p.m. | House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Friday that Democrats will decide whether to participate in the newly formed House Benghazi committee once she's met with Speaker John A. Boehner to discuss concerns that control of the panel is tilted too heavily toward the Republican majority.
The California Democrat on Friday talked with reporters about the concept of meeting with Boehner about the new Benghazi committee. The Ohio Republican suggested letting staffers handle negotiations on rules for the new House panel investigating the attacks that led to the death of four Americans, including an ambassador.
“The speaker called me the other day. He said, ‘I’m very serious about this, I want this to be no circus. … We should sit down and come to terms on it,’” Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference Friday morning. “‘Fine,’ I said, ‘I can be there in a minute.’"
Pelosi sent a letter to the speaker later Friday rejecting the conditions set out by the GOP as "fundamentally unfair," and asking again for a face-to-face meeting. Citing recent clashes between House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and the ranking Democrat on that panel, Maryland's Elijah E. Cummings, Pelosi wrote: "The proposal does not prevent the unacceptable and repeated abuses ... in any meaningful way." It's unclear when a meeting would take place, with members back in their districts for recess next week and a GOP leadership aide insisting that Republicans had already responded in writing to Pelosi's requests and that the ball was now in Democrats' court.
"We made a fair offer. We hope they appoint members. At this point, it’s time to get to work," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
In the meantime, she is getting an earful from her caucus, which met earlier Friday to hash out options: Participate fully in order to keep tabs on Republican activity; appoint just one member in order to have someone in the room but still send a signal that Democrats don't support the exercise; or boycott the committee entirely on the grounds that it amounts to a "political stunt," as Pelosi called it, ahead of the midterm elections.
Pelosi demurred when she was asked what tactic she was inclined to support, even though reports earlier in the week suggested that her preference would be to boycott the panel.
She remained adamant that the special committee was nothing more than a Republican "diversion" and "subterfuge" for all the bills the GOP won't bring up, like an unemployment insurance extension or an increase to the minimum wage.
She expressed skepticism that Boehner's appointee to serve as chairman of the new panel, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., was out for blood, not for facts, and rebuffed Republican criticisms that she, during her own tenure as speaker, convened a one-off committee on climate change that had an uneven distribution of Democrats and Republicans.
"It was a four year committee. It was only established so we could get a couple of bills done," Pelosi said. "The record there is, it was only one subpoena in four years issued, and it was unanimous. It was unanimous. So this is a completely different set-up."
The proposed memorandum of understanding from Boehner said Gowdy will “endeavor” to include the minority, according to a Democratic source.
But it would allow Gowdy, if he thinks consulting with the minority is not “practicable,” to issue subpoenas, exclude minority staff from witness interviews and deny the minority equal access to witnesses.
Clarification 5:06 p.m. The second paragraph of this post has been clarified.
Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.