Kevin McCarthy should not be Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The main reason is his gratuitous, ridiculous, and now infamous statement on national television, essentially that the Congressional inquiry into Benghazi was politically motivated. To reiterate, this was not some verbal slip responding to a hurried “gotcha” question. This was in a friendly television interview on Sean Hannity’s show about a question on a different subject — what Congressional Republicans had accomplished. McCarthy also promised Hannity that as House Speaker he would be a monthly guest. Can you imagine the tremors henceforth among Republicans every thirty days?
Now Hillary Clinton is saying that Republicans were (and are) trying make a partisan political issue about the death of four Americans, a right-wing conspiracy of sorts to bring her poll numbers down. (Actually, she does a pretty good job herself on that.) McCarthy has given Hillary her first good week in a year: for the upcoming Select Committee on Benghazi hearing, he has managed to put Republicans, rather than Hillary, on the defensive.
Hillary and her chattering class say the proverbial cat’s out of the bag, that McCarthy stumbled by telling the truth. Even if McCarthy’s rendition were accurate (and it was not, but just bravado), he would be judged imprudent, at best. But what McCarthy said is not the case. While the Benghazi investigations may have political implications, the Congressional inquiry remains legitimate and purposeful, perhaps more relevant with recent disclosures about Hillary’s mysterious and possibly related emails and her myriad inconsistencies. I know too many Members of Congress who were distraught and angry about what happened at Benghazi. The refrain I heard again and again was, “Let’s get to the bottom of this. An American ambassador was killed. We need to find out who knew what, when.”
Let’s quickly talk about Benghazi. The Administration’s Libya policy failed. The situation deteriorated. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens requested protection. The Department of State did not respond. On September 11, 2012, terrorists attacked the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi. Stevens and his team, under siege, asked for help. The U.S government did not even try to deploy military assets. Stevens and the others were killed. Could they have been saved? The Administration manufactured a story for political reasons. It falsely claimed the attackers were spontaneous protestors who were angered by an anti-Islamist movie. All of this led to the Congressional investigation two years ago, and now the upcoming hearings on October 22. The continuing Benghazi inquiry is not political frivolity, it is not part of the “Republican War Against Women.” Hillary was Secretary of State, this occurred under her watch, and her team may have colluded in the cover-up. Hillary said of the probe, “What difference does it make?” Americans should want and demand all the facts, the truth.
This is a case of more than inelegant or careless language. McCarthy is a political guy who sees everything through a political prism. But his perspective, as articulated, dishonored his colleagues, and it had profound effects, not good ones. Republicans should have immediately disavowed and promptly repudiated McCarthy’s statement. Benghazi committee members should have publicly taken grave offense. McCarthy should have apologized and withdrawn from the race for House Speaker. Instead, the waters remain muddied, ambiguity prevails. Some of his colleagues and even conservative pundit Fred Barnes came to his defense. Because the Constitution does not require the House Speaker to be a Member of Congress, some conservatives suggested Newt Gingrich for the job. But Newt did not merely say no gracefully; he proved he is unsuited by endorsing McCarthy.
McCarthy is a good and hard-working man. He is popular in the caucus. But he should not be Speaker because of his statement about the Benghazi investigation.
(1) His statement is false. It is offensive to the Members of Congress who serve on the committee and the committee staff. It impedes the upcoming Congressional hearing by framing a serious inquiry as a political dirty trick.
(2) A McCarthy coronation as Speaker of the House validates what he said. His misstatement will haunt his tenure. He is a successful politician but not a statesman. The House Speaker is, after the vice president, next in line in presidential succession.
(3) McCarthy has shown that he lacks whatever it takes to be the public face of Congressional Republicans. The House speaker should be not only intelligent and strategic, but also surely able to answer a softball question without an egregious and shattering blunder. We have fair warning that McCarthy, competent in many ways, is not the guy for this job.
McCarthy has two Republican opponents. Many Congressional Republicans cannot support Daniel Webster (FL-10), who has only been in Congress five years, or Jason Chaffetz, who just now chaired the botched Planned Parenthood hearings. But these two men likely will force McCarthy into a second ballot. At some point, Republicans (hopefully) will opt for someone of stature and intellect, and I shall mention one.
Colleagues respect Congressman Ed Royce (CA-39). He is a team player with his fellow Republicans, and he can work collaboratively with Democrats. He is a studious and thoughtful man who goes about his work with dedication and perseverance. He is strategic and keeps his eye on the ball. He is prudent, not impulsive. In short, he is a big picture guy. (Full disclosure: Ed Royce is a friend but does not know I am writing this column. I have known Ed for more than four decades and helped elect him to the California State Senate in 1982 and to the U.S. Congress a decade later.)
Ed is intelligent and experienced, honest and straightforward, and understanding and available. For those parochial Republicans obsessed with clinical matters, Ed Royce has labored hard in the political vineyards. He has recruited Republican candidates for target races and raised funds for them. That’s one of many reasons why Ed can bridge the multi-factional divide within the Republican caucus. He also sits on that three-legged stool, one leg for free market economics and limited, constitutional government; another leg for a U.S. foreign policy of enlightened self-interest and strong national security; and a third leg for the social fabric and traditions that allow for ordered liberty.
There is always a litmus test to fail, and some naysayers will find one, I suspect. But on the broad range of issues, Ed Royce is a conservative and a reformer. With his background in accounting and small business, he has a sense of reality, and he is a patient, detail-oriented legislator. As a member of the House Committee on Financial Services, he warned about the 2007-2008 economic collapse before it occurred. He knows we need structural reform of entitlements, Social Security and Medicare, and he can lead the way. As chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, he is known beyond the U.S. for his command of international affairs. His in-depth knowledge seems almost encyclopedic — Africa, the Middle East, intelligence gathering, international terrorism, regional conflicts and refugees, nuclear proliferation, force deployments, and, as talk radio’s Marc Levin would say, “and so on and so forth.”
Ed is grounded and principled, but not ideological and rigid. He can secure his base and yet reach out to persuade. He is equally at ease with friendly and hostile journalists. His style is earnest and engaging, not abrasive and confrontational. He is not mistake prone. Republicans would not be throwing the dice when a microphone is thrust at him, or he goes on the Sean Hannity show.
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