Republicans push IRS and Benghazi probes with eye to midterms and thwarting Clinton
Probes of IRS and Benghazi attack seen as bid to win midterm vote and dent likely 2016 rival
Republicans are reviving well-worn political scandals as they bid to seize control of Congress and check Hillary Clinton's momentum towards a possible presidential bid in 2016.
Republican leaders and strategists have steadily rolled out the plan in recent weeks, including the House voting to recommend the attorney general appoint a special counsel to probe the Internal Revenue Service targeting of political groups.
But Thursday marked a potential watershed, when the House, pushed by its speaker, John Boehner, voted to create a select committee to investigate the 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya.
The two scandals consumed Washington for months in 2012 and last year, and the Republicans managed to put the administration, including its high-flying then secretary of state Clinton, on the back foot.
The question is whether reinvestigation of the scandals at a time lawmakers struggle to cooperate on jobs initiatives to improve a shaky US economy will rally voters to the Republican side or prompt a backlash.
"This is a story that's not going to go away," conservative congressman Joe Barton said of Benghazi.
No fewer than eight investigations have been conducted of the incident, in which four Americans were killed by extremists. Republicans insist the White House interfered politically in the attack's aftermath and that White House "stonewalling" is only making it worse.
"This doesn't need to be, shouldn't be and will not be a partisan process," insisted Boehner as his chamber, on a party-line vote, approved the new Benghazi probe, whose chairman will be two-term "tea party" Republican Trey Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor.
"We will not take any shortcuts to the truth, accountability or justice. And we will not allow any sideshows that distract us from those goals," he said.
But that is exactly how congressman Steve Israel, head of the House Democrats' campaign arm, sees it.
"These are political strategies Republicans have to excite their base in the midterm election," Israel said. Voters "want us focused on the economy and not these distractions", he said.
Another reason for the refocus could be the improving performance of Obama's controversial health care law.