Raw politics drives GOP probes of Benghazi and Planned Parenthood

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times

It was nice of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to clarify that a primary goal of the Republicans’ never-ending investigations into the Benghazi terrorist attack was to do damage to the leading Democratic candidate for president, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Now, if he would just acknowledge that the current round of hearings “investigating” Planned Parenthood are just another political gambit, McCarthy could be given two gold stars for candor.

Tuesday evening in a Fox News interview, the Bakersfield Republican, the top contender to become the next speaker of the House, said, “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee. A select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known that any of that had happened had we not fought to make that happen.”

Wednesday, a McCarthy spokesman tried to clarify those remarks, but, by then, all the Democrats in America had pounced. California Sen. Barbara Boxer called for the Benghazi select committee to be dismantled saying that using taxpayer funds to pay for a “political smear campaign” is wrong. Rep. Adam B. Schiff, a Burbank Democrat, said McCarthy’s comments amounted to an admission that the investigation’s “true purpose had little to do with finding out anything new of that tragic night that claimed four American lives, and everything to do with attacking a likely Democratic nominee for president.”

If Republicans lost a bit of credibility by McCarthy stating what was already obvious to anyone paying close attention, it still is not as bad as the humiliation brought on the party by the GOP members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. For almost five hours on Tuesday, the Republicans hectored Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood. Ostensibly, they were looking into an allegation from antiabortion activists that Planned Parenthood is profiting from the sale of fetal tissue left over from abortions. This is currently the hottest of hot-button issues in right wing circles. Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina has doubled down on her wild assertion that she has seen videos showing aborted babies being kept alive so their brains can be harvested. (Even many of her fellow conservatives acknowledge that no such videos exist.) Meanwhile, several states have conducted investigations of Planned Parenthood aiming to uncover nefarious goings on, but not a single one has uncovered any illegal activities.


Nevertheless, GOP House members are intent on taking away federal funding from Planned Parenthood. Until a couple of days ago, they were ready to shut down the government in order take reimbursements to the provider of women’s health services out of the federal budget; instead they had to settle for grilling Richards.

The Planned Parenthood executive tried to educate them about reality — that her organization only gets federal dollars as a reimbursement for services provided to women who do not have enough money to pay for their own healthcare; that only 1% of Planned Parenthood facilities give clients the option of donating fetal tissue for medical research; that Planned Parenthood does not profit from transferring those tissues to researchers — but the congressmen were not really there to gather information. As at the Benghazi hearings, they were there to make bellicose statements that would please right-wing voters.

The most awkward moment for the Republicans came when the committee chairman, Jason Chaffetz of Utah, exhibited a slide that he said proved Planned Parenthood was mostly all about abortions. The slide showed one descending arrow representing federally reimbursed services crossed by an ascending arrow representing abortions. There was a timeline at the bottom. Anyone acquainted with statistics could quickly see that the graph was no more meaningful than a couple of arrows drawn on a napkin. A properly drawn graph using the numbers presented would indicate that, over time, abortions had increased slightly while other services had dipped, but that the number of abortions remains far fewer than the number of other services Planned Parenthood provides.

When, after some badgering from Chaffetz, Richards noted that the chairman’s little chart had been manufactured by an antiabortion group (the group’s name was right there on the slide!), Chaffetz looked bewildered, as well he should have.

The problem in all of this is not that Republicans are opposed to legalized abortion or that they cast a critical eye on the Obama administration’s foreign policy. That is their right. The problem is that the ranks of Republicans in Congress are filled with amateurs who think the presentation of dubious, ideology-driven factoids and aggressive pontificating at televised hearings can substitute for the hard work of politics.

It is no wonder that the Republican Party sits near the bottom of polls measuring public approval of national institutions while Planned Parenthood is near the top. It’s all a matter of credibility.