Benghazi committee hearings give California lawmakers a rare chance to shine

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) looks on as Hillary Clinton is greeted by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) looks on as Hillary Clinton is greeted by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Select Committee on Benghazi.

(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

While all eyes were on Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday as she testified before the House Benghazi committee, two California Democrats played a prominent supporting role during the proceedings.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Whittier) used their time (3 rounds each of 10 minute questioning) during more than eight hours of testimony to accuse the committee’s Republican leadership of going after Clinton for political motivations — an issue that has earned national headlines for weeks.

“The reality is that we’ve had eight investigations, we’ve gone through this endlessly,” said Schiff, who stacked the reports, one by one, in front of him on the dais. “The reality is that after 17 months, we have nothing new to tell the families. We have nothing new to tell the American people.”

Schiff has appeared in several national TV interviews to decry the motivations behind the hearing and shared Youtube clips of him questioning Clinton. At one point, he engaged in a procedural tussle with Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) over whether the transcript of the committee’s interrogation of Sidney Blumenthal, a longtime Clinton friend, should be released.


“With dozens of members of Congress and city council members and supervisors, all competing for media attention, it’s hard to rise to the top of the pack,” said Rose Kapolczynski, a Democratic strategist based in Los Angeles. “Schiff and Sanchez being aggressive at the Benghazi hearings can give them more coverage this week than they might get all year.”

Sanchez pointed out that Ambassador Chris Stevens had advocated for keeping the U.S. consulate in Benghazi open before he was killed in the attacks, and quoted from a report that called total elimination of risk in U.S. foreign missions a “non-starter.”

The kind of spotlight Schiff and Sanchez enjoyed Thursday is rare for California lawmakers, particularly those in densely populated Southern California, which has an ultra-competitive media market.

Such visibility can be helpful for someone like Schiff, who has served in Congress for nearly 15 years and is well-respected by colleagues, but whose name recognition is lower than more prominent members of the delegation.

The national attention could raise his profile should he decide to mount a Senate bid in 2018. In May he opted against running to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Kapolczynski says the hearings also give Schiff a chance to flex his expertise on foreign policy and national security.

The spotlight provides Schiff and Sanchez, who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the chance to be the faces of outrage in the Benghazi hearings, a feeling many share in very-blue California.

Bill Carrick, a political consultant who is working on the campaign of Sanchez’s sister, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) in her run for U.S. Senate, says while most of the general public is not paying attention to the sideline players in the Benghazi hearings, insiders will be.


“This is going to be a one-day hearing,” Carrick said. “The impact will be much more heavily felt in terms of the way insiders judge [Schiff]. He’s aking a very strong, positive impression on the people who are paying attention.”

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