The News: House Republicans are expected to vote Thursday to impanel a special committee to investigate the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including the ambassador to Libya.
Republicans would hold seven seats on the committee, and Democrats would be allowed five members. The imbalance on the panel is among the issues that Democrats cite as evidence of Republican partisanship as Democrats consider not participating.
“This is not going to be a sideshow,” Republican House Speaker John Boehner counters. “This is not going to be a circus. This is a serious investigation.”
South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the top-ranking African American in the House and the assistant Democratic leader, said the committee should have an equal number of members from both parties. “I’m not bringing a noose to my hanging,” he says.
The Take: Now that the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner has come and gone, a seat on this panel is the hottest ticket in Washington for House Republicans.
But some of us aren’t paying attention. We Americans, particularly black people, tend to ignore foreign affairs, and what interest many of us do have is in decline.
There are other reasons for our lack of interest. We know this is a Republican witch hunt to fire up conservatives for the midterm elections, with efforts already under way to raise money behind it. We know this is designed to become a millstone Republicans hope to tie around Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential ambitions. And we know that virtually all the pertinent questions have been asked and answered.
But this is worth our attention because of its potentially troubling implications for President Barack Obama.
A Benghazi probe could provide a framework to eventually introduce articles of impeachment against the president. What else could make more than 200 Republican lawmakers clamor for seven slots on a committee?
“We have impeached a president for lying about sex with an intern. A president resigned in the face of certain impeachment for covering up a burglary. Why wouldn’t we impeach this president for not protecting and defending Americans in the bloodbath known as Benghazi?” Republican Jeanine Pirro told Fox News.
Andrew C. McCarthy, a federal prosecutor during the George W. Bush administration, makes the case in his forthcoming book, Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment. Writing for the conservative National Review, McCarthy accuses Obama of “derelictions of duty” and his administration of a “fraudulent depiction” of the Benghazi attack.
You won’t hear the i-word from House Republicans because they don’t want to come off as lunatics and squander potential public support. They are trying not to repeat the mistake from the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton that damaged the GOP brand and cost the party control of the House.
Instead they attack Obama as a tyrant, accuse him of failing to enforce immigration laws and of abusing his executive authority by delaying some parts of the Affordable Care Act—all messaging intended to establish a political rationale for impeachment.
As we saw with Clinton, Congress wouldn’t have to prove that the president committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” to a legal certainty. Impeachment, as McCarthy notes, “is a political remedy.”
I’m no conspiracy theorist. Impeachment hearings remain improbable. Maybe the Benghazi committee ends up only fomenting the absurd idea of scandal, which is enough to keep conservatives angry and engaged.
Yet it’s worth remembering the Clinton impeachment began as a probe of a real estate venture.
And if Democrats boycott the Benghazi proceedings, Republicans will have dangerous latitude to craft the narrative. For a president facing stubbornly low job-approval ratings and the prospect of Republicans taking total control of Congress, even the best-case scenario in this fishing expedition holds a sharp hook.
The News: The Justice Department will soon begin collecting information on police stops, searches, arrests and case outcomes in five cities over two years as part of an effort to end racially biased law enforcement.
The data is to be used to assess the frequency of discriminatory policing, a problem that has never been statistically measured. The $4.75 million program will launch the agency’s National Center for Building Community Trust and Justice, which will work to ease strain between police and minority communities.
“This overrepresentation of young men of color in our criminal-justice system is a problem we must confront—not only as an issue of individual responsibility but also as one of fundamental fairness, and as an issue of effective law enforcement,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a videotaped message announcing the initiative. “Of course, to be successful in reducing both the experience and the perception of bias, we must have verifiable data about the problem.”
The Take: From where we live to the websites we visit and where we dine, the “big data” about our daily lives is collected and widely used by advertisers, retailers, government agencies and more. We can track one another’s movements using smartphones. We even know how many people are arrested every day, and on what charges, in every city in America.
We also can pinpoint racial disparities: Half of all black men have been arrested at least once by age 23, and in 2012 black men were six times likelier, and Latino men two-and-a-half times likelier, than white men to be imprisoned.
And when it comes to crime, we can correlate geography and economics: People in households earning less than $15,000 are three times likelier to be crime victims than those with incomes of at least $75,000.
But racially biased policing hs always been difficult to fight because, without irrefutable proof in isolated incidents, it is almost impossible to document.
I, like most any other black man, am certain I’ve been unfairly targeted by police. But unless the macro data is being collected nationally, we can’t challenge and change policing practices.
The most relevant recent example is data from the New York Civil Liberties Union on the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy in 2011, which found that 87 percent of all people stopped were either black or Latino. This data helped scrap the practice in New York.
The new Justice Department initiative takes an important step toward breaking through America’s irrational protection of police. In the post-9/11 era, our inflated appreciation for public safety workers, or “first responders,” has insulated police from proper scrutiny.
Police resources in many jurisdictions have exploded as politicians are loath to risk fallout by reining in law-enforcement budgets. Police unions wield clout as effective campaigners for elected officials.
Basically, what we’re talking about is measuring fairness. Doing so among officers whose decisions are often made fast, and sometimes under mortal threat, should be difficult. But in an increasingly paramilitarized society, both among those in uniform and gun-toting civilians, we must get serious about policing the police.
Corey Dade, an award-winning journalist based in Washington, D.C., writes The Take and is a contributing editor at The Root. He appears on MSNBC and CNN and contributes to NPR. He is a former NPR correspondent and political reporter at the Wall Street Journal. Give him your “take” on Twitter.
Corey Dade, an award-winning journalist based in Washington, D.C., is a former national correspondent at NPR and political reporter at the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe and other news organizations. Follow him on Twitter.