Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is running to be the next speaker of the House, and most observers think he has it locked up. But Tuesday night he said something on Fox News that is causing Democrats to celebrate and conservatives to experience heartburn.
In an interview with Sean Hannity, McCarthy pointed to the House Committee on Benghazi as a success under the GOP-controlled house.
"Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee. A select committee," McCarthy told Hannity after being pressed about what House Republicans had accomplished under his and John Boehner's leadership. "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."
Democrats have long insisted the Benghazi committee was politically motivated, designed to beat up on Clinton as she ran for president. But Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the former prosecutor who is chairman of the committee, has tried hard to avoid giving fuel to those kinds of charges.
So, when McCarthy made his comments on Fox, Democrats in Congress and beyond were quick to pounce.
"This stunning concession from Rep. McCarthy reveals the truth that Republicans never dared admit in public: the core Republican goal in establishing the Benghazi Committee was always to damage Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and never to conduct an even-handed search for the facts," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member of the committee in a statement. "It is shameful that Republicans have used this tragedy and the deaths of our fellow Americans for political gain. Republicans have blatantly abused their authority in Congress by spending more than $4.5 million in taxpayer funds to pay for a political campaign against Hillary Clinton."
There were many more statements along those lines. And even Clinton herself weighed in during an interview with Al Sharpton on MSNBC.
"When I hear a statement like that, which demonstrates unequivocally that this was always meant to be a partisan political exercise, I feel like it does a grave disservice and dishonors not just the memory of the four that we lost, but of everybody who has served our country," she said.
Even White House press secretary Josh Earnest chimed in during the daily press briefing.
"I think the thing that's happening here is [Majority] Leader McCarthy has committed the classic Washington gaffe of saying something that everybody already knows is true," said Earnest.
The Benghazi committee wanted none of this.
"People view the Benghazi committee through whatever lens or spin they choose; meanwhile, the Benghazi committee is focused on, and our work is driven by, the facts," said spokesman Jamal Ware, who works for the committee's Republicans.
A committee spokesman also pointed to what he called "Background Facts" about the committee.
Among other things, the committee said that of more than 50 witnesses interviewed to date, only four have a direct connection to Clinton. Plus, in three public hearings, they said that Gowdy has not mentioned Clinton's name.
That is likely to change when Clinton appears before the committee on Oct. 22.