GAIL COLLINS

Lindsey Graham shuts down the Senate again

There seems to be no cure for his Benghazi addiction

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When choosing a leader for our central banking system, one of the important things to consider is whether Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has heard enough testimony about the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya.

Allow me to explain.

President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the head of the Federal Reserve Board is Janet Yellen. The Senate banking committee held a hearing yesterday and asked her about unemployment and inflation.

But that could all be beside the point. Mr. Graham says he is going to place a “hold” on Ms. Yellen and all other pending nominations because he doesn’t believe Congress has had a chance to interview enough people who were present in the Benghazi compound when four Americans were tragically killed.

“Where are the Benghazi survivors? I’m going to block every appointment in the U.S. Senate until they are made available to Congress,” he tweeted recently.

So much for Janet Yellen. Also the president’s nominee to be head of homeland security. God help the guy who’s up for the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

After a while, this sort of thing can weigh down a presidency. For instance, as you’ve listened with mounting frustration to the rollout of HealthCare.gov, did you ever wonder why Mr. Obama is keeping Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, on the job? Try to imagine what would happen if she left. How much chance do you think the president would have of ever getting a replacement? Worse than the odds of the White House being attacked by giant killer zucchini.

We all know how easy it is to tie up the Senate. But it’s particularly fascinating, in a train-wreck sort of way, when you see somebody do it because he’s ticked off over a totally unrelated matter.

The “hold” is not to be confused with the filibuster; well, actually, go right ahead and confuse them. The end result is pretty much the same. The Senate stops dead in its tracks for an endless spree of wrangling about the rules. The majority leader has to find 60 votes to get it moving again.

Harry Reid probably will pull out all the stops for Janet Yellen and eventually will probably be successful. Even though Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas also plan to put a hold on the nomination until the Senate agrees to take up a bill calling for audits of the Federal Reserve. And then it’s time for holiday vacations.

But about Lindsey Graham. While congressional committees have questioned tons of people about Benghazi, he says he needs to hear from five survivors of the attack. The State Department doesn’t want to provide them because they might wind up being witnesses in criminal trials if the perpetrators are ever caught.

The five were already questioned during an independent review commissioned by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That panel found that officials such as U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice were wrong when they theorized the attack might have grown out of a protest against a crude movie making fun of Muhammad. The review also found that security at the compound was inadequate. The assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security resigned.

But Mr. Graham is not at all satisfied. As he told CNN’s Candy Crowley, he needs to find out if the survivors think the protest theory was wrong. Also, if he ever gets the chance, he will ask them, “Was there inadequate security, in your mind?”

The senator was further enraged by the State Department’s stonewalling after “60 Minutes” interviewed “Morgan Jones,” who was in Benghazi on the night of the attack and told a dramatic story about how he warned people of the danger but nobody listened. His righteous wrath was not shaken in the least when Mr. Jones’ story turned out to be entirely made up. Perhaps Mr. Graham was recalling the immortal words of Mia Farrow in an old Woody Allen movie: “He’s fictional, but you can’t have everything.”

The one thing that doesn’t seem to be on Mr. Graham’s list of questions that needs answering is whether we should have used military force to topple Moammar Gadhafi in the first place. Even if it seemed like a good idea at the time, maybe we ought to reflect. After all, Libya’s not looking like the happy ending we might have hoped for. The president never did get consent from Congress, and there were critics at the time. Who Lindsey Graham said “should sort of shut up.”

Whoops.

Gail Collins is a syndicated columnist for The New York Times.



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