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Blunt expects Senate panel to question Petraeus on Benghazi

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 13, 2012 - WASHINGTON – In the wake of the scandal surrounding the sudden resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt – a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee – said he expects the panel to call Petraeus to testify.

“I join Chairman [Sen. Dianne] Feinstein in her concern that apparently [Petraeus] put together a report – based on his personal, on-site investigation” of the violence in Benghazi that led to the murder of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

In an interview Tuesday, Blunt, R-Mo., told the Beacon that, under the 1974 Intelligence Act, the Senate and House intelligence panels are “supposed to have access to” such information. “I believe we eventually will, and that may very well include testimony from Gen. Petraeus himself.”

Update: News organizations confirmed Wednesday that Petraeus will appear this week before the Senate Intelligence Committee. End update.

Separately, Feinstein, D-Calif., told CNN that she intended to talk with Petraeus about his recent fact-finding trip to Libya – which she learned about from journalist Bob Woodward, rather than through official channels – and she thinks he will agree to testify to the intelligence committee.

Both Blunt and Feinstein said they had questions about the FBI investigation that led to the exposure of Petraeus’ affair with biographer Paula Broadwell and, subsequently, to Petraeus’ resignation as CIA director last week.

“We’re going to have a couple of Intelligence Committee meetings this week, and I’m sure this is going to be a topic of both of those,” said Blunt, who added that he admired Petraeus' record as a military leader. “I hope to get some answers on some of those questions.”

Blunt retains Senate GOP leadership post

Blunt is expected to be re-elected by GOP senators on Wednesday as vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, the No. 5 GOP leadership post. While there could be last-minute challenges to the party leaders, Blunt said he didn’t expect any opposition.

Update  As expected, Blunt was returned by his colleagues as vice chairman of the Senate GOP conference in a closed-door session on Wednesday morning.

“Our nation is facing critical challenges today," Blunt said in a statement after the vote. "I will continue working with my colleagues at the leadership table to advance pro-growth, pro-jobs policies in the United States Senate to help jumpstart our economy and put more people back to work.”

Blunt told journalists that he is "looking at what the [GOP] leadership needs to do to rally the minority around a message. That's a little harder to do that rallying a majority around a message because the majority really runs the place and has to come up with something that almost all their members will vote for."

He said Senate Republicans "had a good discussion today about that. I think using the communication tools available to us today" is especially important. "That's something I just started working on in the last year -- and is a whole new concept for many [senators] -- using social media as a way to communicate with the people they work for."

Blunt said another of his priorities will be "doing what I can inthe leadership to help our state as well as to help the [GOP] conference and other members of the Senate."  End Update  

In the Beacon interview, the Missouri Republican said he hoped that the lame-duck session of Congress, which began Tuesday, would be able to avert the looming “fiscal cliff” of tax hikes and budget cuts that would start on Jan. 1 if no action is taken.

“I think the president has to lead on this issue,” Blunt said. “Certainly, going off the fiscal cliff is not an acceptable result, although that could happen if the president fails to lead and if Republicans don’t do their part to try to make the system work.”

Reflecting the position of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Blunt said he would oppose increases in tax rates – even for the wealthy – but was open to a budget solution to increase government revenue through tax reforms.

“You can increase revenue without increasing [tax] rates,” Blunt said. “You do that by making the tax code simpler and fairer, and looking to be sure that all of the intricacies of the tax code – including the current deductions, expensing and other things – are truly justifiable. And if they’re not, and you eliminate them, that clearly creates revenue.”

While he was disappointed that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney lost and Republicans lost two seats in the Senate, Blunt argued that this month’s election results do not represent a mandate for the White House, given that Republicans still control the U.S. House and still have enough votes in the Senate to block bills.

“If the Democrats had a 25-seat majority in the House of Representatives, they might be able to claim a mandate. But they don’t have a majority … I don’t think there’s any mandate there,” Blunt said. To avert the fiscal cliff, he said, “the president has to come up with something that House Republicans will vote for – or at least enough Republicans to get it done.”

While he conceded that reforming the federal tax system would take longer than the few weeks left in this Congress, Blunt said he was optimistic that Congress and the White House would at least agree to a mechanism for avoiding across-the-board sequestration cuts and the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts on Jan. 1.

“I’m optimistic because I think the consequences of not doing that … are so bad, that surely no one will let that happen,” Blunt said. Both the White House budget office and the Congressional Budget Office “have said that, if you let these two things happen, you’re looking at the likely reduction in economic growth to the point that we guarantee a recession. And surely the president wouldn’t want that to happen.”

Blunt seeks a good working relationship with McCaskill

During this year’s campaign that ended with the reelection of Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., allies said that McCaskill had been miffed at the efforts of Blunt and other former GOP senators from Missouri to convince her opponent, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Wildwood, to withdraw from the race in favor of another GOP candidate.

But Blunt, who did not campaign on behalf of Akin after the congressman’s controversial “legitimate rape” remarks, said Tuesday that he did not think any campaign-related hard feelings would carry over into official Senate business. He said he is confident that the two Missouri senators would continue working closely together on key state issues.

“I get along with Claire very well personally,” Blunt said. “I think we’ll be able to get a lot of things done for the state that we agree on. In the last two years, we found quite a bit to agree on. And hopefully that continues.”

While he said “there will be things we don’t agree on,” he predicted that “they will be more of the big issues that Democrats and Republicans are going to be divided by.”

Robert Joiner has carved a niche in providing informed reporting about a range of medical issues. He won a Dennis A. Hunt Journalism Award for the Beacon’s "Worlds Apart" series on health-care disparities. His journalism experience includes working at the St. Louis American and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he was a beat reporter, wire editor, editorial writer, columnist, and member of the Washington bureau.

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