WASHINGTON — Rep. Trey Gowdy's got a late-night habit.
"He eats a ridiculously lot of pizza," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah. "Even if he goes out and has dinner, he's got to have his late-night pie. I don't know how he does it."
It's a tasty vice for the South Carolina congressman, even as he displays a distaste for national politics while his profile rises inside Republican ranks.
Since his election to Congress in 2010, Gowdy has been known inside the Washington Beltway less for his politics than for his hair, a sometimes silvery tangle that Buzzfeed once dubbed "the most confusing hair in Congress."
But the Greenville, S.C., native has found a springboard to possible Washington stardom — whether wanted or not — with his appointment last spring as chairman of a special House of Representatives select panel investigating the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans were killed when militants raided the compound.
Despite fierce partisan tension over an issue that has been a go-to political pinata for Republicans to bash the Obama administration, Gowdy appears to have placated the Republicans and mollified some Democrats. He has employed a quiet, nonpartisan approach that likely hails from his days as a federal prosecutor.
His reputation on Capitol Hill grew after the attack on the Benghazi consulate. As a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, he took a tough, confrontational approach to witnesses during the panel's initial investigation of the incident, much like the style he favored in South Carolina courtrooms.
"He was a commanding presence … when he went in the courtroom, he was prepared, he knew exactly what he was going to do. He took control," said Barry Barnette, who took over the post of South Carolina's 7th Circuit solicitor after serving as Gowdy's deputy. "There's nobody tougher than him."
It's standard practice on Capitol Hill to savor the flurry of attention that surrounds partisan issues, particularly one such as Benghazi, which has triggered multiple investigations and hearings. The results, however, have been mixed at best for Republicans hoping to find some political advantage to use against the Democrats in the way the administration responded to the attack.
Indeed, the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee approved a report earlier this month that could not pinpoint any intelligence failures on the part of the administration, a contention that Republican critics have been trying to press since the attack occurred.
Still, Gowdy's new panel, created by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, will begin more public hearings on Benghazi next month when Congress returns from its lengthy summer recess. Asked to talk about the committee, though, Gowdy declined.
"I didn't talk about my investigations when I was a DA," he said curtly. "There'll be a time and a place."
"Trey is making a good effort to work in a collegial way and in a consultative way, and I think he'll continue to do that," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who reluctantly accepted a position as a minority member of the committee.
His praise for Gowdy is notable, given that the longtime House Intelligence Committee member was one of the more outspoken Democrats who ridiculed the creation of the panel in the first place.