Discuss as:

First Thoughts: Scattershot

Scattershot: White House message has been all over the place… So has the GOP’s message… On the unrest in Turkey… Eric Holder on the hot seat, again… IRS remains in the news… Immigration bill to reach Senate floor on June 10… GOP report: Republicans have challenge in winning over younger voters… And the Republican Party’s built-in midterm advantage for 2014.

Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

President Barack Obama speaks following a meeting with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in the Oval Office of the White House on May 31, 2013 in Washington, DC.

*** Scattershot: Beginning the sixth month of his second term in office, President Obama today hosts -- along with Vice President Biden -- a daylong White House conference on mental health. This comes after Friday’s event on student loans, last Tuesday’s trip to New Jersey to talk about rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy, and the even earlier national-security speech at the National Defense University. And these different events raise this question: What is the White House’s overall message? Because right now it’s all over the place. The above events are all worthy, don’t get us wrong. But they seem disconnected from whatever larger narrative the president offered up in January during his inaugural and State of the Union. Team Obama seems like it’s doing plenty of one-day events, but it’s lacking a larger, well, vision thing. To be sure, the IRS/Benghazi/leak controversies have put the White House on the defensive over the last three weeks. But what is the larger message? That the economy is improving and the budget deficit is getting smaller? (The president hasn’t really leaned into those arguments, almost as if fearing he does, something bad will happen in the economy.) That immigration reform is necessary? (The White House is letting Congress work its will on the legislation, staying quiet so Republicans can deal with their internal politics without interference on this issue.) That Republicans and Democrats need to come together on the budget? (When is the last time we’ve heard the president speak on that topic?

*** Why not go bold? The White House tells us that June will be about student loans and immigration (through the Senate), plus foreign affairs (meeting with China’s president in California, heading to the G-8 summit in Northern Ireland, going to Africa later this month). But here’s a second question we have for the White House: As it finds itself playing defense on the IRS controversy, why isn’t it also playing offense -- to seem like is trying to fix dysfunctional Washington? Why nothing on civil-servant reform? Why nothing on tax reform? Why not go big and bold on something or multiple things? The White House seems to be acting as if it’s powerless to really change things in Washington, which is one way to act if you are in the seventh or eighth year of a presidency. Of course, the White House would dispute the idea it’s given up on going big. But as the summer kicks in, it will only put more pressure on the White House to get its mojo back in the fall.

*** GOP’s message is all over the place, too: If the White House’s message has been all over the place the last few weeks, so has the Republican Party’s. On the Sunday shows yesterday, Republicans hit the Obama administration on the IRS and leak-investigation controversies, but there was barely a word about Benghazi -- which happened to be the subject that kicked off the trio of controversies. Regarding the IRS, Republicans are divided on their line of attack. Was the Obama White House responsible for the IRS targeting of conservative-sounding groups? Or was it asleep at the wheel? But it can’t be both of those things. And regarding the Justice Department’s seizure of reporters’ phone records to investigate national-security leaks, Republicans (and now even some Democrats) are calling for Attorney General Eric Holder to step down. Yet don’t forget that Republicans were the ones who complained about national-security leaks and demanded investigations into them. All of these various and sundry GOP complaints seem to validate the argument coming from many Democrats -- that Republicans are simply throwing whatever they can against the wall to see what sticks. And House Oversight and Government Reform Chair Darrell Issa (R-CA) calling White House Press Secretary Jay Carney a “paid liar” only furthers that impression.

*** This is what you get during second terms: But given these scattershot messages, here’s an important reminder: This is normally what you get during second terms. Your authors have covered two previous second terms -- Clinton’s and Bush’s. Both presidents tried to push a big domestic priority (education/child care for Clinton, Social Security privatization for Bush), and both failed. During those second terms, the political opposition threw the kitchen sink at the White House (Lewinsky/impeachment for Clinton, Iraq/Katrina for Bush). And these former presidents found their second terms reduced to locking in their first-term accomplishments, building on their legacies, and getting their judicial nominations cleared through Congress.

*** Unrest in Turkey: Here is the world’s biggest story today: “Anger and resentment boiled over onto the street over the past three days [in Istanbul, Turkey], as the police barraged demonstrators with tear gas and streams from water cannons — and as the protesters attacked bulldozers and construction trailers lined up next to the last park in the city’s center,” the New York Times says. “In full public view, a long struggle over urban spaces is erupting as a broader fight over Turkish identity, where difficult issues of religion, social class and politics intersect. And while most here acknowledge that every Turkish ruling class has sought to put its stamp on Istanbul, there is a growing sense that none has done so as insistently as the current government, led by [Prime Minister] Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, despite growing resistance.”

*** Eric Holder on the hot seat, again: As we alluded to above, Attorney General Eric Holder is receiving political heat, which is nothing new. But this time, some of it is coming from Democrats. The Sunday Times: “Over the course of four and a half years, no other member of President Obama’s cabinet has been at the center of so many polarizing episodes or the target of so much criticism. While the White House publicly backed Mr. Holder as he tried to smooth over the latest uproar amid new speculation about his future, some in the West Wing privately tell associates they wish he would step down, viewing him as politically maladroit. But the latest attacks may stiffen the administration’s resistance in the near term to a change for fear of emboldening critics.” Holder’s tenure has always been divisive inside the West Wing and that fact is now breaking out into the open with more blind quotes about Holder circulating this week. At the end of the first term, Holder had told the White House he wanted to stay on for just one more year (or so), which the president agreed to even as some of his political aides hoped differently. Replacing an AG is never easy, and of all the cabinet agencies, Justice is the hardest to “force” someone out (just ask Bill Clinton who failed to push Janet Reno out for YEARS).

*** IRS remains in the news: Meanwhile, the IRS’s troubles aren’t going away. “The Internal Revenue Service spent an estimated $49 million on at least 220 conferences for employees over a three-year span beginning in fiscal 2010, according to a forthcoming report that will prompt fresh scrutiny of the already embattled agency,” the Washington Post reported on Sunday. “The findings come as the Obama administration is overhauling the agency after officials said dozens of groups were inappropriately scrutinized as they sought tax-exempt status. The admission forced the resignation of the agency’s acting commissioner and has sparked criminal and congressional investigations.” More from the paper: “[A]cting IRS commissioner Daniel Werfel acknowledged the report in a statement late Friday, but he did not share any of the findings. He called the spending ‘an unfortunate vestige from a prior era’ and said the agency has significantly curtailed conference spending in recent years.” In addition, per NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell, Issa’s committee has released a partial transcript of interviews between GOP congressional investigators and Cincinnati IRS employers. According to the GOP-run committee, one Cincy employee pointed to Washington, DC as being responsible for the targeting effort. (But Washington doesn’t necessarily mean White House.) And at 3:00 pm ET, the House Appropriations Committee holds another hearing on the IRS.

*** Immigration bill to reach Senate floor on June 10: On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said none of the controversies is affecting the immigration debate. “Well, first we're going to put immigration on the floor starting on June 10. I predict it will pass the Senate by July 4. We're hoping to get 70 votes, up to 70 votes, which means a lot of Republicans. And we're willing to entertain amendments that don't damage the core principles of the bill, but improve the bill, just as we did in committee.” Schumer went on to say, “These so-called scandals have not diverted us one iota. You have, on the Gang of Eight, three of the people who have been most critical of the president on some of these other issues. But I think the eight of us realize how important this is, more important probably than any of these scandals, to the future of America, for job growth, for the middle class.”

*** GOP report: Republicans have challenge winning over younger votes: Politico reports on a post-election study by the College Republican National Committee -- being released today -- which is “sharply critical of the GOP on several fronts [when it comes to wooing young voters]. The study slams some Republicans’ almost singular focus on downsizing Big Government and cutting taxes; candidates’ use of offensive, polarizing rhetoric; and the party’s belly-flop efforts at messaging and outreach, even as the report presents a way forward and, at times, strikes an optimistic tone.”

*** Don’t miss this story: If you have time today, be sure to read this fascinating -- and long -- look by Buzzfeed at the conflict inside one of the Republican Party’s top consulting firms.

*** The GOP’s built-in midterm advantage: Lastly, the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman makes an important point about the upcoming 2014 midterms: The GOP is favored to make gains -- but it has little to do with the political environment or the so-called “six-year itch” that hits the party controlling the White House. Wasserman writes, “Midterm elections have always drawn older voters, and usually drawn white voters, to the polls in disproportionate numbers. Older voters are less transient, have grown deeper roots in their local communities, and pay much more attention to non-presidential elections than their younger counterparts. In the 1980s, that didn't hold partisan consequences. Today, that amounts to a built-in midterm turnout advantage for Republicans.”

Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter. Follow us @chucktodd, @mmurraypolitics, @DomenicoNBC, @brookebrower

This story was originally published on