President Obama Saturday tried to change the subject and repair some of the damage from a week of bruising controversies that have enveloped his administration. NBC's Kristen Welker reports.
It hasn’t been a fun week in the West Wing, but President Barack Obama insisted Friday that his focus remains on job creation despite Washington’s tendency to get “distracted” by political battles.
“I know it can seem frustrating sometimes when it seems like Washington’s priorities aren’t your priorities,” he said at a manufacturing plant in Baltimore, Md. “I know it all seems like folks down there are more concerned with their jobs than with yours. Others may get distracted by chasing every fleeting issue that passes by but the middle class will always be my Number One focus, period.”
The president’s remarks at Ellicott Dredges, a manufacturer of equipment used for infrastructure projects, came at the end of a week that saw the White House buffeted by competing scandals. On Wednesday, the administration released 100 pages of emails to try to stem controversy over alleged tinkering with official talking points in the wake of the 2012 Benghazi attack; also on Wednesday, in a last-minute statement to the press, Obama harshly reprimanded IRS officials and announced the resignation of the agency’s acting director after revelations that its staff targeted conservative groups for additional scrutiny.
But Obama’s message Friday was one of a bright future for a nation still scarred from the 2008 economic downturn.
“You might not know it if you were just watching the news, and you’re exposed to all the partisan battles and brinksmanship in Washington, but the truth is there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about where this country is headed,” he said.
The president also announced Friday that he has signed a Presidential Memorandum that will help cut down wait times to begin federal infrastructure projects by overhauling the permitting system.
Obama urged workers in attendance to keep the pressure on lawmakers in Washington to keep working towards more job creation.
“Sometimes our leadership isn’t focused where we need to be focused,” he said. “And that’s where you come in.”
This story was originally published on Fri May 17, 2013 2:00 PM EDT
IRS scandal takes center stage on Capitol Hill. What new comes out? … The White House is in damage-control mode – how they’re managing the three controversies … GOP tries to tie IRS to health care … Obama needs to fix IRS because credibility of government and his second-term agenda is at stake … From New York to L.A., two mayor’s races will be a focus next week – one because another scandal-ridden ex-congressman tries to make a comeback. … Bloomberg group goes after AZ Sen. Flake (R).
Charles Dharapak / AP
Ousted IRS chief Steve Miller arrives on Capitol Hill, Friday, May 17, 2013, to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee on the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) practice of targeting applicants for tax-exempt status based on political leanings.
*** And the venting begins: One thing is fairly certain: there will be fireworks today on Capitol Hill when ex-IRS Commissioner Steve Miller and Treasury Inspector General Russell George testify before the House Ways and Means Committee beginning at 9:00 am ET. But the question is what new information comes from the hearing? There will be plenty of bloviating, but it could also clarify what we don’t know, like: (1) The missing why? Was there political motivation on any level, and (2) What took so long for this to come out? Was this really simply a sloppy shortcut? It was clear in timeline that this was all discovered to be a problem early in 2012 and perhaps as far back as 2011, so what took so long for the IRS to admit it? Expect these to be among the most intriguing questions that get asked but dodged. And, of course, this is only the beginning of what’s going to be a busy season of IRS hearings.
*** The White House reboot: Damage-control mode continues for the White House. Today, it’s trying to stay the course and make that pivot back to jobs with another leg of the president’s Middle Class Jobs and Opportunity Tour. Today, the president heads to Baltimore, where he stops by an elementary school at 11:35 am ET, then makes remarks at 1:20 pm ET at Ellicott Dredges. At 2:15 pm ET, he’ll head to a community center that works with families on job training. They’ve been trying to make this pivot for a while. The first event last week in Austin was overshadowed by the Benghazi hearing. Today, it’ll be overshadowed by the IRS hearing. After sitting on its hands for a few days, the White House is now in overdrive when it comes to damage control. Not just announcing new actions on IRS and on diplomatic security, but it was hard to watch TV after 3 p.m. yesterday and not see a key White House political aide on the tube: Carney, Palmieri and Pfeiffer all blitzing the airwaves.
*** How the White House is trying to fix the three fronts: On Benghazi, the White House is pushing that it’s all political and the president will talk about security at embassies. That was the point he attempted to drive home yesterday. Of course, his pronouncement regarding diplomatic security begs the question, where was this response last week, last month, last year. Clearly, the White House wants to put the issue of funding diplomatic security (something that’s been cut) back in Congress lap. It was a fairly transparent rhetorical move by the White House yesterday. On the IRS, they’re trying to show they’re on top of it…now. Naming Daniel Werfel is putting someone there who seems to have a non-partisan resume. He worked for George W. Bush, for example. But he’s no household name. Werfel’s appointment won’t have the impact on the public psyche that a more high-profile nominee would have had. But he checks the boxes of competency, bipartisanship, and he can vet. On the AP, it’s striking how much Obama went out of his way to stand by Attorney General Eric Holder. There’s no wiggle room there, and it’s because the Holder issue has been personal to him. The president has always felt that Holder’s unpopularity on the hill was a proxy for the president himself. The president believes Republicans on the hill have used Holder as a punching bag, believing they can attack Holder in ways they can’t with Obama. That’s why Obama’s been more sympathetic to Holder -- even though many White House aides, past and present, believe Holder’s been very politically naïve in how he’s run the Justice Department and has made himself an easy target.
*** GOP tries to tie IRS scandal to health care: It’s been a tough week for the White House, perhaps the worst of Obama’s second term. And we know exactly where GOP’s headed to try and advance the story more broadly. They’re headed to health care. Two IRS officials are already exiting the IRS, and now a third person has become a target. NBC’s Lisa Myers confirms this story that Sarah Hall Ingram, who was in charge of the tax exempt office from 2009 to 2012, is now in charge of the IRS’s Affordable Care Act office. The blaring headline Republicans want out of this is the person involved in targeting the Tea Party at the IRS is now in charge of running health care (!!!). That’s not exactly the case, however, as the IRS has a relatively small role in implementing health care as compared to Health and Human Services, which is the agency setting up the exchanges to be rolled out this fall. But why let an inconvenient reality get in the way of a good political talking point.
*** Bigger picture – the IRS scandal is important because it’s all about the credibility of government: At the heart of this IRS scandal and why it matters is how important the credibility of government is to Obama second-term agenda. Democrats want to show government run correctly can make your life better; Republicans want to say government stands in the way. The IRS scandal cuts right to that argument and extends out to health care (as noted above) and immigration. The IRS, on a good day, isn’t well liked by the public. It’s feared. But if it’s proven to be inept or corrupt, it will only harm the public trust even more than Washington’s done for so long as it is. And it’ll be easy to sell a swing voter on the idea that while, say, immigration reform is a good idea, do you have confidence Washington can make it work? Ditto with health care? That’s why it is so important for Obama to be on top of the IRS from here on out and restore credibility to the agency. Whatever comes out on IRS, with reporters turning up every stone and Republicans picking at every piece of carcass, the White House and Treasury better be first or it will undermine even further credibility.
*** New York to L.A.: Two mayors races in the two biggest cities in the country will be big next week – one because there will be a result (in L.A.) and second because of Anthony Weiner. In Los Angeles, voters head to the polls Tuesday to pick between two Democrats to be the next mayor – Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel. Garcetti continues to be the slight favorite and Greuel appears to be running out of money. She had to loan herself $100,000. Meanwhile, Weiner might jump into the mayor’s race next week. WNBC reported spotting Weiner shooting a campaign-style video at his childhood home in Brooklyn. And Weiner’s entry will transform the race into a circus, at least next week, and who knows, maybe for the rest of the campaign. By the way, with Weiner’s wife as close to Hillary Clinton as anyone, how do the Clintons keep their distance from Weiner, or do they? Either way, nobody benefits more from Weiner’s entry than the headline writers at the Daily News and the Post.
*** Bloomberg gun group targets AZ senator: Mayors Against Illegal Guns is going up with an ad campaign hitting Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R), NBC’s Kasie Hunt reports. It features an Arizona couple, whose son was killed in the Aurora, CO, theatre shooting, who say Flake didn’t keep his word to them that he would vote in favor of tougher background checks. Republicans, though, believe that by voting for the Lindsey Graham (R-SC) alternative bill, they did vote for some background-check strengthening. The group has gone up against New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, and has also pledged – though notably they have not yet -- to go up against Democrats in Alaska, Arkansas, and North Dakota, despite Democrats urging them not to.
*** 2016 roundup – Going after Hillary: Republicans tried to pin Benghazi on Hillary Clinton (here, for example). Democrats see 2016 politics at play. Opponents are readying a scandal-filled movie about her life. She still leads by a lot in a New Hampshire poll. … Vice President Joe Biden appears to be continuing preparations for a run in 2016, but he not only trails Clinton by a lot in early polling, he also remains a punch line for late-night comics. … Rand Paul heads to New Hampshire Monday … Bobby Jindal was in New Hampshire over the weekend … Marco Rubio accused the White House of creating a “culture of intimidation” on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown, yet some conservatives are still hammering him for his pursuit of comprehensive immigration. … Chris Christie was showing Prince Harry around the Jersey Shore. He also went negative despite huge leads in his bid for reelection this year. … Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) signed one of the toughest gun laws in the country.
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Who is Daniel Werfel? First, he’s not the former Florida quarterback, although he does keep a picture of him in his office as something of a joke. In addition to his duties in the Obama administration, Werfel, Obama’s pick to be the acting IRS commissioner, worked in a senior position on the George W. Bush budget team. He’s not the high-profile, tough-cop person many thought was necessary, but the Wall Street Journal quotes Kenneth Baer, who worked with Werfel in the White House, calling Werfel “the green eyeshade.” Werfel “might be suited to the moment having spent much of his career in the budget weeds of Washington,” the Journal adds.
One area that might be a bone for Republicans to pick at is Werfel has been charged with the implementation of the sequester. Republicans also didn’t exactly take to Werfel immediately but didn’t blast him either. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, told the Washington Post he didn’t know him. “If I was the president I would find the very best business man I possibly could who’d be willing to take it over and have the authority to be able to straighten the mess out.” By the way, naming a permanent commissioner would require Senate confirmation.
Greg Sargent looks at the “Beltway narrative schizophrenia” when it comes to the trio of controversies this week.
President Barack Obama will appoint a White House budget officer to the be the new acting Internal Revenue Service commissioner, an announcement made following a fresh declaration from the president that he knew nothing about the inspector general’s report detailing improper IRS actions until it was leaked.
After announcing the resignation of acting IRS Director Steven Miller on Wednesday evening, the president emerged Thursday afternoon to answer questions from the press about actions taken by IRS employees to single out conservative and Tea Party advocacy groups for extra scrutiny in their applications for nonprofit status.
"I can assure you that I certainly did not know anything about the I.G. report before the I.G. report had been leaked ... through the press," said Obama. "Typically, the I.G. reports are not supposed to be widely distributed or shared. They tend to be, you know, a process that everybody's trying to protect the integrity of. But, what I'm absolutely certain of is that the actions that were described in that I.G. report are unacceptable."
After what's arguably been the president's toughest political week since winning reelection to a second term, Obama named a new head of the IRS and announced a new push for increased security for diplomats abroad. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.
The president declined to endorse appointing an independent counsel to investigate the controversy -- an idea that some Republicans have demanded. The criminal investigation initiated by the Justice Department, combined with the administration's efforts to cooperate with lawmakers in their investigations, Obama argued, should be sufficient.
"I think it's going to be sufficient for us to be working with Congress," he said.
Just hours after that event, the White House said that Daniel Werfel, current controller of the Office of Management and Budget, would be named acting IRS chief, effective May 22.
In a press release, Obama said, "The American people deserve to have the utmost confidence and trust in their government, and as we work to get to the bottom of what happened and restore confidence in the IRS, Danny has the experience and management ability necessary to lead the agency at this important time."
Later Thursday, NBC News confirmed that a second top Internal Revenue Service official has announced plans to leave the agency. An internal IRS memo says that Joseph Grant, commissioner of the agency's tax exempt and government entities division, will retire June 3.
Of the three controversies that dominated Washington this week, the IRS issue has proven the most politically noxious for Obama.
The White House has also been besieged by new questions about its response to last year's terrorist attack against a diplomatic installation in Benghazi, Libya, along with revelations that the Justice Department had monitored Associated Press journalists' phone records.
The IRS and AP cases have been particularly thorny politically for one of Obama's top allies in the cabinet, Attorney General Eric Holder, who on Wednesday faced grilling on Capitol Hill for his role in both controversies. Republicans renewed some of their longstanding demands that Holder resign his position, demands which the president rejected on Thursday.
"I have complete confidence in Eric Holder as attorney general," Obama said.
President Barack Obama talks about the inspector general's report relating to alleged targeting of political groups by the IRS.
After weathering blistering criticism from Republicans, the administration has begun trying to craft its response to all three issues.
To that end, Obama on Thursday announced new measures meant to enhance security for U.S. diplomatic postings abroad as part of the administration's continued reaction to the Benghazi incident.
"I am intent on making sure we do everything we can to prevent another tragedy like this from happening again," Obama said at the White House.
His remarks come amid intensified efforts by Republican members of Congress to probe the Obama administration's reaction to the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks, which left four Americans dead, including U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens.
The administration has sought to turn the narrative on that matter in its favor beginning Wednesday, when it released emails documenting how the administration crafted its first public responses to the attack.
Obama called on members of Congress in both parties to "come together" and work to authorize legislation to help fortify embassies and other diplomatic installations as a tribute to the deceased in Benghazi.
Jason Reed / Reuters
President Barack Obamaand Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrive for a joint news conference in the White House Rose Garden in Washington, May 16, 2013.
Still, the controversy involving the AP helped prompt the administration to renew its efforts to have Congress authorize a federal shield law that would protect journalists from having to disclose confidential details of their work in court.
"To the extent that this case has prompted renewed interest with respect to how do we strike that balance properly, I think that now's the time for us to revisit that legislation," Obama said. "I think that's a worthy conversation to have."
Whether any of Obama's actions will placate Republicans, who are eager to use these controversies to gain political traction and slow or halt the president's second-term agenda, remains to be seen.
Lawmakers in both parties plan a series of high-profile hearings, beginning on Friday, on each of the controversies. And Republicans in particular have been eager to make political hay of the administration's recent missteps.
Speaking before the president this morning on Capitol Hill, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the controversies were a mark of “remarkable arrogance” by the president and his administration, though Boehner said that the Republican-controlled House was still primarily focused on the business of legislating.
NBC's Peter Alexander and Kelly O'Donnell contributed to this report.
This story was originally published on Thu May 16, 2013 12:06 PM EDT
NBC's Domenico Montanaro notes that President Obama and the White House are trying to stop the bleeding from three controversies this week. Can they pull it off? It depends, especially when it comes to the IRS.
Obama White House moves to stop the bleeding… Success on whether the controversies stay a one-week story rather than a months-long one depends on the follow-through, especially regarding the IRS controversy… But it also depends on whether the GOP overplays it hand… Classic Obama: White House takes days to find the right response… Don’t lose sight on Syria… House votes to repeal Obamacare… Sanford’s first day back… And new Quinnipiac poll: McAuliffe up slightly in Virginia.
*** Trying to stop the bleeding: After his most difficult stretch of days since winning re-election, President Obama on Wednesday tried to stop the bleeding with two different moves just more than an hour apart -- all in an effort to keep a bad week from turning into a bad month and perhaps ending any chances of a serious legislative agenda. First, at 5:00 pm ET, his White House released 100 pages of emails and documents related to the crafting of the talking points to describe the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi. The emails revealed more agency politics (between CIA and the State Department) than electoral politics (as Republicans had accused). Second, a little after 6:00 pm ET, Obama delivered a statement announcing that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had accepted the resignation of the acting IRS commissioner in the wake of the controversy that the tax agency had targeted conservative-sounding groups for additional scrutiny in their application for tax-exempt status. The president also announced that new safeguards would be put in place to prevent it from happening again, and he pledged to work with Congress to get it fixed. And today at noon ET, he holds a news conference -- with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan -- where he’ll likely answer reporters’ questions about both actions. There was also an effort to stop the bleeding on a third front: The White House said it supports the re-introduction of a media-shield bill after the Justice Department’s seizure of AP phone records. (Of course, it’s the somewhat watered down version of the shield law that had originally passed the House in 2009 and died in the Senate when Dems had 60 votes.)
Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
President Barack Obama delivers a statement from the East Room of the White House, May 15, 2013.
*** Success depends on the follow-through… : So will yesterday’s actions keep a bad week from turning into a bad month? The answer: It depends on the follow-through, especially as it relates to the IRS issue, which has always been the most problematic controversy for the White House because it’s the easiest one for the public to understand. The immediate challenge for the White House -- besides disciplining IRS employees who engaged in this targeting -- is to find a tough-guy replacement whom the public knows and trusts (a retired Republican, CEO, top cop, you get the idea) to take over the agency’s reins. Make no mistake, this IRS issue has united a Republican Party that had been fraying on topics like immigration, the budget and to a lesser extent guns. So the real test for the White House is to stick to the follow-through and not allow the Republican Party to own it. The more bipartisan the outrage is at the IRS (and assuming there is no connection to the administration in some meaningful way), the more the White House believes it can insulate itself politically on the issue. But if credibility cannot be restored at the IRS, it really does hamper the administration’s ability to implement health care and it certainly doesn’t help get Republicans on board with immigration reform. It’ll be QUITE easy for a Republican to argue: Obama can’t run the IRS, what makes you think he can run health care or secure the border?
*** … And also whether the GOP overplays its hand: But there’s also a danger for Republicans: Do they overplay their hand when it comes to the IRS? Already, the Benghazi talking-point emails don’t reveal the political conspiracy that many Republicans and conservatives had openly theorized, and they also reveal that Susan Rice -- whose reputation was dragged through the mud -- was a relatively innocent victim (though no one likes to be exposed as someone who was simply following a set of talking points about which they had little input). What’s more, the Benghazi emails have all come down to State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland’s concerns. Were they simply about trying not to hinder the investigation into the Islamic extremists in the attack (as Democrats say)? Or were they about trying to clean the State Department’s hands (as Republicans allege)? By the way, as for how government works, this email release reveals something that many in Washington have known for years but the public is less familiar with: These emails show how deputies are often the ones making key governmental decisions, with the principals later signing off.
*** Taking days to find that right response: All that said, yesterday’s moves were typical of Team Obama -- it often takes them days to find a suitable response to a controversy. Think Jeremiah Wright (which it finally solved with a famous speech), the bitter/cling remarks (which it first embraced and them condemned), and the BP spill (which took several tries to strike the right tone). Obama supporters argue that taking time to find the right response is more of a virtue than a vice, especially when dealing with complex issues. Additionally, they might say this criticism is more of a reflection on a 24-7 media culture than demands immediate answers and explanations. But there’s also no doubt that the White House would prefer finding a suitable response on Day 1 than Day 4 or 5. And, as we said above, we’re not sure the Obama White House has still found that sweet-spot response on these controversies; a lot is riding on its replacement pick to head the IRS.
*** Don’t lose sight on Syria: While today’s news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan will likely be dominated by questions regarding the domestic controversies over the last several days, don’t lose sight how important Erdogan’s visit is regarding Syria. The situation there has become a HUGE problem for Turkey, which is the United States’ most important ally in the Middle East besides Israel. And Turkey wants the U.S. to take a greater role in resolving the civil war in Syria.
*** House votes to repeal Obamacare: Also today, around 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm ET per NBC’s Luke Russert, the House will hold its 38th vote -- per NBC’s count -- to repeal part or all of the federal health-care law. House Republicans are quick to point out that today’s vote is only the third time Republicans have voted to FULLY repeal the law; the other efforts were regarding parts of the law. As the New York Times wrote earlier this week, “Three dozen is a lot for a bill that currently has no prayer of becoming law. But the figure … actually understates the amount of time Republicans have devoted to litigating and trying to dismantle the president’s biggest legislative accomplishment. The repeal vote, which is likely to occur Thursday, will be at least the 43rd day since Republicans took over the House that they have devoted time to voting on the issue. To put that in perspective, they have held votes on only 281 days since taking power in January 2011. (The House and Senate have pretty light legislative loads these days, typically voting only three or four days a week.) That means that since 2011, Republicans have spent no less than 15 percent of their time on the House floor on repeal in some way.”
*** Are we witnessing Holder’s last hurrah? Before 5:00 pm yesterday, the biggest story in Washington was Eric Holder’s combative hearing with House Republicans. Few punches were pulled, and personal frustrations surfaced rather easily. There is clearly no love lost between Holder and Darrell Issa, for instance. While the hearing was all over the map, Holder struggled to explain when he recused himself in the national security leak investigation. While he explained WHY he recused himself, the fact he had nothing in writing or could not say when was something that just seemed odd for America’s top law enforcement official to admit. How does he not have the recusal in writing? Don’t lawyers put everything in writing?
*** Sanford’s first day back: Don’t miss Jessica Taylor’s dispatch of Mark Sanford first day back on Capitol Hill. “As Sanford took his official oath late Wednesday afternoon, he echoed the same themes of redemption he used in his winning campaign. ‘I stand before you with a whole new appreciation for the God of second chances,’ Sanford said. The Republican’s return nearly 13 years after he left Capitol Hill is all the more remarkable for his having overcome the scandal that derailed his governorship.”
*** New poll: McAuliffe up slightly in Virginia: And in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Terry McAuliffe (D) with a slight lead over Ken Cuccinelli (R) among registered voters, 43%-38%. That pretty much mirrors our NBC/Marist poll from last week, which had it McAuliffe 43%, Cuccinelli 41% with registered voters -- although among likely voters, the numbers were reversed: Cuccinelli 45%, McAuliffe 42%.
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The New York Times: “Thwarted on Capitol Hill, stymied in the Middle East and now beset by scandal, President Obama has reached a point just six months after a heady re-election where the second term he had hoped for has collided with the second term he actually has.”
Obama laments the perceptions of the three controversies and lack of power on other things. On the IRS, “he portrayed himself as an onlooker. … He likewise had nothing to do with the Justice Department seizure of phone records of reporters for The Associated Press, aides say. The Benghazi dispute, he complains, is brazen politics, and the White House released e-mails Wednesday meant to show that the president’s close aides had little involvement in its most hotly debated aspect. He has no way to force Congress to pass even a modest gun-control bill, aides say, while the slaughter in Syria defies American capacity to intervene.All of which raises the question of how a president with grand ambitions and shrinking horizons can use his office. Mr. Obama may be right about some of the things he cannot do, but he has also struggled lately to present a vision of what he can do.”
And the most talked about section: “Yet Mr. Obama also expresses exasperation. In private, he has talked longingly of ‘going Bulworth,’ a reference to a little-remembered 1998 Warren Beatty movie about a senator who risked it all to say what he really thought. While Mr. Beatty’s character had neither the power nor the platform of a president, the metaphor highlights Mr. Obama’s desire to be liberated from what he sees as the hindrances on him.”
Chaser: “Michael, what’s your secret, man? Could it be you were an actor in an Aaron Sorkin liberal fantasy? Could that have something to do with it? I don’t know. Check in with me.” – Obama at the White House Correspondents Dinner to actor Michael Douglas on his role as the powerful president in “The American President.”
AP: “Faced with a trio of controversies, President Barack Obama is trying to halt a perception spreading among both White House opponents and allies that he has been passive and disengaged as unexpected developments consume his second term. The new strategy, underscored in a flurry of new White House actions, signals an Obama team anxious to regain control amid controversies that have emboldened Republicans and threatened to plunge the president’s second term into a steady stream of congressional investigations.”
National Journal’s Beth Reinhard: “Under pressure to show who's boss, President Obama called a press conference late Wednesday to say he was ‘angry’ that the IRS singled out conservative groups for extra vetting and to announce that the agency’s acting commissioner had been forced out. … The hasty moves by the White House were clearly aimed at reversing the impression—heavily promoted by Republican critics—that President Obama had responded passively to a series of scandals enveloping his administration.”
Politico: So did two decisive actions on one rapid-fire news night stop the bleeding? For Republicans, the answer is clearly no. They’re going to remain on the attack — and they’re upping their demands. … But after days of anxiety, Democratic operatives said the White House has found its footing. But happy as they were to see Obama win a news cycle, they insisted he’s far from being in the clear — Republican adversaries feel that they’re only just beginning, and they’ll have another chance to lay into the administration at Friday’s hearing on the IRS.
About those Benghazi emails… “While the e-mails portrayed White House officials as being sensitive to the concerns of the State Department, they suggest that Mr. Obama’s aides mostly mediated a bureaucratic tug of war between the State Department and the C.I.A. over how much to disclose — all under heavy time constraints because of the demands from Capitol Hill,” the New York Times writes. “The e-mails revealed no new details about the administration’s evolving account of the Sept. 11 attack, which killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.”
Chaser: “I’ve been able to read all of the cables, I’ve seen the films—I feel like I know what happened in Benghazi. I’m fairly satisfied. But look the House wants to have hearings. I hope they're done in a respectful way. Hopefully, it will shed some light on what happened.” – Bob Corker (R-TN) on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown May 8.
Michael Crowley on the Benghazi emails says they “tell us virtually nothing new about the now well-excavated story.” But has three takeaways: (1) No one doubted a demonstration; (2) The CIA made the big changes; and (3) Susan Rice got hosed.
NBC's Chuck Todd examines the White House's attempt to take control of the IRS scandal, saying if the public thinks the government has lost control on the IRS front, then the Obama administration will have more difficulty in implementing new policies.
President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he was "angry" at IRS officials who inappropriately targeted conservative groups for scrutiny, announcing that his administration had sought and accepted Steven Miller's resignation as interim commissioner of the IRS.
"I've reviewed the Treasury Department watchdog's report, and the misconduct that it uncovered was inexcusable," Obama said in a statement at the White House. "It's inexcusable, and Americans are right to be angry about it, and I'm angry about it."
The president said that he expected the IRS to act with even higher levels of integrity than other government agencies and that, to that end, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had sought and accepted Miller's resignation — something many Republicans had demanded.
A great deal of what IRS has said regarding the targeting scandal was proven to be incomplete or flat out wrong prompting genuine outrage among both Democrats and Republicans. House Speaker John Boehner is now asking who is going to go to jail over this as the IRS continues to blame targeting of conservatives on a few rogue employees. Now Attorney General Holder has promised an investigation to see if IRS employees broke the law. NBC's Lisa Myers reports.
Obama also pledged to work with Congress in its emerging investigation into the controversy, pledging his administration would work "hand in hand with Congress" to further its oversight. But the president also cautioned lawmakers to conduct their probe "in a way that doesn't smack of politics or partisan agendas."
"If the President is as concerned about this issue as he claims, he'll work openly and transparently with Congress to get to the bottom of the scandal — no stonewalling, no half-answers, no withholding of witnesses," the top Republican senator, Kentucky's Mitch McConnell, said in a statement.
The president said as well that he thought the problems at the IRS were "fixable," and he directed Lew to implement the IRS inspector general's recommendations.
Lew said in a statement that it was "clear that the IRS needs new leadership to restore public trust and confidence."
Saying he won't tolerate this sort of behavior from an agency, especially the IRS, President Barack Obama announces the resignation of the acting IRS commissioner and the implementation of measures to prevent such activity again.
"As the president noted, this type of misconduct at any agency, but especially the IRS, is inexcusable and unacceptable. And I will not tolerate it," he said.In an internal email to employees, Miller said he would be staying on until early June to help with an orderly transition.
Obama's remarks came amid news that two IRS employees who had engaged in activities targeting conservative groups had faced disciplinary action for their conduct.
The inspector general's release Monday found that incompetence and ineffective management at the tax-collecting agency led to employees' applying extra scrutiny to conservative and Tea Party advocacy groups. The report also found there was no evidence of outside pressure on officials to target conservative groups.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP
President Barack Obama makes a statement on the IRS' targeting of conservative groups for extra scrutiny in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 15.
Still, the revelation has prompted an uproar among Republicans, who have openly suggested that the Obama administration might have used the IRS to target its political opponents.
"My question isn't about who's going to resign," House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said at a weekly press conference on Capitol Hill. "My question is who's going to jail in this scandal."
Democrats have largely joined their Republican colleagues in expressing outrage toward the IRS employees' actions, and Obama himself condemned the agency Monday, calling the targeting of conservative groups "outrageous" and vowing to hold those responsible accountable.
"I'll do everything in my power to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again, by holding the responsible parties accountable, by putting in place new checks and new safeguards, and, going forward, my making sure the law is applied as it should be — in a fair and impartial way," Obama said.
This story was originally published on Wed May 15, 2013 3:57 PM EDT
Under fire for secret subpoenas of Associated Press phone records, the Obama administration has asked a key senator to revive legislation that would enhance protections for journalists trying to protect their sources.
A White House official called Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Wednesday to ask him to reintroduce the media shield law that he supported in 2009 but that never received a vote on the Senate floor. The push comes in the wake of Department of Justice subpoenas of a broad swath of AP's phone records, including several main numbers used by more than 100 reporters.
"This kind of law would balance national security needs against the public's right to the free flow of information. At minimum, our bill would have ensured a fairer, more deliberate process in this case," Schumer said in a statement.
The shield law would insulate journalists from fines and prison time when they refuse to reveal their sources in court cases. It allows journalists to appeal to a federal judge when they don't want to give up their sources to subpoena -- and let the judge decide whether public interest in the journalist's story outweighs the interests of the government.
But the bill also says that in some national security matters, this "balancing test" wouldn't be applied.
That's in part because of White House concerns about the law. In 2009, the White House objected to the shield law's use in national security situations -- like the one the AP believes triggered the secret subpoenas. The wire service reported in 2012 that a double agent had foiled a bomb plot in Yemen.
Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday called that leak "a very, very serious leak."
"This is among the top two or three serious leaks that I’ve ever seen," he said.
House Republicans debuted a new line of attack against Democrats on Wednesday, calling the GOP the party of "accountability and trust in government" in the wake of several recent controversies involving the Obama administration.
Armed with new uproars involving the IRS's admission that it had targeted conservative advocacy groups, the release of more emails involving the administration's response to last year's terrorist attack in Benghazi and the Justice Department's having monitored the phone record of AP journalists, the House GOP leadership said that they would emphasize transparency in the coming weeks, and hope to make it a central issue in the 2014 midterm elections.
"The public is beginning to raise questions in their mind as to is this government accountable? We are going to work here in the House to restore the trust in government," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
House GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Wash., added: "What the American people expect from their government is accountability."
The new line of attack comes amid a terrible, five-day stretch for the White House. Republican aides told NBC News that the trifecta of controversies had breathed new life into the GOP conference, which recently had been riven my internal disagreements, especially as most legislative action plays out in the Democratic-held Senate.
Democrats, of course, took issue with Republicans' efforts to seize the mantle of transparency.
"Members of both parties want to exercise the appropriate oversight role of Congress into these matters, but the idea that this Republican leadership has been interested in doing anything to the federal government other than destroying it, would be a thorough rewrite of the last two years," said Drew Hammil, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Republicans would have another opportunity to drive their new message on Wednesday afternoon, when Attorney General Eric Holder appears for a House committee for a general oversight hearing. There, he'll he’ll be peppered with questions about why the Justice Department went after reporter’s phone records. And next Wednesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing on the political targeting by the IRS. Aides say also to expect more hearings related to Benghazi throughout the year.
For his part, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, stressed the party would still push the economy as an issue but would also uphold their “responsibility under the Constitution to provide oversight over the Executive Branch."