Three congressional committees have planned hearing into what interaction, if any, the IRS had with Treasury officials or the White House. Beginning in 2010, the IRS singled out conservative groups that were applying for tax exempt status according to a Treasury Department Inspector General report. NBC's Lisa Myers reports.
Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters Tuesday that he recused himself last year from any involvement in an investigation of national security leaks.
Holder also announced Tuesday that he has ordered an investigation to see if there were criminal violations in the Internal Revenue Service scrutiny of conservative political groups that had sought non-profit status.
Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who approved getting the AP's phone records to track down the person that leaked classified information, said it was a last-resort effort after having conducted hundreds of interviews. NBC's Pete Williams reports
On the leaks case, Holder – who is slated to testify before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday afternoon -- reminded reporters that he testified to a congressional committee last year that he had recused himself to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
The Associated Press reported Monday that phone records of its reporters and editors had been subpoenaed and seized in that probe.
Holder said decisions in that investigation were being made by Deputy Attorney General James Cole and “the deputy attorney general would have been the one who ultimately had to authorize the subpoena that went to the AP.”
He added that since he was recused from the investigation, “I’m not familiar with all that went into the formulation of the subpoena.”
He also said he could not explain why voluntary cooperation wasn’t sought from the Associated Press before the subpoena was executed.
US Attorney General Eric Holder says he's asked the FBI to investigate the "outrageous and unacceptable" behavior at the IRS, and to see if any criminal actions were taken by the agency.
“I am confident that the people who are involved in this investigation, who I know for a great many years and who I’ve worked with for a great many years, followed all of the appropriate Justice Department regulations and did things according to DOJ rules,” Holder said.
He added that it “certainly not the policy of this administration” to target reporters. What has been done in the leaks investigation was, he said, “not as a result of a policy to get the press.”
Referring to the leaks of national security information, Holder said, “This was a very, very serious leak. I’ve been a prosecutor since 1976 – and I have to say that this is among, if not the most serious, in the top two or three most serious leaks that I’ve ever seen. It put the American people at risk – and that is not hyperbole.”
Trying to find out who leaked the information “required very aggressive action,” Holder said.
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D- Nev., on Tuesday joined other congressional critics of the Justice Department’s search of SAP’ phone records telling reporters “I have trouble defending what the DOJ did. It’s inexcusable. There is no way to justify this.”
In a letter to Holder on Monday, Associated Press President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt said, "There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters.” Pruitt complained that the records could “disclose information about AP's activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know."
In a response, Cole wrote to Pruitt Tuesday that seeking phone records from media organizations “is undertaken only after all other reasonable alternative investigative steps have been taken.” He said that the Justice Department sought the AP phone records only after a comprehensive investigation which included conducting over 550 interviews and reviewing of tens of thousands of documents.
This story was originally published on Tue May 14, 2013 7:57 PM EDT
NBC News, via a government source, has obtained an email Obama administration officials believe contradicts last week's reporting that Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said that the State Department's "concerns needed to be addressed" in the drafting of the talking points about the Sept. 2012 attack in Benghazi.
In the actual email -- dated Sept. 14, 2012 and with the subject "Re: Revised HPSCI Talking Points for Review" -- Rhodes writes:
"Sorry to be late to this discussion. We need to resolve this in a way that respects equities, particularly the investigation.
"There is a ton of wrong information getting out into the public domain from Congress and people who are not particularly informed. Insofar as we have firmed up assessments that don't compromise intel or the investigation, we need to have the capability to correct the record, as there are significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression.
"We can take this up tomorrow morning at deputies."
CNN was first to report on the actual language from Rhodes' email.
And the email contradicts this reporting on Friday from ABC News, which wrote:
"In an email dated 9/14/12 at 9:34 p.m. - three days after the attack and two days before Ambassador Rice appeared on the Sunday shows - Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes wrote an email saying the State Department's concerns needed to be addressed.
"We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don't want to undermine the FBI investigation. "We thus will work through the talking points tomorrow morning at the Deputies Committee meeting."
Then there were three controversies for the Obama administration… The latest: AP says Justice Department secretly obtained two months of phone records in possible leak case… Latest developments with the IRS story… Why did the IRS focus on the small fish -- but not the big ones?... Obama outraged by IRS story, as well as Benghazi “sideshow”… Some perspective, per Charlie Cook: Much of the outrage right now is selective outrage… Dems put changing the filibuster back on the table?... Rubio PAC airs TV ad defending Ayotte … And Christie goes negative.
Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images
President Barack Obama speaks at a Democratic fundraiser in New York City, May 13, 2013.
*** Then there were three: Finding itself already under siege on two different fronts -- the Benghazi and IRS stories -- the Obama administration now encounters a third controversy, and this one features one of the most influential news organizations in the world. The Associated Press revealed yesterday afternoon that the Justice Department “secretly obtained two months of telephone records” of AP reporters and editors “in what the news cooperative's top executive called a ‘massive and unprecedented intrusion’ into how news organizations gather the news.” Per NBC’s Michael Isikoff, DOJ confirmed that it obtained these phone records without notifying the news organization, saying the step was needed to avoid "a substantial threat to the integrity" of an ongoing leak investigation. When it rains, it pours, as the conservative Drudge Report gleefully notes. While this Justice Department move is sweeping, chilling for journalists (why didn’t DOJ attempt to negotiate?), and an apparent attempt to intimidate future leakers, let’s don’t forget that Congress asked the Obama administration to investigate all the national-security leaks. “Republicans accused the administration of deliberately leaking classified information, jeopardizing national security in an effort to make Mr. Obama look tough in an election year — a charge the White House rejected. But some Democrats, too, said the leaking of sensitive information had gotten out of control,” the New York Times says.
*** Three makes it harder: While the president’s defiant tone on Benghazi probably would have been enough to quell things under normal circumstances, the times aren’t normal right now. The rule of three (toss in IRS and AP) means the president’s credibility is truly on the line right now with the public. No amount of denial or outrage will be as persuasive to the public right now and the president’s political foes know it. And that’s why you saw some senators yesterday going even further, hitting the White House on the implementation of health care or Mitch McConnell who attempted to use the IRS news to connect the dots and claim a concerted effort was taking place all over the government to target conservatives or limit freedoms. Many of these charges are baseless but the environment right now for the White House is a mess and they are in a position where it’ll be a lot easier for issues to stick to them. The Teflon is wearing off.
President Barack Obama made no explicit mention of the three major controversies surrounding his administration when meeting with supporters on Monday night. Instead, he expressed his frustration that his legislative agenda is stuck in neutral. The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports and NBC's Pete Williams joins the conversation.
*** Latest developments with the IRS story: The IRS controversy is only growing as more organizations come forward about exactly how the IRS went about investigating conservative groups. The Washington Post: “Internal Revenue Service officials in Washington and at least two other offices were involved with investigating conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status… IRS officials at the agency’s Washington headquarters sent queries to conservative groups asking about their donors and other aspects of their operations.” (However, it’s unclear in the story if these Washington employees were only targeting conservative groups or if they were scrutinizing a wider scope of groups applying for tax-exempt status.) What’s more, Politico notes That the IRS’s acting commissioner “first learned about the agency’s targeting of conservative political groups more than a year ago, the agency revealed Monday.” As for the White House, the president claimed he only heard about the IRS story when it went public on Friday. Jay Carney later said, the White House Counsel’s office was made aware of the IG investigation in late April but that the president was NOT informed at the time and that the Counsel’s office wasn’t told many specifics about the report.
*** Focusing on the small fish -- but not the big ones: Also regarding the IRS story, the New York Times’ Confessore makes a great point: While the IRS scrutinized relatively small conservative-sounding groups in their application for tax-exempt 501c4 status, the agency has hardly lifted a finger when it comes to the bigger political players. “The I.R.S. has done little to regulate a flood of political spending by larger groups — like Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, co-founded by Mr. Rove, and Priorities USA, with close ties to President Obama… ‘We’ve complained about a few big fish and we’ve heard nothing from the I.R.S.,’ said Paul S. Ryan, senior counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, which filed many of the complaints with the agency. ‘We would far rather see scrutiny of these big fish — the groups that spent hundreds of millions of dollars to influence elections — than to see the resources spent on hundreds of small groups that appeared to spend very little on elections.’” One of the unintended consequences of this IRS story: It probably will set back any effort to close the loopholes that allow overtly political organizations to obtain tax-exempt status and to shield their donors.
*** Obama outraged by IRS actions and Benghazi “sideshow”: In his news conference with British Prime Minister Cameron yesterday, President Obama called the IRS story “outrageous,” saying: “If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that had been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that's outrageous and there's no place for it. And they have to be held fully accountable.” But in the outrage department, the president got a lot more animated when the topic turned to Benghazi, making it clear he believes it’s nothing more than a partisan sideshow. “The whole issue of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow. What we have been very clear about throughout was that immediately after this event happened we were not clear who exactly had carried it out, how it had occurred, what the motivations were. It happened at the same time as we had seen attacks on U.S. embassies in Cairo as a consequence of this film. And nobody understood exactly what was taking place during the course of those first few days.”
*** Dems put changing the filibuster back on the table? Largely lost by all the Benghazi/IRS/AP coverage has been this fact: Senate Republicans have used procedural tactics to so far block many of Obama’s nominees, including his picks to head the Labor Department and EPA. That has spurred Democrats and their allies to reconsider ways to change the Senate’s 60-vote threshold, which has been used for even the most routine of measures. The Hill: “Senate Democrats frustrated with the GOP’s blocking of a string of President Obama’s nominees are seriously weighing a controversial tactic known as the ‘nuclear option.’ The option — which would involve Democrats changing Senate rules through a majority vote to prevent the GOP from using the 60-vote filibuster to block nominations — was raised during a private meeting Wednesday involving about 25 Democratic senators and a group of labor leaders.” Remember, it was that same “nuclear” option threat that spurred Senate Democrats and Republicans to reach the “Gang of 14” compromise to approve some of George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.
*** It’s the eye of the beholder: That said, political analyst Charlie Cook provides an important historical perspective: Right now, much of the controversy the White House is facing is selective outrage. “Whether the White House is in Democratic or Republican hands, we have to put up with a degree of selective outrage from one side and the turning of a blind eye from the other,” Cook writes. “Democrats who were quick to pounce on any possible transgression during George W. Bush’s presidency are noticeably quiet these days. At the same time, one wonders whether the same Republicans who are frothing over Benghazi would have been quite as vigilant had they been in Congress after the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983, which killed 220 U.S. Marines, 18 sailors, and three Army soldiers.” And that selective outrage makes many of the “Nixon” comparisons seem VERY premature right now. Regarding Nixon, Watergate, and that administration’s cover-ups, the condemnation -- of activity that went straight to the top -- was bipartisan.
*** Rubio PAC airs TV ad defending Ayotte: We’ve been covering politics for a while, but we don’t think we’ve ever seen this -- a possible presidential candidate’s PAC airing a TV ad to help a COLLEAGUE who represents an early-nominating state. “Sen. Marco Rubio's political action committee is going up with a TV ad defending New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte's votes on gun control. ‘Safety, security, family - no one understands these things like a mom, and no one works harder for them than this one,’ the ad says, showing a photo of Ayotte. ‘A former prosecutor, Kelly Ayotte knows how to reduce gun violence.’”
*** Christie goes negative: And it’s rare you see this, too: A political candidate who’s leading his opponent by 30-plus points is going negative. But that’s exactly what New Jersey Chris Christie is doing with this new TV ad. As Politico writes, “Sky-high approval ratings be damned — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is going on air next week with an ad that paints his Democratic rival Barbara Buono as a tax-hiker who is yoked to unpopular former governor Jon Corzine, POLITICO has learned.The spot, which begins running Monday, is part of an $800,000 ad buy over the course of roughly a week.” Per last week’s NBC/Marist poll, Christie was leading Barbara Buono 60%-28% among registered voters.
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Amid outcry over revelations that Internal Revenue Service specialists specifically targeted conservative groups for scrutiny before the 2012 elections, President Barack Obama said Monday that the tax agency employees' reported conduct was "outrageous" and "contrary to our traditions."
Alex Wong / Getty Images
President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron hold a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House May 13, 2013.
Appearing at a White House press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, the president said he does not want to judge the findings of an Inspector General investigation "prematurely" but said that if the reports of political targeting are found to be correct, those responsible must be held "fully accountable."
"If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it," he said.
"I've got no patience with it," he added. "I will not tolerate it and we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this."
Reports surfaced Friday that an IRS official had apologized for the targeting by staffers in a Cincinnati field office, which singled out groups for additional review if they included the words "tea party" or "patriot" in their applications for tax-exempt status.
A partial draft report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration -- obtained by NBC News -- shows that top officials knew about the targeting nearly a year before then-IRS Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, testified to Congress in March 2012 that no singling out of conservative groups ever occurred.
The House Ways and Means Committee announced after the president's remarks that it will hold a hearing on the alleged targeting on Friday, May 17. Acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller and J. Russell George, the Inspector General who headed up the IRS report, are expected to testify.
And the IRS confirmed Monday night that Miller was informed in May of last year that "some specific applications were improperly identified by name and sent to the [IRS] Exempt Organizations centralized processing unit for further review."
In a statement earlier Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president is “concerned” about the reported conduct of “a small number of Internal Revenue Service employees.”
“If the Inspector General finds that there were any rules broken or that conduct of government officials did not meet the standards required of them, the President expects that swift and appropriate steps will be taken to address any misconduct," Carney said.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for extensive investigation into the IRS practices.
President Obama calls reports that the IRS targeted conservative organizations for extra scrutiny "outrageous."
In a letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida called for the resignation of Acting Commissioner Miller, who previously served as Shulman’s deputy.
"[I]t is clear the IRS cannot operate with even a shred of the American people's confidence under the current leadership," Rubio wrote. "I strongly urge that you and President Obama demand the IRS Commissioner's resignation, effectively immediately. No government agency that has behaved in such a manner can possibly instill any faith and respect from the American public."
Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell went further, calling the burgeoning IRS scandal "just one example of an administration-wide effort to silence critics."
"The Obama effort to shut up opponents isn't limited to the IRS," he told conservative outlet Breitbart News. "It applies to the FCC [Federal Communications Commission], SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission], FEC [Federal Elections Commission], HHS [Department of Health and Human Services]."
A McConnell spokesman told NBC News that the senator was specifically referring to those agencies’ attempts to implement rules requiring that third-party groups and businesses disclose donors or political activities.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat, also called the targeting "intolerable" and an "outrageous abuse of power."
And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also weighed in, saying the allegations would represent a "terrible breach of the public trust" and pledging that the chamber will "quickly take appropriate action" based on the inspector general's findings.
NBC's Kelly O'Donnell, Luke Russert and Mark Murray contributed to this report.
This story was originally published on Mon May 13, 2013 7:40 PM EDT
President Barack Obama repeatedly said during last year's presidential campaign that a partisan "fever" in Washington would break after the 2012 election, but on Monday, he acknowledge it hadn't broken yet.
Almost four months into his second term, the president told Democratic donors at a fundraiser in New York City that the nation's capital is still ensconsed by "hyper-partisanship."
"My thinking was when we beat them in 2012 that might break the fever, and it’s not quite broken yet," Obama said, according to pool reports of his remarks. "But I am persistent. And I am staying at it."
Obama had outlined an agenda heading into his second term headlined by immigration reform, gun control and reaching a wide-reaching fiscal deal with Republicans. So far, immigration reform only seems realistically attainable; a scaled-back version of Obama's gun control proposals was blocked in the Senate. A "grand bargain" on taxes and spending appears out of reach, as well.
Obama told his supporters that he still intended to seek a broad agenda, rather than succumb to the ennui of a lame-duck presidency. That included an allusion to forcing Republicans to pay a price at the polls in 2014 should they continue to block his agenda.
"My intentions over the next 3 ½ years are to govern," he said. "If there are folks who are more interested in winning elections than they are thinking about the next generation then I want to make sure there are consequences to that."
President Barack Obama on Monday derided the controversy over inter-agency talking points drafted in the wake of last year’s Benghazi attack, saying that charges of a politically motivated cover-up are a “sideshow” and little more than a “political circus.”
Jim Bourg / REUTERS
President Barack Obama talks about the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya as Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron listens during a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House, May 13, 2013.
“The whole thing defies logic,” Obama said at a White House event with British Prime Minister David Cameron. “And the fact that this whole thing keeps getting churned out, frankly, has a lot to do with political motivations.”
The president defended his administration against persistent allegations that it tried to disguise the Benghazi attack as a spontaneous riot instead of an act of terror – charges Obama dismisses as little more than a “political circus.”
Those accusations again dominated headlines last week, when leaked emails showed that State Department officials suggested changes to the official talking points crafted after the Sept. 11, 2012 incident. That attack on the diplomatic compound left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Those changes included the deletion of mentions to specific terrorist groups.
On Monday, Obama said those edits reflected the intelligence agency’s lack of immediate clarity about exactly what prompted the attack, which occurred at the same time that a video offensive to Muslims had prompted spontaneous riots elsewhere in the Middle East.
“The whole issue of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow,” he said. “What we have been very clear about throughout was that immediately after this event happened, we were not clear who exactly had carried it out, how it had occurred, what the motivations were.”
“There’s no there, there,” he said of the leaked emails, which congressional investigators reviewed earlier this year but which were not reported on until last week.
President Obama dismisses the ongoing controversy over the talking points that the administration initially put out to describe the attack in Benghazi. Watch his entire comments on Benghazi.
Noting that National Counterterrorism Center chief Matt Olsen specifically labeled the assault “an act of terrorism” just days after attack, Obama said Republicans who characterize the administration’s response to the attack as anything other than due diligence on the part of intelligence officials are merely trying to exact political damage on their Democratic opponents.
“Who executes some sort of cover up or effort to tamp things down for three days?” he asked.
Despite the president’s evident frustration with the GOP’s line of questioning on Benghazi, the administration will get little respite from congressional skeptics, who have pledged to keep probing its response to the Libya attack.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has asked that Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Admiral Mike Mullen – the two officials who conducted an independent review of the incident on behalf of the State Department – be interviewed by investigators.
Issa has said that the independent review failed to adequately question top State Department officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Senators John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire have called for a Joint Select Committee to investigate the matter.
The three Republicans said that the president's statements Monday run counter to his public descriptions of Benghazi in the weeks after the deaths.
Obama "repeatedly and specifically refused, in the heat of his re-election campaign, to label Benghazi a terrorist attack," they wrote in a statement Monday afternoon.
This story was originally published on Mon May 13, 2013 3:42 PM EDT
DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa Republican Party is in turmoil 15 months into the tenure of chairman A.J. Spiker, and his critics worry the discord could forever mar the politically significant state’s longstanding tradition of holding the nation's first presidential-nominating contest.
At issue: Tensions with the state’s old-guard Republican leadership and Spiker’s affiliation with the group of activists tied to former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.
Spiker jokes that party bosses at the Republican National Committee rarely bother to learn the names of state party chairmen due to their relatively short tenures.
"They always joke that state chairs, they never bother learning their names, because they're gone so quickly," he said, noting that the average chairmanship for leaders of state Republican parties lasts about 18 months.
But Iowa is no typical state. It is the state that plays host every four years to the first presidential-nominating contest — its tradition-laden caucus — that can boost or break presidential hopefuls' chances of ever reaching the White House.
And though the 2016 Iowa caucuses are still years away, Spiker's chairmanship has divided the Hawkeye State's Republicans. They fret that party-building exercises like fundraising and infrastructure have ground to a halt. And more alarmingly, Republicans worry that Spiker and the rest of the state GOP, which has close ties to Ron Paul's political movement, would become an informal extension of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's presidential campaign should he decide to seek higher office in 2016.
Matthew Holst / Matthew Holst / AP
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks at the Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner event, Friday, May 10, 2013, at the Hotel at Kirkwood Center, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
"We're a long way's out from another presidential caucus, but even still, people are concerned: is it a fair playing field for the next set of candidates?" said Craig Robinson, a former political director for the Iowa GOP and a prominent critic of Spiker's chairmanship.
"They're looking at what's best for themselves and the candidates they support," he added. "If they're not careful, they could damage the institution of the caucuses after 2016."
Spiker responded: "I think the notion that it's just about Rand or Ron is really kind of silly."
Spiker was elected — he calls himself the "first non-establishment chairman" — following the resignation of Matt Strawn, who stepped down as chairman of the Iowa GOP following hiccups in the caucuses. The party had initially proclaimed Mitt Romney its winner, but was forced to reverse itself once the final tally found that former Sen. Rick Santorum had actually won by a handful of votes.
Spiker won the chairmanship of the state GOP due to persistent efforts by Ron Paul supporters to win smaller, less-noticed elections to local and lesser statewide Republican offices. By the time had come to elect a replacement for Strawn, Ron Paul acolytes had the numbers.
During his tenure, he has openly challenged Gov. Terry Branstad, who is on the cusp of seeking his sixth term as governor since 1982, over the fate of the Ames Straw Poll (an informal precursor to the caucuses) and a new gas tax that had pended before the state legislature.
"I'm not going to comment on that," Branstad pointedly told NBC News when asked about his assessment of the state GOP's health. "I just think, I'm focused on helping Republicans win elections, and we're going to put together the strongest team possible. And by the time we get to Election Day 2014, we'll see a very strong, united party that will work together."
Indeed, Election Day 2014 includes two marquee statewide races: Branstad's would-be re-election, and more significantly, an open Senate race that offers Republicans their first chance of holding both Senate seats for the first time in decades.
"The current party leadership has some bridges to build," said a GOP strategist and former Iowa party official, who requested anonymity to offer candid assessments about the party. "Sometimes they misunderstand the core function of the party, which is to win elections and provide an effective infrastructure. This is what candidates need and donors expect."
Criticism of Spiker has assumed a new urgency given the intense and early interest in the 2016 caucuses, jockeying for which began on Friday night when Rand Paul — at Spiker's invitation — headlined the party's annual Lincoln Dinner fundraiser.
Of Rand Paul's appeal in Iowa, Spiker said: "I think it would be a mistake not to put him in the top tier in Iowa, and I would be surprised if he didn't poll that way." (He also named Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as two additional major contenders.)
Behind the scenes, Republican critics of Spiker's have asserted that a backlash against this self-described "constitutionalist" chairman is taking shape. As with many battles on the national level, the establishment GOP community and its donor class have begun the work of reclaiming the levers of power in the state GOP.
"If this Paul takeover of the party has done one thing, it has kind of awoken your traditional Republican activist," Robinson said.
For his part, Spiker says that he's leaning against seeking another term as state party chairman in January of 2015; he explained that he had also leaned against seeking the office in the first place, and seeking re-election to a full term this past January.
Spiker, who has a young family, mused that it might actually be more liberating for him to work for an issue group come 2016. Or a candidate.
"The candidate and issue things are much easier, because with a candidate you have a specific candidate, and you have specific policies of the candidate," he said. "You have very clear things. With the political committee, it's much broader, much bigger and it is a lot more complicated than it is with a candidate or an issue group."
This story was originally published on Mon May 13, 2013 3:29 PM EDT
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – The immigration reform proposal pending before Congress could be a dicey proposition for Republican presidential contenders come 2016, when they visit this first-in-the-nation caucus state.
Republicans in Washington are in virtual agreement that they must do more to broaden the party’s appeal to the increasingly influential bloc of Hispanic voters. And many of those GOP leaders argue that supporting an immigration reform law that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is a good starting point.
But the party’s eventual standard-bearer in 2016 will likely have to run a gauntlet of primaries that begins with Iowa’s caucuses. And catering to the Hawkeye State’s voters could force White House hopefuls to the right – not just in 2016, but in deciding how to posture themselves toward the immigration reform law making its way through Congress this year.
Matthew Holst / Matthew Holst / AP
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks at the Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner event, Friday, May 10, 2013, at the Hotel at Kirkwood Center, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Two senior members of the state’s Republican congressional delegation – longtime Sen. Charles Grassley and Rep. Steve King – have been some of the most outspoken critics of the “Gang of Eight” bipartisan immigration overhaul currently making its way through the Senate committee process. Both dished out plenty of red meat to the party faithful during speeches at Friday night’s Lincoln Dinner.
“It gives amnesty to and legalizes everybody who's in America illegally today,” King said of the Senate proposal, invoking a word – amnesty – that reflects deep conservative trepidation toward immigration reform. “This bill destroys the rule of law, and it forever produces contempt for the rule of law.”
“We can't afford to repeat the mistakes of the past. And, I want you to know, I learned a lesson, and I want you to know that I — and we — screwed up in 1986,” Grassley said. “The lesson learned: you reward illegality, and you get more of it.”
Their words amount to a caution sign for Republican presidential hopefuls with designs of competing in the Iowa caucuses in 2016.
Some Republicans, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican co-author of the Gang of Eight proposal, probably have no choice but to embrace the legislation and its path to citizenship because of their close involvement in its creation. And indeed, Rubio and his conservative cachet might help bring some conservatives on-board with the eventual bill.
“I think that he is one of the people that's been trying to work to find a reasonable approach toward that, that would secure our borders and would find a reasonable way to deal with people who have been here a long time,” Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, R, told NBC News. “I'm going to see what Marco Rubio says about it. I trust him.”
Other would-be Republican presidential candidates can afford to be more circumspect.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, one such potential hopeful who’s previously called for immigration reform, told reporters in Iowa that the Senate bill needs tougher border-security provisions, especially for it to have any chance of passing the Republican-controlled House. To that end, Paul termed himself the “bridge” between the two chambers.
“I'm the bridge between people who won't consider it at all to people who want it,” he said. “I'm in the middle such that I'll vote for it if I think it'll do the right job and it creates border security, doesn't create a new pathway to citizenship, and allows people to get in an existing line, the same way someone in Mexico City would get in line.”
“So I think there's a lot of room for me to help the bill, but we'll see,” Paul added.
But it’s also easy to imagine at least one Republican contender running to the right on the issue of immigration in hopes of outflanking his competitors in Iowa. That temptation – and its repercussions – was on full display during the 2012 primaries, when Mitt Romney used immigration to run to the right of his primary challengers. But his comments during that drawn-out primary came back to haunt him during the general election, when Romney notched a record-low performance among Hispanic voters for a recent Republican presidential nominee.
Regardless of their stance, A.J. Spiker, the Iowa Republican Party’s chairman, cautioned White House hopefuls to be ready to answer questions about their approach to immigration come 2016.
“The one thing I think Republicans agree on, absolutely, on immigration is a secured border,” he said. “After that, you really do head off in some different directions.”
He added: “So what I believe is that whatever a candidate's position is, when they come to Iowa, they're going to have to explain their position to Iowa Republicans. They're going to have to explain why they supported X; why they supported X over Y.”
This story was originally published on Mon May 13, 2013 1:42 PM EDT
Top recruiters at both the Democratic and Republican congressional campaign committees are making no secret about it: They’re trying to recruit more women to run for House seats in the 2014 midterms.
“We are looking for women in those districts where we believe that we have an opportunity -- either through a retirement, an open seat, or even for a challenge that is a good challenge for us,” said Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), one of the recruiters this cycle for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “It really does bring a very complete picture to discussions on the issues.”
Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), the recruitment chair for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says that she is emphasizing to ask women to run, especially those who haven’t before. “It may be true that men stand up and say ‘I want to run.’ Women have to come in a different way,” she said.
Why are women such a focus?
Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.), the co-chair this cycle of Women LEAD, an arm of the DCCC that’s dedicated to electing more women to the House, explains that women have extra appeal in a political environment where Congress is gridlocked and unpopular.
“I think the public -- they’re looking for problem-solvers and people who can be more conciliatory or compromising … also trustworthy,” said Frankel. “I think that’s why women are more prime candidates. Maybe it’s also because [voters] are not blaming us for how paralyzed the Congress is today.”
Reps. Edwards and Black elaborated on their parties’ efforts to recruit more women in phone interviews. Here is some of what they had to say…
Q: Is the DCCC doing anything specific to recruit women from outside of politics, like you mentioned?
Edwards: We’re looking at the non-profit sector, in the business sector and other areas of the public sector – people who are firefighters, who are teachers. They bring a strong commitment to public service that really lends itself to the kind of responsibilities, the kind of problem-solving that we face in the Congress…. We can’t just continue to look at the traditional lawyers and elected officials as our pipeline for leadership in the 21st century.
Q: A new report by American University says that women are less likely to see themselves as qualified to run for office. What, if anything, are you doing at the DCCC to overcome that?
Edwards: Part of that is because we’ve always thought about people in elected office coming from a particular background, and I think that the more that we broaden that, the more that we can encourage younger women to think about their political ambitions early on -- because they see people who come from a range of different experiences in Congress.
Q: Is there anything different being done this cycle in terms of recruiting more women? Is anything new about female congresswomen mentoring recruits?
Black: I think what’s new about that is that we are utilizing the women that are currently serving. They’re being mentors for these candidates. I don’t know that we’ve been as strong at doing that before. It really is more difficult for a woman to make that decision, because of all of the responsibilities they have at home that they feel so strongly that is their role and their responsibility.
Q: Why do you think that the Republican Party traditionally has struggled to expand its ranks of female lawmakers?
Black: I think part of that is effort. I think it was done in the last election and it is even intensifying in this election. I think we have conservative women who feel a real commitment to their family – not to say that women who serve as Democrats don’t have that – but what I hear is a real struggle, you know, ‘My family needs me. I need to be there.’ I hear that consistently from women. I don’t know that we’ve done a good job in helping them understand that you can do both things and you can do them well.”
The White House’s terrible, horrible Friday spills over… Why the IRS story packs a bigger political punch… The White House’s slow response to both the IRS and Benghazi stories… Q&A time for Obama: He holds joint press conference with British PM David Cameron at 11:15 am ET… Recapping Rand Paul’s speech in Cedar Rapids, IA… New Gomez internal shows him trailing Markey by just 3 pts… New Cuccinelli ad focuses on the economy, taxes.. And Herseth Sandlin won’t run in SD.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney during his daily news briefing at the White House, Friday, May, 10, 2013. Carney responded on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, calling on top-to-bottom review of the Obama administration after the IRS admitted that it had targeted conservative groups during the 2012 election.
*** The White House’s terrible, horrible Friday spills over: Everything that happened last Friday -- the reporting on the revisions to the Benghazi talking points, the news that the IRS had targeted conservative groups, reporters pummeling White House Press Secretary Jay Carney at his briefing -- represented the White House’s worst day since the first presidential debate. And it all spilled over to the Sunday shows and today’s news. As the Washington Post now reports, “At various points over the past two years, Internal Revenue Service officials singled out for scrutiny not only groups with ‘tea party’ or ‘patriot’ in their names but also nonprofit groups that criticized the government and sought to educate Americans about the U.S. Constitution, according to documents in an audit conducted by the agency’s inspector general.” Indeed, the IRS story is bigger long-term problem for the Obama administration than perhaps it realized on Friday afternoon when its initial response lacked a real sense of outrage.
The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd talks about the continuing investigation by House Republicans into the attack.
*** IRS story packs a bigger political punch: One reason why is because Benghazi has already been litigated so much (at congressional hearings, at two presidential debates, during Susan Rice’s consideration for the secretary of state job). But Friday’s revelation that the IRS had targeted conservative-sounding names (and not liberal-sounding ones) in applications for tax-exempt status will trigger new congressional hearings and new questions for the president and his team. More significantly, the IRS news is a political gift to a Republican Party whose base was strained on immigration (remember that Heritage Foundation study?) and even on guns (remember the tough questions Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Jeff Flake were getting?). Now, you’re seeing a GOP base united by two things they absolutely dislike: President Obama and the Internal Revenue Service. The news also is a gift to Republicans like Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, or any incumbent Republican in Washington hoping to avoid a tough primary in 2014 -- they get to demagogue the heck out of this story and show they will stand up for the Tea Party.
*** Slow ride, take it easy: For the Obama White House, if there’s one common theme to both the Benghazi and IRS stories, it’s how slowly it responded to them. It’s something that Sen. Dianne Feinstein alluded to on “Meet the Press” yesterday when NBC’s David Gregory asked her what she would have liked to see Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton do different after Benghazi. “Oh, to move faster. To say, ‘Yes, this was in fact a terrorist act.’ I mean, it was so evident.” When Gregory asked her why the administration dragged its heels, Feinstein responded, “I think this is a cautious administration. You see it in other respects.” That’s a kind interpretation. On Benghazi, the White House is essentially leading reporters to believe they were ultimately refereeing a bureaucratic turf fight between the CIA and State. But they also, when questioned, claim they’d do nothing differently other than -- perhaps -- delay giving a public accounting even further in the hours and days after the attack. When it comes to this Benghazi controversy, the questions for non-partisans (because partisans are searching only for what supports what they believe): Why did State push for the big change in the talking points? Was this about pushing back on the CIA, because it thought the agency was deflecting responsibility since the Benghazi outpost was more CIA than State? Was this about State doing CYA regarding CIA warnings about diplomatic security?
*** Q&A time for Obama: Don’t be surprised if these two stories -- Benghazi and the IRS -- come up at President Obama’s joint press conference with British PM David Cameron at 11:15 am ET. Afterward, Obama travels to New York City, where he hits two DNC fundraisers and then a joint DSCC/DCCC event. Also today, Vice President Biden delivers the commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania.
*** Cedar Rapids: Outside of Washington… Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) had a pretty important weekend in Iowa. The dispatch from NBC’s Mike O’Brien: “On Friday, Sen. Rand Paul put his stake in the ground for a possible run in 2016 by mocking the Obama administration and delivering a blistering critique of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. The administration has been criticized for failing to provide security during the attack and for its characterization of the incident afterward. Speaking at the Iowa GOP’s annual Lincoln Dinner, Paul questioned the initial response to the attacks and asked, ‘First question to Hillary Clinton: Where in the hell were the Marines?’ ‘It was inexcusable, it was a dereliction of duty, and it should preclude her from holding higher office,’ the Kentucky Republican added to loud applause” at the Lincoln Day Dinner in Cedar Rapids, IA. Also, speaking of Paul in Iowa, don’t miss the story in the Washington Post about Rand Paul’s concerted effort to reach out to evangelicals, a core GOP constituency that Rand’s father Ron, rarely courted and usually alienated.
*** New Gomez internal poll shows him trailing Markey by 3 points: In Massachusetts’ special Senate election, which takes place next month, the Gabriel Gomez (R) campaign has released an internal poll (conducted May 5-7) showing him trailing Ed Markey (D) by just three points, 46%-43%, with 11% undecided. That’s in contrast to independent surveys conducted around the same that finds Markey with larger leads (46%-38% per WBUR and 52%-35% per Suffolk). According to the Gomez internal poll, the Republican has a 14-point lead among independents (50%-36%) and is carrying Republican by a 94%-3% clip. Yet Markey leads among Democrats by just 73%-12%. (The question to ask: Does that continue to hold up?) The timing of the release of this Gomez internal poll is important: It comes after Democrats had hammered Gomez on news that he “claimed a $281,500 income tax deduction in 2005 for pledging not to make any visible changes to the facade of his 112-year-old Cohasset home… But Gomez and his wife, Sarah, were already barred from making any changes to the exterior of their home under the bylaws of the local Historical Commission, raising the question as to whether their donation — the price of which is based on the loss of value in their real estate — had any monetary worth.” Meanwhile, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has a new web video hitting Markey for the “bounced check” scandal of the early 1990s.
*** New Cuccinelli ad focuses on the economy, taxes: In Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli (R) is up with his second TV ad of the race, and the spot is all about the economy. “Small businesses are the backbone of our economy,” Cuccinelli says to the camera. “But they are being overtaxed and over regulated I’ve a plan to make Virginia an engine for job growth It starts with closing tax loopholes and putting an end to special interest giveaways. We’ll use the savings to cut taxes for those who’ve earned it.” Last week, NBC's Mike O'Brien reported that Cuccinelli's $1.4 billion tax plan "would cut the personal income tax rate to 5 percent (down from 5.75 percent) and reduce the corporate tax rate to 4 percent (from 6 percent)... [T]he attorney general would help offset the $1.4 billion price tag for his tax cuts by identifying and eliminating 'outdated exemptions and loopholes that promote crony capitalism.'"
*** Herseth Sandlin won’t run in SD: And in South Dakota, here’s a big recruiting loss for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee: Stephanie Herseth Sandlin won’t run for the Senate. MSNBC’s Jessica Taylor gets comment from the DSCC, which had been bullish on Herseth Sandlin’s chances of getting into the race: "There will be a strong Democratic candidate that can seize on the divisive GOP primary and provide South Dakotans with a clear alternative to the dysfunction on the Republican side. Mike Rounds is like the second coming of Tommy Thompson.”
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House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa visits Meet the Press to update David Gregory on the latest developments in his panel's investigation into the Benghazi attacks.
A top GOP critic pushed back Sunday on charges that Republican efforts to investigate last year's Benghazi attack are designed to inflict political damage on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"Hillary Clinton's not a target," said House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa on NBC's Meet the Press. "President Obama is not a target."
Issa, who heads a panel probing the assault on the diplomatic outpost that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, said he will seek depositions from Benghazi review board heads Ambassador Thomas Pickering and retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The interagency process of modifying talking points in the wake of the attack scrubbed the fact that the incident was "a terrorist attack from the get-go," Issa said Sunday.
"The American people were effectively lied to for a period of about a month," he charged. "That's important to get right."
Ambassador Thomas Pickering responds to Congressman Darrell Issa's claim that the diplomat should testify on the Benghazi incident.
Issa's committee held a high-profile hearing last week on the Benghazi attack. The California Republican claimed Sunday that Pickering - the man who led an independent review of the attacks on behalf of the State Department - refused to testify at that hearing.
Pickering flatly denied that he was unwilling to appear.
"I said the day before the hearings I was willing to appear, to come from the very hearings [Issa] excluded me from," Pickering told NBC's David Gregory. "We were told the majority said I was not welcome at that hearing; I could come at some other time."
Issa said he was unaware of Pickering's late notice, which the ambassador said he communicated through the White House, but added that a private deposition - which he intends to formally request Monday from the ambassador - is the more appropriate way to begin the inquiry.
"The fact is we don't want to have some sort of a stage show," Issa said.
Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said in a statement that Oversight committee Republicans never received a request for Pickering to testify.
"We challenge him to name the White House official who he was in contact with and the White House official whom he falsely says relayed his interest in testifying to Chairman Issa," Hill said.
Republicans have been dogged in their questioning of the administration's response to the attack, with leaked documents revealing last week that officials at the State Department suggested edits to talking points that erased references to terrorist groups.
While Hillary Clinton has stated publicly that she was not involved in that editing process, criticism of the former State Department chief and much-discussed possible presidential candidate has been a strong subtext of the Benghazi debate.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein discusses remarks on the House probe into the Benghazi attacks and details amendments made in markup to the Senate immigration overhaul.
Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, said on Meet the Press that Issa's panel has deliberately put Clinton's ambitions in its crosshairs.
"My concern is when Hillary Clinton's name is mentioned 32 times in a hearing, then the point of the hearing is to discredit the Secretary of State, who has very high popularity and may well be a candidate for president," Feinstein said.
Likely 2016 Republican candidate Sen. Rand Paul excoriated Clinton in a speech Friday in key campaign state Iowa, saying her role in the Benghazi episode "should preclude her from holding higher office."
"I think that's nonsense," Feinstein said of Paul's claim. "And I think the American people will think that's nonsense."
This story was originally published on Sun May 12, 2013 11:28 AM EDT