The 2016 notebook includes notes, quotes, and newsworthy tidbits of what potential presidential candidates are doing and have done that could be significant to 2016. It will run occasionally on Fridays on First Read between now and when candidates actually start declaring.
Former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is more popular than almost any political figure in Washington over the past four years. And that's exactly why Democrats think Republicans are going so hard after Benghazi.
"It's obvious it's an attempt to embarrass President Obama and embarrass Hillary Clinton," Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told Capitol Hill reporters. He added, “I mean, most everyone knows, if she wants to run for president, she's going to get that nomination.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) made a similar point on CBS's Face the Nation Sunday. "This has been caught up in the 2016 presidential campaign, this effort to go after Hillary Clinton," Durbin said.
Former Obama adviser David Axelrod told MSNBC’s Morning Joe also went there. "I really view the Benghazi flare-up right now as throwing a high hard one at Hillary Clinton to try and dissuade her from running for president," he said.
For his part, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa insisted on Meet the Press Sunday that simply was not the case. "Hillary Clinton's not a target,” Issa said of his committee's investigation.
Still, there was plenty of criticism of the Clinton, the likely 2016 Democratic front-runner if she runs, from others, as First Read noted May 9. Lindsey Graham also this week said if Clinton were “in the military, she wouldn’t be promoted.” And opponents are readying a scandal-filled movie about her life.
Rand Paul, another likely 2016 candidate who told Clinton she should have been fired during questioning, said this on FOX: "It sounds like Hillary Clinton’s fingerprints are all over these talking points. And really her resignation was a beginning, but she never really accepted culpability, and I think she really needs to accept culpability for this disaster.”
Yet Clinton continues to lead in 2016 hypothetical polls. A New England College poll showed her winning a New Hampshire Democratic primary 65%-10% over Vice President Joe Biden.
In that same poll, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, and Paul were all in a statistical dead heat.
Clinton also beats Rubio in Virginia, 51%-38%.
Clinton is a linchpin in many ways for 2016. Democrats know they have few other choices. Biden cannot be dismissed, but it's not helpful to his cause that he continues to be a punchline for late-night comics.
“Remember in the old days when President Obama's biggest embarrassment was Joe Biden?" quipped Tonight Show host Jay Leno.
Clinton not only leads, but is up by sizable margins over potential GOP rivals. Republicans have to take notice.
Other 2016 notes:
Speaking of Clinton, by the way, former Michigan Gov.-turned-TV-personality Jennifer Granholm lent her name to a draft Hillary group fundraising email.
Paul hit the op-ed circuit this week, going after President Obama. He went after the president in an one, calling the firing of the IRS acting commissioner “not enough. The executive branch has been aware of this scandal for nearly two years and now, only as a result of massive public pressure, the administration has found a scapegoat.”
He wrote another op-ed Thursday, in which he said, “Lincoln wrote that nearly any man can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man, give him power. I think Mr. Obama has failed that test of power. From the cover-up in Benghazi to letting the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) target the Tea Party to First and Fourth Amendment violations in obtaining records from the press, Mr. Obama has shown disregard for the Bill of Rights and his responsibilities as commander in chief.”
Paul, by the way, is going to New Hampshire Monday, headlining the first-ever -- and sold-out -- Liberty Dinner in Concord, N.H. with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. It’s designed to merge factions of the GOP.
McClatchy looked at the preparations Biden has made to run in 2016. His 2012 financial disclosure was released. It showed that he took out a second home loan in two years, this one valued between $100,000 and $250,000. Biden’s net worth is between $239,000 and $867,000. He could have needed the home-equity line for his daughter’s June wedding reception which he hosted at his Delaware home.
And it showed he made virtually nothing -- $0 to $201 -- in book royalties.
Joked Biden during his commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania Monday: “When I did my financial disclosure as Vice President the first time, the Washington Post said ‘It’s probable: no man has assumed the office of Vice President with fewer assets than Joe Biden,’ I hope they were talking financial assets. Then there was all this discussion why I had no money. I’ll tell you why I had no money: four years at Penn, three years of Syracuse, four years at Georgetown, three years at Yale, two years at Tulane, two years at Penn, and now a granddaughter at Penn. … This is a much cheaper way to get a degree.”
Speaking of that commencement speech at Penn, FactCheck.org says he flubbed some details: “Vice President Joe Biden falsely claimed that U.S. workers ‘are three times as productive as any worker in the world.’ He’s not even close. By the standard measure for productivity, American workers ranked third in the world behind Norway and Ireland in 2011.Biden also stated that the U.S. economy is ‘two and a half times bigger than any other in the world.’ That’s close, but still wrong. Last year the U.S. economy was not quite double the size of China’s economy, which is the second largest in the world.”
And there was the hand-written note Biden sent to a 7-year-old in Wisconsin about guns being able to shoot chocolate: “Dear Myles, I am sorry it took so very long to respond to your letter. I really like your idea. If we had guns that shot chocolate, not only would our country be safer, it would be happier. People love chocolate. You are a good boy, Joe Biden.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s financial disclosure was also filed (but it doesn’t show a net worth). The main source of his income was his $128,000 a year salary with some dividends from stocks.
Jindal, as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, is calling on President Obama to appoint a special prosecutor in the IRS controversy. Jindal was also in New Hampshire last weekend. "We don't need to be focused on 2016 right now,” he said. “Let's focus on the debate. Let's win the debate.”
Martin O’Malley, who got 0% in the New Hampshire poll, “signed a gun-control bill that is among the country's most sweeping legislative responses to the December mass shooting in Newtown, Conn,” the Baltimore Sun writes. “The law bans the sale of assault-style rifles, including the AR-15 used in the Newtown killing of six educators and 20 first- and second-graders. The law limits gun ownership for people with mental illness, outlaws the sale of high-capacity magazines and establishes the nation's first new handgun licensing scheme in two decades. Maryland will join five other states in requiring such licenses, a move that O'Malley said "will substantially lower gun deaths."
He also signed into law “Maryland's first gas tax increase in 20 years into law on Thursday and announced $1.2 billion in highway and transit projects,” NBC Washington reports. So if you live in Maryland, that means it’ll cost you about 4 cents a gallon more to fill up your tank.
If Clinton doesn’t run, some have floated Kirsten Gillibrand as a potential candidate. She’s taken the lead on a host of family related issues and been out front on military sexual assault cases.
Marco Rubio accused the White House of creating a “culture of intimidation” on MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown with Chuck Todd. He echoed that on FOX: “The president doesn’t have clean hands in this because, as I said yesterday on the floor of the Senate … this administration has created a culture of intimidation.” He added, “These are things you typically see in the Third World from unestablished republics and other places.”
Some conservatives are still hammering him for his pursuit of comprehensive immigration.
Bob McDonnell’s approval “dipped to his lowest job-approval rating in two years,” AP wrote of his 49% rating in Quinnipiac. But “few voters are aware” of the FBI inquiry into his accepting of money from a major donor for his daughter’s wedding.
Meanwhile, Jeb Bush was honored as a “Friend of Armenians.”
Rick Santorum has an op-ed with another heart-tugging story of a child who died.
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.
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.
After Eric Holder blasted Darrell Issa yesterday for his “shameful” demeanor, former Amb. Thomas Pickering and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen sent Issa a letter asking to testify publicly to combat his public contentions about them.
They write, per CNN: “Having taken liberal license to call into question the Board's work, it is surprising that you now maintain that members of the committee need a closed-door proceeding before being able to ask ‘informed questions’ at a public hearing.”
Mark Sanford was sworn in yesterday, completing his comeback from the public spotlight to the Appalachian Trail and back to Congress. NBC’s Jessica Taylor reports.
NPR: “Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York will be introducing legislation with other lawmakers Thursday that would change how the military handles sexual assault cases. The proposal would let military prosecutors — rather than commanders — decide whether to bring serious military crimes to trial. It's the latest high-publicity move for a senator who was virtually unknown four years ago when she was appointed to fill Hillary Clinton's senate seat. Now, she's on some lists for possible candidates for vice president — even president.”
The Democratic abortion-rights group Emily’s List has announced it has put six additional women on its “list” of top-shelf candidates for the 2014 cycle: Ann Callis (IL-13), Katherine Clark (MA-05), Jessica Ehrlich (FL-13), Gwen Graham (FL-02), Eloise Reyes (CA-31), and Martha Robertson (NY-23).
VIRGINIA: Quinnipiac has Terry McAuliffe (D) up 43%-38% over Ken Cuccinelli (R). Cuccinelli gets a 47% job approval rating.
Hillary Clinton beats Marco Rubio in the poll in a 2016 matchup 51%-38%.
One hundred pages of emails were passed out by the White House Wednesday as the Obama administration tried to put an end to the long simmering dispute over what took place when the American compound in Benghazi was attacked. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.
Under increasing scrutiny from congressional Republicans, the White House on Wednesday released copies of emails and other additional supporting documents related to its response to last fall’s attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya.
The White House released the materials in the wake of Republicans’ clamor for more information about how the Obama administration crafted its explanation for the incident, which came at the height of last year’s campaign season, and resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
The emails convey different parts of the administration -- the White House, the State Department, and the CIA -- trading drafts of talking points for use not just by representatives of the administration, but also by members of Congress.
From the very first draft, the talking points included references to "Islamic extremists" who might have participated in the attack.
The most significant changes involved removing references to Ansar al-Sharia to not hinder the investigation into the attack, and changing reference to the Benghazi location to a "mission" or "diplomatic post," rather than a consulate.
Those talking points, though, were subjected to scrutiny and a series of tweaks from different agencies to ensure the talking points did not get out in front of investigators, who did not yet appear to have a full grasp of the underpinnings of the attack at that point.
The documents released by the White House indicated that then-CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell voiced similar concerns to those from State Department officials and that the same intelligence analysts who drafted the original talking points were comfortable with the language included in the edits, NBC's Peter Alexander reported.
On page 95 of the documents released Wednesday, an email appears to show that then-CIA Director David Petraeus wasn't completely sold on releasing the talking points, writing: "No mention of the cable to Cairo, either? Frankly, I'd just as soon not use this, then ... NSS's call, to be sure; however, this is certainly not what Vice Chairman Ruppersberger was hoping to get for unclas use. Regardless, thx for the great work."
A congressional hearing last week, where whistleblowers took issue with the administration’s initial explanation that the attacks were the spontaneous outgrowth of an unrelated protest (and not a terrorist attack) gave rise to new demands for more information from the administration.
Republicans took the emails as a validation of their criticism of the White House for making more changes to its talking points than the administration had originally let on.
“The seemingly political nature of the State Department’s concerns raises questions about the motivations behind these changes and who at the State Department was seeking them. This release is long overdue and there are relevant documents the Administration has still refused to produce,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “We hope, however, that this limited release of documents is a sign of more cooperation to come.”
President Barack Obama has dismissed Republicans’ interest in the administration’s evolving explanation for the attack as a “sideshow,” as recently as this Monday.
“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.”
Underlying Republicans’ interest in the Benghazi matter – at which they’ve kept now for six months – is a suspicion that the administration clouded the reality of the attack so as to not damage Obama’s prospects for re-election.
“The president ran out the clock and he won the election,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, S.C., a chief Republican critic of Obama’s on Benghazi, said Tuesday on Fox News. “He was able to get Benghazi behind him in terms of electoral politics, but it won't go away.”
Meanwhile, U.S. government officials said investigators have identified a person who played a central role in the attack in Benghazi, and that federal criminal charges against that person will soon be made public. The person to be named in the charges is not yet in U.S. custody, one official said.
Word of that progress in the investigation followed a statement by Attorney General Eric Holder, who told the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday that the Justice Department has taken "definitive, concrete action" to bring people to justice who were responsible for the attack.
"We have been aggressive and we are in a good position. Definitive action has been taken," Holder said, though he declined to be more specific.
"We will be prepared shortly to reveal what we have done," he said.
NBC News' Pete Williams and Jonathan Dienst contributed to this report.
This story was originally published on Wed May 15, 2013 5:01 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.