Trying to get ahead of the still-unfolding investigation into the September 11 attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans, the White House has released 100 pages of internal e-mails that document the development of talking points used by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and others.
The e-mails show that the White House, State Department, FBI and the CIA all participated in shaping the talking points, which have become a flashpoint for critics of the administration’s response to the attack.
White House Benghazi E-mails by The Washington Post
Has Barack Obama already caught a terminal case of the second-term curse? Still too early to diagnose.
But such an affliction will inevitably suffocate all his remaining legislative aspirations. The evidence from the past four decades leads to an unavoidable prognosis: The man’s got a little more than a year left, at most.
Each of the four previous re-elected presidents saw their juice on Capitol Hill run out well before their second-term congressional midterms. And there’s no empirical reason to believe that Obama will be able to make his political capital last any longer in this divided and divisive Congress.
Richard M. Nixon was able to keep alive his top priorities, which were about taking more power for himself at the expense of Congress, for only four months in 1973. Then the Senate Watergate Committee convened, galvanizing the nation’s interest in what the president knew and how long he’d known it.
Ronald Reagan decided to make a tax code overhaul the top domestic priority of his second term in May 1985, and he was able to revel in the climatic votes a year later. After that, the Iran-Contra scandal is all the historians have to say about the remainder of his presidency.
Bill Clinton pushed a landmark, bipartisan agreement on plans for balancing the federal budget through Congress in August 1997 and got to work on a typically disparate collection of other priorities. Traction for virtually all of them disappeared for good the following January, after the nation learned Monica Lewinsky’s name.
George W. Bush was about to see his choice elevated to chief justice of the United States on Labor Day 2005, and there was still a fighting chance Congress would permit his top second-term wish of getting some Social Security savings invested in the markets. His political capital evaporated immediately thereafter, when fury at his arms-length response to Hurricane Katrina combined with imploding support for the Iraq War.
For Obama, the lessons of his recent two-term predecessors is this: Even if he succeeds in weathering the current scandalous-sounding triple whammy — the IRS targeting of conservative groups, the seizing of journalists’ phone records, the shifting story about the Libya consulate attack — the president will be in the clear no longer than Election Day 2014. By then his legislative goals will have either been met or sidetracked for the duration.
His political opponents will make sure of it, one way or another.
(for more, please visit Roll Call)
The controversy embroiling the IRS kicked up another storm of rhetoric Monday over enforcement of campaign finance laws.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell connected allegations that the IRS improperly targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny to a Democratic-led effort to expand campaign finance disclosure requirements known as the DISCLOSE Act.
McConnell told the National Reviewthat the bill to require corporations, unions and super PACS to report large expenditures “should go nowhere.”
“The whole effort by the administration to silence their enemies is going on across the board,” McConnell said Monday of activities he said were being conducted by the Federal Election Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Health and Human Services Department. McConnell has long led efforts against tightening campaign finance regulation — even when it proves unpopular — citing an expansive view of the First Amendment on political speech.
But some Democrats took the opposite lesson from the revelations about the IRS.
“There needs to be more clarity in the law regarding the activities of tax exempt organizations along with greater disclosure and transparency. We must overturn Citizens United, which has exacerbated the challenges posed by some of these so-called ‘social welfare’ organizations,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement.
One of many outcomes of the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC ruling is that partisan groups have, in huge numbers, taken advantage of new opportunities to register as tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations to indirectly raise money for their political candidates and causes.
The ruling has been wildly divisive, with Democrats calling it an affront to a fair and regulated political system and Republicans hailing it a landmark in facilitating free speech. Though liberal-leaning groups stepped up their game in the 2012 election cycle, the first groups to take advantage of this new playing field after the decision came down were those with conservative slants.
Pelosi’s suggestion that the court ruling could have planted one of the seeds of IRS misconduct — that agency officials felt a need to scrutinize conservative organizations given the overwhelming number of applications being filed in a post-Citizens United landscape — may shape future Democratic talking points on the IRS allegations, which continue to develop.
(for more, please visit our partners at Roll Call)
As a trio of scandals continued to circle the White House on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid threw some jabs at Republicans regarding the IRS and Benghazi controversies. Then he landed a roundhouse on the Obama administration over the Justice Department’s secret acquisition of Associated Press telephone records.
“I have trouble defending what the Justice Department did in going after — looking at The AP,” the Nevada Democrat said in the most unequivocal statement regarding the three issues that have consumed Washington the past few days. “And I really believe in the First Amendment,” Reid continued. “I think it’s one of the great things we have as a country. And I don’t know who did it or why it was done, but it’s inexcusable and there’s no way to justify this.”
On Benghazi, Reid said Republicans were “hyperventilating,” accusing them of creating a “side show” following news last week of emails about the talking points that would go out after the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Libya that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others.
“This issue is about generating headlines and campaign fodder for Republicans, and nothing else,” he said.
On the IRS scandal, which popped up last week when the agency admitted to targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny, Reid used the opportunity to accuse the GOP of hypocrisy and to plug Democrats’ legislation to require more campaign finance disclosure.
“In 2010 we advanced — Democrats advanced something called the DISCLOSE Act that would have taken the IRS out of the business of investigating these groups. Not a single Republican voted with us on the DISCLOSE Act. So, again I ask, where was the outrage of the Republicans then?” Reid said.
But on the AP imbroglio, Reid gave it to the administration and brought up the specter of some sort of “legislative action.” Speaking to a corridor full of reporters Tuesday, Reid said: “I — in my career, I’ve stood consistently for freedom of the press from encroachment by the national security community. I’m gonna continue to do that. It’s an issue I feel very strongly about. And look into further — I’ll look further into whether more legislative action is needed in this regard to secure freedom of the press.”
Down Pennsylvania Avenue, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney faced a press corps hungry for answers on the AP probe, which he said the White House was not involved in.
He did, though, say that a “careful balance here must be attained,” between an “unfettered” press and finding out how classified information is leaked.
(for more, please visit our partners at Roll Call)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 14, 2013
Statement by the President
I have now had the opportunity to review the Treasury Department watchdog’s report on its investigation of IRS personnel who improperly targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. And the report’s findings are intolerable and inexcusable. The federal government must conduct itself in a way that’s worthy of the public’s trust, and that’s especially true for the IRS. The IRS must apply the law in a fair and impartial way, and its employees must act with utmost integrity. This report shows that some of its employees failed that test.
I’ve directed Secretary Lew to hold those responsible for these failures accountable, and to make sure that each of the Inspector General’s recommendations are implemented quickly, so that such conduct never happens again. But regardless of how this conduct was allowed to take place, the bottom line is, it was wrong. Public service is a solemn privilege. I expect everyone who serves in the federal government to hold themselves to the highest ethical and moral standards. So do the American people. And as President, I intend to make sure our public servants live up to those standards every day.