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The Edge

The Edge: Obama's Presidency Hinges on Flap Fallout

May 17, 2013

The Edge is National Journal's daily look at today in Washington -- and what's coming next. The email features analysis from NJ's top correspondents, the biggest stories of the day -- and always a few surprises. To subscribe, click here.

Obama's Presidency Hinges on Flap Fallout

The Obama presidency may hinge on how Americans digest events of this week and next.

 

After a slow start, the White House responded aggressively this week to a burst of controversies: the Internal Revenue Service apparently targeting conservative political groups and lying about it; the Justice Department seizing Associated Press telephone records in a sweeping inquiry of a national security leak; lingering questions about the 2012 Benghazi raid; and a scourge of sexual assaults in the military.

Congress conducted its first hearings today into IRS shenanigans.

President Obama's team hopes that Americans grow tired of the controversies and overreaching Republicans. Just in case, the White House:

  • hastened the departure of IRS officials;
  • rejuvenated a watered-down law protecting reporter privileges;
  • released e-mails on Benghazi between the White House, the CIA, and the State Department;
  • and strongly condemned sexual assaults in the military.

Democratic allies fretted over Obama's plodding and distant response to the fast-moving events. Next week, they hope, will be better.

Ron Fournier
rfournier@nationaljournal.com

TOP NEWS

MILLER DENIES POLITICAL MOTIVATIONS FOR IRS 'TARGETING.' Former acting Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Steven Miller, who resigned Wednesday, told members of the House Ways and Means Committee today that the IRS did not "target" conservative groups for additional scrutiny, but merely "listed" groups due to their engagement in political activity. "We provided horrible customer service here. I will admit that," Miller said. "Whether it was politically motivated is a very different question." Miller challenged members' use of the word "targeting," calling it a "pejorative term" and characterizing the matter as one of centralization performed in a "troublesome" manner. Read more

  • So far, President Obama's inner circle has yet to be directly implicated in the IRS targeting controversy, but congressional Republicans are focusing on the IRS's chief counsel, who reports to the chief counsel of Treasury, National Journal's Shane Goldmacher writes. And that would bring the scandal one important step closer to the White House. Read more

TEA-PARTY GROUPS FEEL VINDICATED BY REPORTS OF IRS TARGETING. Revelations that the IRS targeted tea-party groups applying for tax-exempt status have vindicated the groups, many of whom have been alleging unfair treatment long before the tax agency's belated admission last Friday, National Journal's Michael Catalini reports. "I think this creates a perfect storm because you have a tangible, visceral demonstration of what we've been talking about all along—that big government leads to an abuse of power and that anybody can get trampled," FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said in an interview. Read more

OBAMA VISITS BALTIMORE, TAKES POSITIVE TONE. Obama shifted gears from the trio of controversies roiling his administration this week, traveling to Baltimore to tout job-creation initiatives. The president discussed his initiative to spend $50 billion in federal funds on infrastructure projects. "This should be our principal focus—how are we making ourselves more competitive, how are we training our workers so they can do the jobs that to be done?" Obama said. His schedule also includes a trip to a Baltimore elementary school to promote his proposal to provide preschool education for all American children. According to Democratic strategist Chris Lehane, a veteran of the Clinton White House, the visit is a welcome change for the president. "It gets you out of the bunker," Lehane said. Read more

  • National Journal's George E. Condon Jr. writes about how the scandals have turned Obama into a dour scold.

HOUSE GROUP REACHES AGREEMENT IN PRINCIPLE ON IMMIGRATION. A bipartisan group of House members reached a tentative deal on comprehensive immigration reform Thursday evening, The New York Times reports. According to aides, the plan will include some provisions included in a corresponding Senate bill, but with stricter guidelines, such as a 15-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, rather than the 13-year path outlined in the Senate measure, as well as a requirement that all employers utilize an electronic verification system within five years. The agreement in principle was reached following "a last-ditch effort to save the legislation," including the intervention of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Among the points of contention resolved Thursday was the question of how immigrants would pay their health care costs. The group aims to introduce legislation in June. Read more

WATERGATE: WHEN CONGRESS WORKED. The back-stabbing, press-leaking, hyper-partisan members of the committee investigating Richard Nixon, which began hearings 40 years ago, still made history. National Journal's Matthew Cooper explains how. Read more

LAWMAKERS SEEK INFORMATION ON PRIVACY IMPLICATIONS OF GOOGLE GLASS. Google has just under a month to respond to a congressional letter questioning CEO Larry Page about the privacy implications of Google Glass, National Journal's Brian Fung writes. The letter, filed Thursday by the bipartisan privacy caucus, lays out eight questions for Page. They range from the atmospheric (Does Google plan to update its privacy policy for Glass?) to the feature-specific (How exactly will Glass' face-recognition technology gather information?). "We are curious whether this new technology could infringe on the privacy of the average American," wrote caucus chairman Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, and his seven colleagues. The letter is a reminder that Congress is watching Glass with interest, just like the rest of us. Read more

WHY YOU WON'T OWN YOUR ROAD. Cash-strapped states such as Virginia are turning to the private sector to help finance large infrastructure projects. But it may just be a way of forcing drivers to pay more in the long run, National Journal's Fawn Johnson reports in this week's magazine cover story. Read more

QUOTABLE

"We're portrayed by Republicans as either being lying or idiots. It's actually closer to us being idiots." —An anonymous Obama administration official involved with the Benghazi response (CBS News)

BEDTIME READING

'HANDWRITTEN SIGNATURES ARE TOAST.' So begins an article in The New Republic by Matthew J.X. Malady, who argues: "In another twenty years, maybe sooner, you won't be signing anything by hand, ever. And that's not a bad thing, because the act of name signing has, in many ways, veered into the realm of absurdity and farce." Malady takes a look at the history of the signature and explains modern signature pads and restaurant receipts are designed in such a way to produce mostly ugly scribble. As a result, no one seems to be checking signature any more. Writes Malady: "Next time you buy something at H&M, sign as 'Prince Harry' or, better yet, the Prince symbol. When the check comes for lunch, try out a signature composed of Pac-Man being chased by some ghosts." Read more

PLAY OF THE DAY

THE SALAD OF OBAMA SCANDALS. With three major scandals continuing to hurt the executive branch, late-night comedy is in its most fertile time. Jay Leno continued to compare Obama to Richard Nixon, but found the bright side for Obama in such a comparison. Leno also mentioned the failed "Obamacare" repeals and had a suggestion for Republicans to make the president hate his own plan. On The Late Show, host David Letterman found the Justice Department messing with his jokes and also showed a completely undoctored "House Judiciary Committee Highlight of the Night." Jimmy Fallon tied the Obama scandals to Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential hopes in 2016. Watch it here

BEDTIME TV

BOURDAIN VISITS LIBYA. CNN's Anthony Bourdain recently visited Libya and recorded an episode for his show, Parts Unknown. "We rode around in cars filled with grenades and machine guns," Bourdain says in a preview of the show. He also talks about his experience at a beach barbecue in Misurata. The episode, "Taste of Freedom," will air Sunday at 9 p.m. on CNN. Watch the preview here

SUNDAY TV

SCANDAL WEEK IN REVIEW. Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., the chairman of the House committee holding hearings on the IRS scandal, will appear on at least two Sunday shows. White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer will be on at least three of the shows. CBS will host Associated Press President Gary Pruitt.

  • NBC's Meet the Press hosts Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
  • ABC's This Week hosts White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., and Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.
  • CBS's Face the Nation hosts Pfeiffer, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and AP's Gary Pruitt.
  • Fox News Sunday hosts Pfeiffer and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
  • CNN's State of the Union hosts Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
  • Bloomberg's Capitol Gains hosts Camp and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.

CORRECTION: An item in Thursday's Edge misstated the committee holding today's hearing on the IRS controversy. It is the House Ways and Means Committee.

 

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