The Edge: A Nagging Question for Obama

National Journal Staff
National Journal

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A Nagging Question for Obama

President Obama is doing what he can to get his bearings.

He has dumped his IRS commissioner and asked Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew to come up with guidelines so there won't be any more politically motivated scrutiny by the tax-collection agency. He has embraced the journalist shield law to deflect criticism of his Justice Department's trolling through the Associated Press's phone records, and he has dumped hundreds of Benghazi e-mails to show there's no there there, as he said.

But when Washington is in a feeding frenzy there's no easy way to get the sharks to swim away. More IRS hearings are coming in the House this week and even in the friendly Democratic-controlled Senate. At Thursday's Rose Garden press conference, Obama even got asked how this mess compares to Watergate. The president said he'd leave that question to others.

His problem is that Washington keeps asking.

Matthew Cooper


OBAMA DISCUSSES IRS, AP, BENGHAZI AT PRESS CONFERENCE. During a joint press conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Obama addressed the troika of controversies, saying that he learned of the IRS practice only last week, despite revelations that the White House counsel was alerted in April. The president also said that he would "make no apologies" for the Justice Department's handling of the leak investigation, citing national security. Referring to the dispute over the Benghazi attacks, Obama said his administration is working to improve diplomatic security and military response time, but noted that it will "need Congress as a partner." Read more

  • Here's a photo of Obama at the press conference as a Marine holds an umbrella over his head. Cue the Twitter comedians.

OBAMA NAMES WERFEL AS ACTING IRS CHIEF. Following the resignation of acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller on Wednesday, President Obama tapped Office of Management and Budget controller Daniel Werfel to fill the post, The New York Times reports. Werfel, who manages much of the day-to-day operations at the budget office, will begin his new job May 22. Read more

MILLER RESIGNATION WILL NOT END FIGHT OVER IRS TARGETING. The controversy surrounding the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative outside groups for additional scrutiny will not abate following the resignation of acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, the Associated Press reports. Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has launched a criminal inquiry, and three congressional committees are investigating the matter. The FBI will examine potential violations of the civil rights of groups seeking tax exemptions, as well as possible violations of the Hatch Act. Read more

  • Some Republicans believe that focusing on the IRS controversy is the political winner: As National Journal's Elahe Izadi writes, many Americans already dislike the IRS. The issue also mobilizes the conservative base while turning off moderate Americans. Read more

GOP DEMANDS MORE INFORMATION ON BENGHAZI. Congressional Republicans continue to demand additional information following the White House's release of 100 pages of e-mails among administration officials pertaining to the talking points on the Sept. 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. Former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen, who chaired the State Department's Accountability Review Board for Benghazi, sent a letter to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., expressing their willingness to testify publicly on May 28 or June 3. Read more

SENATE PANEL APPROVES LABOR NOMINEE. On a party-line vote, a Senate panel Thursday approved the nomination of Thomas Perez to serve as Labor secretary, The Wall Street Journal reports. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has threatened a filibuster of Perez's nomination. "The Senate has plenty of reasons to be suspicious of Thomas Perez's record," Vitter said. "But a major focus of mine is DOJ's clear inconsistency around which part of the National Voter Registration Act should be enforced at the expense of Louisiana voters. I'll be demanding a 60-vote threshold now that his nomination comes to the full Senate." Read more

SENATE PANEL APPROVES EPA NOMINEE. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the nomination of Gina McCarthy to serve as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency on a party-line vote, but McCarthy's confirmation by the full Senate is not yet assured, National Journal's Coral Davenport writes. Ranking member David Vitter, R-La., who last week led a GOP boycott of a scheduled vote on the nomination, requested additional information, writing that if it is provided, "I will strongly support handling the McCarthy nomination on the Senate floor without a cloture vote or any 60-vote threshold." Even if McCarthy's nomination makes it to the Senate floor, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has placed a procedural hold on it. Read more

REPORT: SUSAN RICE IS 'HEIR APPARENT' TO DONILON AS NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice could be in line to replace National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Foreign Policy reports. "Susan is a very likely candidate to replace him whenever he would choose to leave," said former special assistant to the president Dennis Ross. "She is close to the president, has the credentials, and has a breadth of experience." Ross said that he was unaware of any plans by Donilon to leave his post, but said that he "would be surprised if he were to remain for the whole second term." While Senate Republicans blocked Rice's nomination for secretary of State last fall, the national-security position does not require Senate confirmation. Read more

SENATE CONFIRMS MONIZ NOMINATION ON UNANIMOUS VOTE. The Senate confirmed the nomination of Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Ernest Moniz to serve as Energy secretary on a 97-0 vote Thursday. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., previously had placed a procedural hold on the nomination in protest of the administration's plan to cut funding to the Savannah River nuclear site in his home state. Read more


HOUSE COMMITTEE TO TAKE ON IRS SCANDAL. The House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing Friday into the IRS's treatment of conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status. The witnesses include Steven Miller, the acting IRS commissioner who resigned this week, and J. Russell George, the Treasury inspector general for tax administration, who issued a report this week that was highly critical of the way the IRS singled out applications.

OBAMA TO BALTIMORE TO TALK JOBS. On Friday, Obama will travel to Baltimore, his second stop on his Middle-Class Jobs and Opportunity tour.


"I think that's self-evident, it's not fun to run against Mitch McConnell. ...Everybody knows the kinds of campaigns he runs." --Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (Lexington Herald-Leader)


HOW THE WORLD TRADE CENTER COULD BE ISOLATED, AGAIN. When the first World Trade Center complex was destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, planners immediately began discussing how to right what many had perceived to be a wrong: the lack of connection the buildings had to the rest of the city. But as David W. Dunlap writes in The New York Times, a vision of a fully integrated World Trade Center is in danger, and many "see that vision slipping away, as security concerns trump urban planning." Read more


IS OBAMA NIXONIAN? On the anniversary of the Watergate hearings, late-night comedy examines the triumvirate of White House scandals. TBS' Conan O'Brien examined how Obama is hurting Democrats around the country, while NBC's Jimmy Fallon found a familiar punchline in Vice President Joe Biden. The Tonight Show's Jay Leno mentioned Benghazi a few times in his monologue, and compared the White House to rotting fish. He also brought Richard Nixon's legacy into the discussion, comparing Obama's scandals to those of the 37th president's. Leno also compared Nixon favorably to Obama regarding the unemployment rate. Watch it here


SYMPATHY FOR ERIC CANTOR. National Journal's Norm Ornstein hassome sympathy for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, as he experiences the real and deep pain of trying to get his caucus—especially the tea-party members he helped recruit in 2010 and encouraged in their antigovernment rhetoric—to accept a positive agenda of conservative and market-driven policies as an alternative to those of the Democrats. Back in February, Cantor gave a highly publicized address which offered a framework for that positive agenda—one that tried to separate areas where government does not belong or does not do as good a job as the private sector from those where government should play a role. He then offered proposals for how to best assert that role in a free-enterprise framework. Next he tried to get those ideas through Congress. Read more


CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the committee that will be holding a hearing on the IRS controversy Friday. It is the House Ways and Means Committee.

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