How the GOP Will Keep Stirring the Scandal Stew Over Recess

Chris Frates

Congressional Republicans head into next week’s Memorial Day recess armed with a strategy designed to keep the controversies that have consumed Washington in the news back home.

Both House and Senate Republicans will focus on the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny as well as the still-open questions about Benghazi. And more and more, they’ll try to tie them together into a made-for-2014 narrative of an unaccountable and out-of-control government.

In interviews on local television and radio programs and with newspapers, Senate Republicans plan to talk about the Obama administration’s “credibility gap.” They’ll throw into the mix Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’s request that health industry officials help fund "Obamacare," a move Republicans call a “shakedown” of the companies she regulates, according to a Senate GOP leadership aide.

Lawmakers will argue that a “lack of details, stonewalling,” and what they call an “ever-changing White House narrative” on both Benghazi and the IRS have led to a trust deficit with the public, a sentiment reflected in recent polls, the aide said.

Part of the aim is to get voters to question how they can trust the administration, and the IRS more specifically, to enforce key provisions of Obama’s health care law after improperly targeting Americans.

This fits into Republicans’ emerging scandal-riding midterm election strategy—one that the GOP’s congressional campaign committees think can blend easily into their anti-Obamacare message to help the party take the Senate in 2014.

On the House side, Republicans will tell voters back home that they’ll “definitely see more hearings” on the IRS and Benghazi, a House leadership aide said.

“We’re focused on getting to the bottom of this. What we saw over the last week demonstrates that we need to look further. That we need answers on the who, what, where, when, and why,” the aide said.

House Republicans are working to keep a tight lid on their talking points, emphasizing the known facts and staying out of the White House’s way as it continues to trip over its explanation of what happened at the IRS and who knew what, when.

“The message is IRS overreach,” a senior House GOP leadership aide said. “This is a problem about government inserting itself into your life.”

And right now, no matter what the inquiry finds, Republicans come out ahead. The best case scenario is that the IRS was simply “out of control.” The worst case is that someone in power was intentionally targeting conservatives, the aide said.

And don’t forget the national press. House Republicans seem sure that the other controversy—the Justice Department’s seizure of phone records from reporters and editors at the Associated Press—has as much staying power as the IRS and Benghazi issues.

It’s a “double-barreled attack on the First Amendment,” the aide said, noting that the press, always game to write about itself, is sure to keep both IRS and DOJ in the news for weeks, with little help from the GOP.