There’s a not-so-subtle theme in much of the day’s political coverage, which is tough to miss.
House Republicans say they will not overreach on probing the Obama administration, having learned lessons from investigating the Monica Lewinsky scandal during the Clinton administration.
The most pressing question for Congressional Republicans is no longer how to finesse changes to immigration law or gun control, but how far they can push their cases against President Obama without inciting a backlash of the sort that has left them staggering in the past.
Republicans are worried one thing could screw up the political gift of three Obama administration controversies at once: fellow Republicans. Top GOP leaders are privately warning members to put a sock in it when it comes to silly calls for impeachment or over-the-top comparisons to Watergate. They want members to focus on months of fact-finding investigations — not rhetorical fury.
As a strategic matter, this certainly makes sense. Congressional Republicans don’t have any real incentive to overreach — much of the media is already eagerly running with the “White House in crisis!” narrative; the GOP base is already riled up; the stories can be dragged out for months with investigations and hearings; and all of this happening despite no evidence of wrongdoing from anyone at the White House.
Indeed, Republican leaders have every reason not to overreach. It’s easy to imagine the Democratic base rallying in response to a perceived effort to tear down President Obama, without cause, thanks to dubious scandals embraced by the GOP and the Beltway media. It is, after all, what happened in 1998, so there’s recent precedent to be aware of.
What’s more, don’t underestimate the potential for a backlash from mainstream voters outside either party’s base, who may also have a limited appetite for endless investigations. Incumbent Republicans running in the 2014 midterms should probably be cautious about telling voters, “I ignored job creation, but vote for me anyway because I participated in 11 Benghazi hearings.”
And yet, despite all of this, many congressional Republicans are already overreaching and the advice about caution is already being ignored.
I can appreciate the image GOP leaders are eager to convey: congressional Republicans are being serious and deliberate, seeking answers to legitimate questions without flying off the handle and making wild, baseless accusations. The more Americans see a reasonable and methodical process, the less likely they are to perceive an unhinged partisan vendetta.
But aren’t we well past that point? Can anyone seriously characterize congressional Republicans as “serious and deliberate” when it comes to alleging Obama administration wrongdoing?
TPM ran a list the other day of GOP lawmakers who are already speaking publicly about possibly impeaching President Obama. Has the president committed any high crimes? Well, no. In fact, none of the current controversies seem to relate to the White House at all. But the list of Republicans throwing around the “I” word is already pretty long. Indeed, Republicans can’t seem to make up their minds as to why they should impeach the president, but they seem to enjoy talking about it anyway.
It’s against the backdrop that Boehner & Co. are urging caution and hoping to avoid overreach? I think it’s a little late for that.
Update: GOP lawmakers have spent the last couple of days trying to argue that the IRS mess is a good reason to undermine the Affordable Care Act. That’s foolish, but more importantly, it’s also a good example of overreach.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 17, 2013
I have watched in recent days as a parade of conservatives have used specific and real governmental missteps to justify their wide-ranging paranoia and irrational hostilities. “Aha!”
You have to take their glee in sorrow with a grain of salt. For them this is more about their scandal lust than what’s scandalous. These people have been searching for a scandal — Kenyan birth certificates and a Michelle Obama “whitey” tape — for years. The fact that they now have something solid and not made of sand is going to make sad souls happy. That’s to be expected.
What’s not to be expected — but has become depressingly predictable — is to watch liberals rending their garments and gnashing their teeth in woe-is-us doom chanting. The overreaction is exhausting and embarrassing.
Let’s say what this confluence of missteps is and what it is not — at least as the evidence now suggests.
First, the three issues — Benghazi, the targeting of conservative groups by the I.R.S. and the Department of Justice’s monitoring of Associated Press journalists — appear to be completely unrelated, try as politicians and pundits may to connect them. Second, the president does not appear to have had any direct involvement in any of the episodes. Third, their weight and resonances differ greatly, although all could be diminished by their emerging concurrently.
At this point, this is about flaws of procedures — some possibly illegal, all very disturbing — and problems of perception. But they are neither fatal nor unfixable.
Now, let’s separate the well-worn Benghazi witch hunt from the other two. From all appearances that is just a callous use of a tragic event to take a political slap at President Obama and a stab at the likely Democratic presidential heavyweight Hillary Clinton. It is being conducted by hyperpartisan politicians and aggravated by Fox News, both with a stake in justifying their unjustifiable contempt for this Democratic administration, and foiling the next one.
But Americans appear to be tiring of all that chasing of smoke and little finding of fire.
According to a Pew Research Center poll issued this week, the percentage of Americans closely following the Benghazi news has continued to fall. Less than half of the respondents believe that the Obama administration has been dishonest, while almost as many say that the Republicans have gone too far in the hearings. At least one in five don’t know either way.
According to the Pew Poll:
“About half (56 percent) of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say they regularly watch the Fox News channel, and this group is particularly frustrated over the Benghazi situation. Fully 79 percent of Republicans who regularly watch Fox News say the Obama administration has been dishonest, compared with 60 percent of Republicans who don’t watch Fox regularly. Nearly half (46 percent) of Republicans who regularly watch Fox News say they are following the story very closely — compared with 23 percent among other Republicans. Those who regularly watch Fox News are also far more critical of the news media: 59 percent say the hearings have not received sufficient coverage by the news media.”
On the I.R.S. scandal, however, it certainly appears that the agency behaved stupidly. Not because they sought to scrutinize the mockery that is these 501(c)4 “social welfare” groups, but because they did so unevenly. But what will be left after all the hue and cry? As the Notre Dame law professor Lloyd Mayer told the Christian Science Monitor this week:
“What has been missed in the outrage is the recognition that this problem arose from much deeper sources than the poor judgment or possible partisan bias of a handful of I.R.S. employees.”
“Congress has given the I.R.S. the difficult task of applying an incredibly vague definition of political activity and an uncertain standard for how much political activity tax-exempt social welfare organizations may engage in.”
That, in the end, is the real scandal.
And now to the Associated Press scandal. The Justice Department was just wrong in the employ of its dragnet, and the administration — as represented by a spokesman, Jay Carney — was disingenuous in its insistence that the administration supports “unfettered” journalism. It just doesn’t. But we’ve always known that, at least we in the media have. The scandal here is that an atmosphere of intolerance for leaks — which Republicans ironically accused the Obama administration of encouraging — seems to have overtaken the Justice Department.
On Wednesday the White House took steps to mitigate the damage, releasing more than 100 pages of Benghazi talking point e-mails, seeking to revive a shield law for reporters who refused to disclose confidential sources, and having the president himself deliver a statement on the I.R.S. In it he announced the resignation of the acting commissioner of the agency, the implementation of new safeguards and a pledge to work with Congress in investigating the matter. As the president said, “The good news is that it’s fixable.” And, it is.
That’s it — the gist of all three as far as we know at this point. These are not administration-enders. People can be punished, or fired or even jailed, if Speaker John Boehner has his way, but at this early stage signs are not pointing to any of those people being in the White House.
Even if I had hair, I wouldn’t be setting it on fire, not yet anyway.
By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 15, 2013
Given the recent trifecta of what has,to date, added up to mostly false but politically effective allegations of scandal involving Benghazi, the IRS and the Department of Justice, transparency within the walls of the Obama White House has very much come into question.
But when it comes to the GOP leadership in Congress, there can be no such question of transparency as their behavior could not be any more open or obvious.
Indeed, the Congressional Republicans have been crystal clear in revealing that they could not care less about getting to the real truth of any of the upsetting issues now before the American public, just as they have no interest in focusing on these events for the purpose of making government better for the American people. Their concern is clearly, openly and unabashedly focused on the political opportunities they perceive to be available to them now that they’ve been able to successfully focus the public’s attention on these alleged scandals and away from critical issues of substance.
The problem is that the all too transparent political goals of these people have the unfortunate byproduct of shining a light on the stunning degree of hypocrisy being practiced by these so called leaders. Should you require quantifiable proof of this, I offer up Speaker John Boehner’s comments of this morning as Exhibit A.
While speaking to the press about the IRS matter, Mr. Boehner bellowed, “My question isn’t about who is going to resign. My question is whose going to jail over this scandal?” The Speaker then bounded from the stage leaving his words to hang in the air.
Ah…the drama….the intrigue…the utter and complete disregard for the American justice system spat from the lips of the most powerful man in the United States Congress.
While the Speaker demands to know who is going to jail over the IRS fiasco, the rest of us are, apparently, falling behind as we are still trying to find out what—if any—criminal laws have been violated. You see, Mr. Speaker, in this country one is supposedly required to be convicted of actually violating a criminal law before prison time is to be handed out as punishment—even when this rather fundamental rule of law proves to be an inconvenient impediment to your fundraising activities.
If Boehner has the answer to the somewhat relevant question of whether or not the behavior at the IRS jumped the line between really bad judgment and highly inappropriate behavior into the sphere of criminality, he elected not to share the specifics with us during this morning’s press conference. That was an unfortunate choice as the federal government is about to spend a whole bunch of taxpayer money to ascertain if there was any actionable criminal activity.
If Speaker Boehner has already conducted the investigation and concluded that somebody (we don’t know who) needs to get put in prison, he might consider sharing his findings with the FBI. And if Mr. Boehner has not conducted such an investigation, maybe he could see the benefit of at least pretending to honor the American justice system and keep his lust for incarceration to himself until we know if there is actually a crime.
Most of us will agree that there was clearly wrongdoing in the ranks of the IRS in how they improperly targeted applicants seeking 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status. For anyone who may be struggling to accept this, I would suggest reading the Inspector General’s report of what occurred which is now available for your full review.
While the IG account points to serious managerial errors and confused employees over at the IRS, nowhere in the report do we find any allegation of criminal behavior —just as we see that the IG could find no evidence that anyone from outside the agency (translation: the White House) was involved.
This is not to say that there was no criminal behavior.
It is to say that, at this point, while the Inspector General was able to uncover the instances of improper behavior that clearly reveals a serious problem, no criminal activity has yet to be alleged.
Still, given the gravity of the infractions, the Attorney General has ordered the FBI to investigate the Internal Revenue Service to determine whether there was, in fact, a criminal violation of the law. But as this investigation has likely not yet even begun (it was just announced this morning), one struggles to work out how Speaker Boehner has managed to conclude that someone needs to go to jail.
I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised that Boehner has no real grasp of one of the most fundamental principles of American law—that would be the one that requires that those suspected of criminal activity must be charged with a specific violation, tried and proven guilty before we begin clamoring for jail time.
I say I shouldn’t be surprised because this is a Speaker very well versed in blocking the passage of laws but not particularly knowledgeable in the procedures involved in actually making law—a process that would require him to actually understand the law.
This is a Speaker who cares deeply about making dramatic pronouncements—such as what he shared with the nation this morning—in the hope that his declarations will inspire his political base to make large contributions. If clamoring for someone to go to jail—despite any evidence of criminal activity—is what it takes to bring in the big bucks, the notion that we might hope for a more measured and informed tone from so powerful an elected official is a detail that is, apparently, to be ignored and discarded.
At this moment, I am reminded of something disgraced Congressman Bob Ney wrote in his book, “Sideswiped—Lessons Learned Courtesy Of The Hit Men Of Capital Hill.” For anyone who may not recall, Mr. Ney was one of the Members of Congress swept up in the Jack Abramoff scandal and convicted on corruption charges. Given Ney’s history as a convicted felon, I will leave it to the reader to determine how much credibility to give him when reading what he had to say about Speaker Boehner.
What Ney tells us in his book is that Boehner has always been far more concerned with fundraising and having fun than he was with doing the business of the people.
“Many felt his money-raising focus would make up for his lack of concern about legislation — he was considered a man who was all about winning and money…He was a chain-smoking, relentless wine drinker who was more interested in the high life — golf, women, cigarettes, fun, and alcohol.”
“Ney goes on to say that Boehner was lazy, took thousands of dollars in booze, food and golf games from lobbyists, and repeatedly slid around ethics rules: “John got away with more than any other member on the Hill” because he was well-liked and well-protected by his staff.”
While it is fair to consider Mr. Ney’s own criminal history when weighing the value of this information, it all sounds about right to me.
Still, what Mr. Ney does not address is Speaker Boehner’s obvious disregard for avoiding the transparency of his own disturbing brand of hypocrisy.
In 2004, Julian Bond—then President of the NAACP—gave a speech that, according to the IRS letter received by Mr. Bond in October of that year, included “statements in opposition of George W. Bush for the office of presidency.” The letter also stated that Bond had “condemned the administration politics of George W. Bush in education, the economy and the war in Iraq.”
Because of Mr. Bond’s speech, the IRS informed him that they were reviewing the 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status awarded to the NAACP.
Note that Mr. Bond never told his audience who to vote for in the presidential election nor, for that matter, did he support or oppose any candidate running in any election. Indeed, his statements were quite tame by any comparison to the pronouncements emanating from Karl Rove’s Crossroads USA 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) organizations not only on a regular basis but more specifically during the 2012 presidential election cycle.
Bond had this to say at the time his organization was targeted by the IRS:
“It’s Orwellian to believe that criticism of the president is not allowed or that the president is somehow immune from criticism.”
And yet, the IRS proceeded to run the NAACP through the mill, claiming at every turn that it’s investigation was, in no way, politically motivated.
In the end, the NAACP retained their tax-exempt status.
In light of Speaker Boehner’s indignation aimed at the current IRS issue, how does one avoid asking how we missed Mr. Boehner’s demands for jail time when the NAACP was the target of an improper IRS investigation during the Bush term of office?
I would agree completely with the Speaker that any criminal activity discovered in the investigation that is soon to get underway should be resolved with charges and, if appropriate, the punishment Mr. Boehner so fervently seeks. But how does Boehner have the nerve to call for jail time based on his assumption that somebody somewhere must have done something criminal when he didn’t offer so much as a peep when workers at the IRS engaged in similar—if not identical—behavior in 2004 when a Republican sat in the White House?
I would remind Speaker Boehner that Americans are not stupid. If someone has engaged in a criminal act, we will demand justice. But we do not go around clamoring for jail time for a crime that even you, Speaker Boehner, have yet to determine has taken place.
I would also remind the Speaker that the copy of the Constitution he pretends to carry with him at all times is really quite clear on this point.
You should actually try reading that copy of the Constitution, Mr. Speaker, rather than simply pledging your fealty to the Founder’s expression when it suits you only to reject it when it becomes inconvenient. I think we’d all be considerably better off if you actually understood just how incredibly inappropriate it is to demand jail time where no criminality has been revealed before storming off the stage to create the maximum dramatic effect.
Of course, I do recognize that it is difficult for you to find the time for this what with the volumes of fundraising letters you will be signing in order to fully capitalize on your highly offensive and irresponsible behavior.
By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, May 15, 2013
“The Bystander Speaker”: If John Boehner Were A Woman, They’d Be Calling Him The Weakest Speaker In History
Watching House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) make strange comments this morning about the IRS controversy reminded me of something House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told Chris Hayes the other day about the Speaker: “If he were a woman, they’d be calling him the weakest speaker in history.” Asked why, Pelosi added, “Because nothing’s getting done.”
That’s true. We’ve talked on several occasions in recent years about a straightforward thesis: Speaker Boehner is bad at his job. In recent weeks, however, a related-but-different thesis has come into focus: Speaker Boehner is no longer really trying to do his job.
Ask Speaker John Boehner a question on a key issue these days, and you’re likely to get a variation of the same response: Talk to someone else.
The Speaker has maintained a lower-key presence in recent months, largely avoiding the spotlight and abandoning the deal-making ambitions of his first two years in office. Whether the matter is immigration, guns, budget talks or online sales taxes, Boehner (R-Ohio) routinely defers or deflects questions to committee leaders.
I’d add one addendum to that last part: ask Boehner about nearly any issue, and if he doesn’t refer questions to committee chairs, he’ll refer questions to the Senate.
I suppose, in fairness, it’s worth emphasizing that it’s not necessary to draw a value judgment here. Boehner seems to have deliberately abandoned any hope of leading, legislating, or even influencing the policymaking process, but that’s his right. Maybe he likes “leading from behind.” Perhaps he’s trying out a new model for the Speaker’s office — one in which the leader becomes the bystander, and the Speaker just waits to see how events unfold around him.
Regardless, “worried Republicans” told BuzzFeed last week that Boehner “seems to be missing in action from messaging and legislative battles.”
That’s partly due to Boehner’s inability to lead, and partly due to the fact that House Republicans are deeply divided among themselves. But whatever the cause, Pelosi’s assessment seems more than fair.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 15, 2013