President Obama hosted another White House press conference this morning, this time standing alongside Prime Minister David Cameron, and addressed the stories that seem to be dominating the political world’s attention.
On the IRS matter, for example, the president joined the bipartisan chorus, insisting that those responsible must be held “fully accountable.” Obama added, “If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous and there’s no place for it…. I’ve got no patience with it. I will not tolerate it and we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this.”
But it was the president’s comments on Benghazi that were of particular interest.
Obama appeared eager to resolve the matter once and for all. This is a little long, but it’s worth your time:
“The whole issue of talking points, frankly, throughout this process has been a sideshow….[T]he emails that you allude to were provided by us to congressional committees. They reviewed them several months ago, concluded that in fact there was nothing afoul in terms of the process that we had used. And suddenly, three days ago, this gets spun up as if there’s something new to the story. There’s no ‘there’ there.
“Keep in mind, by the way, these so-called talking points that were prepared for Susan Rice five, six days after the event occurred, pretty much matched the assessments that I was receiving at that time in my presidential daily briefing. And keep in mind that two to three days after Susan Rice appeared on the Sunday shows using these talking points, which have been the source of all this controversy, I sent up the head of our National Counterterrorism Center, Matt Olsen, up to Capitol Hill, and specifically said it was an act of terrorism and that extremist elements inside of Libya had been involved in it.
“So if this was some effort on our part to try to downplay what had happened or tamp it down, that would be a pretty odd thing that three days later we end up putting out all the information that in fact has now served as the basis for everybody recognizing that this was a terrorist attack and that it may have included elements that were planned by extremists inside of Libya.
“Who executes some sort of cover-up or effort to tamp things down for three days? So the whole thing defies logic. And the fact that this keeps on getting churned out, frankly, has a lot to do with political motivations…. They’ve used it for fund-raising.”
These arguments have the added benefit of being true.
If you go through every lingering argument from the right on Benghazi, what we’re left with is one thing: the multiple drafts of the talking points. That’s it. That’s the “scandal.”
And what do the talking points tell us? That there was bureaucratic infighting between State and the CIA. Why is that scandalous? It’s not.
What’s more, I talked to a senior administration official this morning who confirmed with me that there was a March 19 briefing in which all of these materials were shared with House lawmakers. The meeting , led by the General Counsel of the DNI, Robert Litt, included aides to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), and all of the members of the House Intelligence Committee and their staffs. After the briefing, no one, in either party, considered the email drafts controversial.
Two months later, however, we’re supposed to perceive this as Watergate?
There’s no great mystery here — congressional Republicans are manufacturing an outrage, in part to undermine the White House, in part because they hope to tarnish Hillary Clinton, and in part because the GOP sees value in riling up its base for fundraising purposes.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 13, 2013
CNN’s Jake Tapper has managed to get his hands on the critical White House email suggested as the proof that the White House was more interested in removing references to possible terrorist attacks in the now infamous Benghazi talking points then they were in telling the truth to the American public.
The actual email, written in the days following the Benghazi attack, reveals something else entirely. We now know that whoever leaked the contents of the email to various media outlets last week seriously misquoted the document, choosing to paraphrase the content in a way that made it appear that the White House was focused on protecting the State Department’s back and covering up information.
Recall that ABC News fueled the GOP cries of a White House cover-up when suggesting that the twelve drafts of the talking points were done with White House participation as part of an effort by the Obama Administration to back up State Department requests that references to terrorist groups be omitted from the talking points.
Here is the relevant portion of the ABC story:
“In an email dated 9/14/12 at 9:34 p.m. -three days after the attack and two days before Ambassador Rice appeared on the Sunday shows – Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes wrote an email saying the State Department’s concerns needed to be addressed. (ABC then quotes the email as saying…)“We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation. We thus will work through the talking points tomorrow morning at the Deputies Committee meeting.”
The thing is, it turns out that the actual email tells a very different tale.
Here is the actual content of the email, as written by deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes—
Sorry to be late to this discussion. We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.
“There is a ton of wrong information getting out into the public domain from Congress and people who are not particularly informed. Insofar as we have firmed up assessments that don’t compromise intel or the investigation, we need to have the capability to correct the record, as there are significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression.
“We can take this up tomorrow morning at deputies.”
You can read the actual email here.
Obviously, the email reveals absolutely no effort on the part of the administration to whitewash the message regarding the possible involvement of organized terrorist groups. The email further does not, in any way, seek to support any efforts by the State Department—or anyone else—in terms of favoring one set of message points over another, including any suggestions of removing references to known terrorist groups in the region.
What the email does do is highlight the importance of countering the misinformation that had been circulating and getting all involved on the same page when it comes to sharing what was known to be accurate information.
Does anyone have a problem with that?
Or, should I say, does anyone other than Congressman Darrell Issa, Speaker John Boehner and all of those who wish to manufacture a scandal in the effort to harm this White House have a problem with that?
As Jake Tapper notes it in his article, “Whoever provided those quotes and paraphrases did so inaccurately, seemingly inventing the notion that Rhodes wanted the concerns of the State Department specifically addressed. Rhodes put no emphasis at all in his email on the State Department’s concerns.”
Greg Sargent follows up on this in his piece in the Washington Post—confirming what I noted yesterday with regard to this entire affair looking more and more like a conflict between the State Department and the CIA—
“It’s increasingly clear that this was merely a bureaucratic turf war at work, in which State wanted to get rid of the CIA’s efforts to insert into the talking points stuff that preempts blame against the agency. This new revelation from Tapper takes this even further — it suggests the administration didn’t even prioritize State’s demands and was simply looking to get agencies on the same page to prevent the spreading of misinformation.”
Clearly, someone is funneling false information to certain media outlets that are all too anxious to produce the kind of ‘scoops’ that get headlines—even if these scoops are far from accurate.
Equally clear is that Congressman Issa has built much of his case on a mountain of misinformation and poorly crafted speculation, all designed to serve the political and personal agenda that Issa has been itching to fulfill ever since ascending to the Chairmanship of the House Oversight Committee.
Darrell Issa wants very badly for you to know his name. If ginning up a false scandal is what it takes, that certainly works for the California congressman as he has tried to do it before only to see his efforts crumble beneath that very same mountain of misinformation and false speculation.
Unfortunately for Issa—and his many friends who have gone on record suggesting that Benghazi will lead to an Obama impeachment— with every bit of actual data that emerges, one thing is becoming clear—
Those politicos and pundits more interested in bringing down a president than they are in protecting those serving our country around the world from suffering a Benghazi repeat are being exposed for exactly what they will inevitably be found out to be….
All talk and no stick.
By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, May 14, 2013
“Willfully Disobeying The Law”: Republican Leaders Refuse To Make Appointments To Key Obamacare Panel
The top two Republicans in Congress informed President Obama on Thursday that they will refuse to fulfill their duty under the Affordable Care Act to recommend members of a new board with the power to contain Medicare spending.
It’s a dramatic power-play driven by the explosive partisan politics of Obamacare and with potentially important implications for federal health care policy.
In a letter to President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) noted their original opposition to Obamacare, reiterated their intent to repeal it entirely, and declared that they would not make any appointments to the Independent Payment Advisory Board.
The IPAB is a 15-member panel whose members must be confirmed by the Senate. The President selects three members himself and is required by law to seek three recommendations each from the top Democrat and Republican in each chamber. With Thursday’s letter, Boehner and McConnell refused to make any recommendations.
The IPAB will be stood up in 2014 by Obamacare and tasked with making cuts to Medicare provider payments (it may not touch benefits) if costs exceed economic growth plus an additional percentage point in any given year. Congress can override it by passing equally large cuts with a simple majority or waiving the cuts entirely with a three-fifths majority.
“Because the law will give IPAB’s 15 unelected, unaccountable individuals the ability to deny seniors access to innovative care, we respectfully decline to recommend appointments,” Boehner and McConnell wrote in the letter.
But there is a catch: if IPAB fails to do its work for any reason, the Health and Human Services secretary must order the cuts herself. So in a way, Boehner and McConnell are surrendering some of their power in order to appear as though they’re thwarting Obamacare — when in reality they’re merely turning over more control to the executive branch.
“Under the ACA, if the IPAB fails to make a recommendation as required under the IPAB provision, the Secretary may make a recommendation in its place,” said Tim Jost, a professor of health law at Washington and Lee University. “So if no IPAB is created, it is not fatal.”
IPAB is, however, capable of functioning without all of its members confirmed. But the letter reflects a continuation of broader GOP obstruction of Obamacare implementation. Senate Republicans have suggested that they may filibuster any IPAB nominee, period.
This approach makes it easier for a future Republican president to neuter IPAB by executive fiat. In the short term, it puts the Obama administration more directly in the political line of fire for any cuts that it does approve.
The other political incentive for Republicans to oppose IPAB is that spending Medicare dollars more wisely makes it easier to sustain the single-payer structure of the program, and makes it harder to argue that it needs to be privatized, as the Paul Ryan budget does.
There is some irony as well in Boehner and McConnell refusing to play ball on IPAB — a key cost containment mechanism in Obamacare — while their party is complaining about potential cost increases under the law, and government spending more generally. Limiting Medicare spending and cutting the deficit, part of the rationale for IPAB, are routinely touted as central GOP goals.
“We believe Congress should repeal IPAB, just as we believe we ought to repeal the entire health care law,” Boehner and McConnell wrote. “In its place, we should work in a bipartisan manner to develop the long-term structural changes that are needed to strengthen and protect Medicare for today’s seniors, their children, and their grandchildren. We hope establishing this board never becomes a reality, which is why full repeal of the Affordable Care Act remains our goal.”
By: Sahil Kapur, Talking Points Memo, May 9, 2013
It was tempting to think the Republican obsession with the politics of last fall’s Benghazi attack had run its course this week. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) had lined up one last spectacle, suggesting it would be the hearing to end all hearings, and it was a dud. After multiple reports and hearings, the story had run its course.
Except, it hasn’t.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is asking the White House and State Department to hand over emails related to the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, which House committees were able to see, but not keep or share, during their investigation into the response to the attack. [...]
Boehner is asking for two sets of emails, both of which are related to whether the White House tried to change the initial characterization of the attack…. The emails, according to Boehner, show a senior State Department official telling her superiors that the Libyan ambassador said the attack “was conducted by Islamic terrorists.”
But we know what the email says, and we know it’s different from Boehner’s claim — it said “extremists,” not “terrorists.” As the New York Times reported, “The distinction is important, administration officials said, because while the White House did not initially characterize the attack as terrorism, senior officials, including Ambassador Susan E. Rice, acknowledged the possibility that extremists had been involved in the assault.”
So why is Boehner pursuing this at all? Perhaps because he’s dealing with pressure from his own members to create another special committee to investigate the attack, on top of the other congressional committees that have already investigated the attack, which complemented an independent panel that also already investigated the attack.
Meanwhile, it’s also becoming increasingly obvious that the GOP’s preoccupation with Hillary Clinton is once again reaching unhealthy levels.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney appeared on Fox News yesterday to argue the former Secretary of State needs to testify to answer congressional questions on Benghazi, and she “should be subpoenaed if necessary.” This is of interest because Clinton has already testified — was Cheney not paying attention? — and because when Cheney was vice president, he believed congressional requests for testimony should be ignored.
Of course, that didn’t stop Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) from quickly endorsing Cheney’s line.
As Jonathan Bernstein explained yesterday, this isn’t what congressional oversight is supposed to look like.
With Obama, there’s no need for these scandals to make sense; the conservative press will run with them either way. And there might even be an advantage to incoherence. After all, if the accusations are gibberish, the neutral reporters will tend to ignore them — and then conservatives can go on conservative talk radio and Fox News and charge the rest of the press of ignoring these extremely important charges.
All of which means that Republican politicians have little incentive, and perhaps even some real disincentives, for doing the hard work of government oversight — or even the hard work of first-rate scandal-mongering. No wonder they get lazy!
Unfortunately, that leaves us with hyped-up accusations, but no real government oversight — no one really probing for real mistakes, or even real malfeasance, from the Obama Administration. There’s just no reason to bother. And that leaves everyone worse off — except perhaps those reaping profits in the conservative marketplace.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 10, 2013
From the start, the right has used the September 2012 attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, not to figure out how to prevent future tragedies, but to bring down President Obama. This was made clear from the moment Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s first reaction was to accuse the president of “sympathiz[ing] with those who waged the attacks.” His later attempt to use Benghazi during the presidential debates was an embarrassing failure, but the strategy of politicizing this tragedy was taken to heart by the right-wing media bubble.
After the 2012 election, the campaign to create a Watergate-like scandal out of this tragedy shifted from defeating Obama to bringing down members of his administration: first U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and then former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But at each turn, the central claim that the administration engaged in a criminal cover-up doesn’t stand up to scrutiny and only serves to deflect attention from figuring out how to prevent future tragedies like these attacks.
Take the hyper-partisan April 23 report on Benghazi, authored by five Republican House committee chairmen. That report featured an accusation parroted throughout the right-wing echo chamber that Clinton personally saw and authorized cables to U.S. diplomatic facilities in Libya denying increased security measures, which was credulously called a contradiction to Clinton’s congressional testimony in January. Legitimate news outlets quickly deflated this smear and reported that every single one of the millions of cables sent from the State Department to foreign outposts bears the name of the secretary of state. A member of the independent State Department Accountability Review Board, which investigated the Benghazi attack, said the accusation “just doesn’t make any sense to anybody who understands the State Department.”
Conservative media have long accused the administration of doctoring unclassified talking points from the CIA to hide the connection to terrorist groups and instead promote the idea that the attacks were connected to protests against an anti-Islam YouTube video elsewhere. But the conservative Weekly Standard accidentally vindicated the administration when its investigation into how the talking points were changed showed that the original version of the talking points from the CIA included its belief that the Benghazi attacks were inspired by the Cairo protests, which were reportedly in response to the anti-Islam video. And the right-wing media have virtually ignored then-CIA director David Petraeus’ explanation that the references to alQaida were removed from the unclassified talking points to avoid tipping off terrorist organizations about how they were being tracked.
Right-wing media have also ignored the timeline of the attacks to hold onto the myth that there were military forces close enough to have made a difference in a subsequent attack on an annex near the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, where two members of the first reaction force from the Tripoli embassy were killed. But even Republican congressmen conducting the hearing have admitted that additional forces could not have gotten to the area in time to help with the attack.
Fox News has recently tried to cover for Republicans by insisting that the GOP’s continued obsession with Benghazi is not political in nature. But ranking Democrats from the committees whose names were on the April 23 Benghazi report protested to House Speaker John Boehner that Republicans were “excluding Democratic Members entirely” from drafting and vetting the report. In addition, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, issued a statement that said that Democrats and their staff have been excluded from the committee’s investigation and interviews of witnesses. A State Department spokesman also said that the department had not been given the full transcripts of the interviews Republican staffers have conducted with witnesses, and only had access to selected excerpts that were provided to the media.
By: Zachary Pleat, Washington Whispers Debate Club, U. S. News and World Report, May 9, 2013