The twin dramas of the government shutdown and botched rollout of Obamacare have snapped a sleepy 2014 election season out of its slumber, sharpening the battle lines for each party and setting the stage for a consequential midterm that few expected even two months ago.
The spring and summer months were filled with charges and countercharges about the Internal Revenue Service, wiretapping, Syria and immigration. Politicians recycled old attack lines and operatives confidently predicted control of Congress would remain status quo after next November.
No more. The parties’ competing political narratives — the dangers of a tea party-controlled party versus the perils of President Barack Obama’s far-reaching health care law — have been thrown into sharp relief the past several weeks. Now each party has something tangible to point to — that touch voters’ lives in concrete ways — to argue that the other should be booted from office.
In Dan Brown’s new novel, Inferno, the lead character is struck with amnesia, unable to remember critical events even as he’s trying to save the world. Let’s borrow that useful plot device and imagine if Americanjournalists woke up and couldn’t remember who was president. It would be interesting to ask them a few questions:
What would you think of a president under whom the IRS targeted his harshest political opponents, during his reelection campaign?
What would you think of a president whose obsession with leaks and secrecy was so great that he used the Justice Department to obtain phone records of reporters, in violation of Justice’s established procedure?
What would you think of a president whose head of the Department of Justice signed a criminal warrant against a leading journalist working for the news organization most critical of the president—and monitored the movements of the journalist and even went after his mother’s phone records?
What would you think of an administration that directed the president’s press secretary repeatedly to deliver false information concerning the death of an American ambassador?
President Barack Obama’s team emerged on Sunday to defend his handling of revelations that the IRS had targeted conservative groups for scrutiny, as senior Republicans conceded they lacked evidence — so far — that the president directed the abuses.
Republicans appeared on the Sunday talk show circuit with hopes of sustaining their political momentum generated during this past week, one of the toughest weeks of Obama’s presidency. A series of controversies — that the IRS had targeted conservative groups, new questions about the administration’s response to last year’s terrorist attack in Benghazi, and news that the Department of Justice seized phone records of Associated Press journalists as part of an investigation regarding national security leaks — have forced the White House onto the defensive.
Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell said the IRS controversy amounted to evidence of a “culture of intimidation” by the administration. But he and Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., admitted they lacked evidence that the targeting of conservatives was ordered by the White House.
“It is important to institute new leadership that can help restore confidence going forward,” said Obama.
The president also said that he had instructed Lew to implement the recommendations of the inspector general’s report which looked into why groups with words like “tea party” in their name had been forced to endure more scrutiny when applying for 501(c)(4) status. Obama added that he would “work with Congress as it performs its oversight role” in investigating the IRS.
President Obama announced Wednesday that Steve T. Miller, the acting commissioner of the IRS, had resigned in the wake of the controversy over the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups. In an angry statement in the White House, Obama said the IRS’s actions were “inexcusable and Americans are right to be angry about it and I’m angry about it.” He added, “I will not tolerate this type of behavior in any agency but especially the IRS given the power it has and the reach it has.”
“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,” Obama told reporters.
“And they have to be held fully accountable. Because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity, and people have to have confidence that they’re … applying the laws in a nonpartisan way.”
The IRS also applied extra scrutiny to applicants with statements that “criticize how the country is run” or that sought to educate the public on how to “make America a better place to live,” designations that would have included conservative political groups looking to apply for 501(c)(4) status. Those disclosures are included in the appendix of an inspector general’s report, obtained by CNN, that has caused widespread anger among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as well as conservative groups.