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Washington Watch: Week 16

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Week sixteen of the Obama second-term presidency found the administration playing 'whack-a-mole' and the term 'scandal' being thrown around even when it came to the president asking Marines to hold umbrellas for himself and a visiting head-of-state during a rainy-day press conference.

Critics of the administration, many of them in Congress, are chomping at the bit to cast aspersion on the man they couldn't beat at the polls. (And then there are those southern ultra-conservative school board members who are probably looking for any reason to keep President Obama's name out of future textbooks.)

Where's Olivia Pope When You Need Her?

Olivia Pope (played by actress Kerry Washington) is the lead character in ABC's juicily-delicious drama Scandal. She runs a crisis management firm that specializes in restoring reputations... or hiding the facts that could destroy them. She calls herself a fixer.

Week sixteen of the Obama Administration's second term needed a fixer.

I hate to add to the media outcry by calling all of the revelations that were brought into the public eye recently 'scandals.' When that kind of feeding frenzy starts everything is questioned. Hence an article in The Washington Post: "Even Obama's umbrellas are a scandal now".

These 'scandals' will be on-going political battles that won't go away because... What else does the Republican-led Congress have to do? Certainly not govern!

Instead of scandals, let's call these, "Items that need fixing."

Item #1 -- The revelation that the IRS targeted conservative groups for added scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status. Apparently, these included 'Tea Party' activist groups.

During the Bush Administration, it was liberal groups like the NAACP that received scrutiny from the IRS. Alex Seitz-Wald reminds us of this in a couple of articles in Salon this past week. The first takes MSNBC host Joe Scarborough to task for his hypocrisy with this matter, and the second piece examines "When the IRS Targeted Liberals."

The IRS itself, should be non-partisan and non-political. So... heads are rolling, including the acting Director of the IRS, and investigations are starting.

The president's response? (I think Olivia Pope would approve)... expressing righteous indignation right along with those who will try to mire him in the muck with this.

Not only that...the President suggested that the law for determining if these 'activist' organizations should be tax-exempt is vague and should be looked at.

The Los Angeles Times summed up the problem the Federal Election Commission is having in monitoring the activities of such groups in an article entitled, IRS problem started with vague tax exemption rules, which says:

"At the heart of the issue is the murky role occupied by nonprofit 'social welfare' organizations, set up under Section 501(c)4 of the tax code, which are allowed under IRS regulations to engage in a certain amount of campaign activity, as long as politics is not their 'primary' purpose. The groups pay no tax on the money they bring in. They can accept unlimited donations and, unlike political committees, can keep their contributors secret.

That status became especially valuable three years ago with the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case, which lifted the ban on direct campaign spending by corporations, including many nonprofit groups. The ruling triggered the boost of applicants to the IRS."

The potential fallout from this?

  1. Republicans will try to link it to the president's 2012 election campaign and see how high they can take the 'Who knew what, when' link.
  2. Smearing the IRS will help them to try and repeal Obamacare... which they voted to derail for the 37th time last week!! The IRS is tasked with overseeing portions of health care reform, including implementing the mandate that everyone purchase coverage or pay an income-based fee.
  3. 2014. Republicans will most likely hold on to the House and will make a major grab for the Senate by suggesting theadministration is corrupt and the country would be in better hands with the GOP.
  4. Overreach... some think the GOP will go too far... even conservative Newt Gingrich is warning Republicans not to make the same mistakes they made during the Clinton impeachment process. However, chances are they will because they are tone deaf to what Americans -- everyday Americans -- are concerned with: their families, their jobs, and thriving, safe communities.

Still, the IRS is not popular with Americans and the president is right to jump on the side of those expressing 'outrage.'

Item #2 -- The seizing of phone records from Associated Press (AP) journalists. The Attorney General, Eric Holder, in a testy exchange at a House Committee meeting, implied the action was a matter of National Security, determining the source of a leaked CIA operation.

More 'righteous indignation' from all sides, but Holder's tact was to stand his ground at a congressional hearing which covered the AP action, the IRS, and even the nomination of the Justice Department's Thomas Perez as Secretary of Labor.

According to The Huffington Post:

"In one of the sharpest exchanges, Holder defended Thomas Perez's tenure as head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and said he would make a great secretary of the Labor Department.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., was critical of Perez and repeatedly pressed Holder, who at one point refused to stop talking and accused Issa of repeatedly mischaracterizing the work of the Justice Department.

"That is inappropriate and is too consistent with the way in which you conduct yourself as a member of Congress. It's unacceptable and it's shameful," Holder told Issa."

He wasn't done:

"Toward the end of the hearing, in another fierce exchange with a Republican lawmaker, Holder said that despite any personal animosity toward him, the office of attorney general deserved some respect.

He bemoaned the 'toxic partisan atmosphere' and said 'a level of civility doesn't exist.'"

The fallout from this? The AP story appears to be losing interest already -- remember the media seems to only push one major story at a time these days and the IRS controversy is getting the majority of the press.

Item #3 -- The Benghazi tragedy, and again-- 'Who knew what, when?' The major point seems to be, when was it called a 'terrorist' activity? This 'controversy' may be more directed at Hillary Clinton's presidential ambitions. I doubt anyone believes the Administration knowingly put diplomats in harm's way or didn't try to protect them.

So these are the items that had Washington abuzz this past week.

The DC pundits led the chorus on using the word 'scandal' (I wonder if the TV show is causing the frequent use of the word these days.)

Some say this was the worst week of the Obama Presidency, however Chris Cillizza of "The Fix" says "no... there were others" in a piece, called, "The Worst Week of Obama's Presidency? Close, But No."

The question is -- where will all of this go? 'Derailed agenda' is a phrase some are using to describe the president's second term --as if there is anything getting done is Washington anyway!

Keep in mind, while some perch upon their pedestal of manure and start throwing stones, there are real issues that need fixing, including:

  1. The sequester : Budget cuts are still happening. Workers are still being furloughed and Congress is nowhere near a solution on this debacle.
  2. Health care for all is coming soon, which is a good thing but people need to know what's coming and what to sign up for.
  3. The economy is improving but many are still out of work.

And what about immigration reform!

Thinking about it -- this might be a good time to play some offense for the administration and Democrats. Harry Reid's got the right idea by saying he just might go the 'nuclear option' to change filibuster rules. He will use a simple majority to bring about reform and therefore make it easier to get some of the president's judicial nominees approved.

HuffPost reports Reid is looking at July to implement his plan:

"Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has told top advisers that he is prepared to take action if Senate Republicans block three upcoming nominations, the Washington Post reported on Friday.

Reid is reportedly focusing on the month of July to approach filibuster reform and possibly execute the 'nuclear option,' which would change the Senate rules and no longer require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

'This would take away the right to filibuster on nominations,' a senior Senate Democratic aide told the Washington Post. 'All executive branch and judicial nominations would be subject to majority votes. He would not do it on legislative items.'"

Go Harry!!

Should be a 'fun' hot summer in DC, while the TV show Scandal is on hiatus.

Washington Watch is a weekly look at President Obama's second term. For prior weeks of Washington Watch visit: Our-Gov.com