Yesterday I noted here that Republicans in the grip of Washington scandal-mania run the risk of a rerun of 1998, in which overreach amid the Monica Lewinsky scandal led to backlash against Bill Clinton’s tormentors. It turns out multiple Republican officials are worried about the same thing, as many news reports today indicate.
With hearings set to get underway today on the IRS scandal, and with others planned for Benghazi, GOP Rep. Darrell Issa, the de facto leader of House GOP investigations, gave a remarkable interview to the Hill in which he says Republicans intend to proceed cautiously and refrain from making the scandal fest “about President Obama.”
“These are all different agencies of government,” Issa said. “This administration owns the failures, but not necessarily the direct blame.” Issa added: “we’re looking at each individual case so it’s very different than what you view historically as a target where it [was] always about President Clinton. This isn’t about President Obama.”
“We’re not accusing the president — unless there becomes evidence — or anyone else, unless there become evidence of any direct participation,” Issa continued.
This underscores the caution among Republicans about turning this into a political circus. The problem: other Republicans are openly acknowledging that this is all about 2014. Check out what one GOP consultant told National Journal:
“Every Republican strategist has looked at this week and said, ‘Uh-oh, something could move here,’ ” said Curt Anderson, a longtime Republican consultant. “I know there are already people looking at that and saying, ‘2014 might be a decent year after all.'”
Everyone knows, of course, that the GOP’s chances in 2014 depend largely on Obama’s popularity, and GOP-aligned commentators are widely discussing all of these stories as evidence of Obama’s own personal Nixonian leanings. What’s more, it remains to be seen whether rank and file conservatives will allow GOP officials to keep things cool and measured. Jonathan Weisman reports that in private, top GOP leaders are counseling caution in the investigation of all the scandals and pseudo scandals on Capitol Hill. But the “passions” of conservative members are complicating things.
Take GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who has floated impeachment. He is already complaining that House GOP leaders are not being aggressive enough:
House leaders have shown “great reluctance” to allow House committees to issue subpoenas, even as rank-and-file members and the conservative political base have been demanding them, Mr. Chaffetz said.
And finally, there is the question of whether scandal mania risks empowering extreme elements within the GOP, as Ron Brownstein detailed yesterday. This goes beyond the question of whether overzealous investigations themselves risk damaging the party. As Brownstein notes, if the GOP base is driven into scandal hyperdrive, it “will strengthen the party factions most dubious about any compromises with Obama,” while weakening the influence of Republicans “who believe the party must reboot to restore its competitiveness for the White House.”
Issa’s comments clearly show that this is a major concern, but once scandal-mania is unleashed, can it be contained? With Republican leaders looking to moderate the party in advance of major showdowns over immigration reform and the debt limit — both of which risk damaging the GOP’s ability to reboot — that question looms large.
* CBS NEWS NAILS REPUBLICANS ON BENGHAZI: CBS News aired a segment late yesterday that comes right out and flatly states that Republicans on Capitol Hill were responsible for leaking the altered email that made the Benghazi talking points editing seem more political than it really was. In the episode, Major Garrett nails it:
“The C.I.A. agreed with the concerns raised by the State Department and revised the talking points to make them less specific than the C.I.A.’s original version, eliminating references to al-Qaeda and affiliates and earlier security warnings. There is no evidence…the White House orchestrated these changes.”
The episode underscores the determination of Republicans to manufacture a scandal out of the Benghazi story even when there is no scandal there.
* IRS HEARINGS SET FOR TODAY: The first high stakes House hearing into the IRS scandal takes place this morning, and the focus will be on whether the IRS misled lawmakers by telling them that conservative groups had not been targeted by the agency, when in fact they had. Republicans had been asking the IRS this question for some time, and it turns out the agency had become aware more than a year ago that these groups had been targeted for scrutiny.
* PUBLIC ATTENTION TO SCANDALS BELOW AVERAGE: Gallup finds that while slim majorities say they’re paying attention to the Benghazi and IRS stories, that’s actually lower than the public’s historic attention to major news stories. Gallup also finds that slim majorities think both stories merit further investigation, but it’s unclear what that means in the case of Benghazi: it could mean the public wants more of a look at security lapses.
* HOUSE MEMBERS REACH IMMIGRATION DEAL: A bipartisan group of House members says it has reached an agreement in principle on an immigration reform compromise. The problem is that the bill is more conservative than the Senate compromise: It makes the path to citizenship even longer — 15 years. Also, it postpones a fight over the guest worker program, the product of a careful deal between business and labor, until later.
The movement is certainly good news. But it’s another reminder that reform may have to be pushed so far to the right to have a chance in the House that it could cost it Dem support and possibly break up the coalition behind it.
* ED MARKEY HOLDS LEAD OVER GABRIEL GOMEZ: The longtime Democratic Congressman is leading his GOP challenger in a new poll by seven points, 48-41, prompting this observation from a Massachusetts political observer: “Ed Markey has got some solid support among the Democratic base. He’s got union support. I don’t think Gomez is yet able to inflict a serious split in Markey’s coalition.”
The key is whether that coalition holds in the face of efforts by Gomez to peel off blue collar Dems, which will intensify once Massachusetts voters focus on the race. Election day is June 25th.
* MARKEY ATTACKS GOMEZ IN NEW AD: The Democrat is up with a tough new ad hitting Gomez over gun control:
“Gomez is against banning assault weapons,” a deep-voiced male narrator says, before a video clip plays of Gomez saying as much. “And Gomez is against banning high-capacity magazines, like the ones used in the Newtown School shooting,” the narrator says.
Markey has touted his “F” rating from the NRA as a point of pride, another reason he’s well liked by progressives nationally.
* No, OBAMA ISN’T NIXON: The Post has a very good editorial debunking the idea that the three ongoing stories can be woven into one larger Nixonian narrative, noting that there is little to “support a lesser `unifying theory’ of this week’s scandals, which is that together they prove Mr. Obama guilty of a grand overreach of federal power.”
I would only add that there are two contradictory narratives running simultaneously: One casting the scandals as proof of Obama’s personal arrogance of power; the other casting them as proof he’s a weak “bystander” to a government out of control.
“I find the comparison — that whoever is making the analysis is challenged in their understanding of history.”