It’s not just Republicans up in arms about Benghazi. That’s a problem for President Obama.

Last year's deadly attack on a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya is shaping up as a real political problem for President Obama, with concern extending well beyond the conservative base. More than half of Americans say his administration is trying to cover up the facts of the attack, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.


(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Fully 55 percent say the Obama administration is trying to hide the facts, while just 33 percent say it has honestly disclosed what it knows of the incident. It's not just Republicans crying foul: Six in 10 independents and nearly three in 10 Democrats say the administration is not being forthright.

Republicans have assailed the Obama administration in the aftermath of the attacks, which claimed the lives of four Americans including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Their focus has been on a set of talking points that initially labeled the attack a spontaneous assault. Later, the administration said it was an act of terror.

The Obama administration released 100 pages of e-mails last week in an effort to demonstrate that an internal debate over the talking points did not include White House interference. But it has done little to quell GOP criticism.

“We know there was inadequate security. We know an American ambassador and three other brave Americans got killed.  And we know the administration kind of made up a tale here in order to make it seem like it wasn’t a terrorist attack. I think that’s worthy of investigation, and the investigations ought to go forward,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Sunday on NBC News’s “Meet The Press.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday the GOP "obsession" with administration talking points is "demonstrably political" and has detracted attention from "the tragedy that happened in Benghazi, the need to find those responsible for the deaths of four Americans and hold them to justice."

Americans are split over the question of whether Republicans are playing politics. Forty-five percent say congressional Republicans are engaging in political posturing while 44 percent say they are raising legitimate concerns. Nearly one in 10 say they have no opinion.

Here's why concerns about Benghazi pose a potentially major political threat to Obama: It's one of three issues that has put him on defense of late, and not even the one Republican strategists believe holds the most potential for long-term damage. The Internal Revenue Service's decision to single out conservative groups for extra scrutiny is Obama's biggest problem right now, Republicans generally agree. As he deals with that issue, the last thing the president needs is for concerns about Benghazi to flare up in the coming months.

Both the Post-ABC poll and a CNN/ORC International survey show that Obama's job approval numbers are unscathed even as he's had to answer mounting questions about his administration's practices on various fronts. But the surveys also show some troubling signals for the president.

According to the Post-ABC poll, most Americans think the IRS’s decision was a deliberate effort to harass the groups, rather than a administrative mistake. And the public is split over whether or not the Obama administration is trying to cover up the facts in that scandal. Add the concerns about Benghazi, and the resulting concoction is not a pleasant one for the president.

The new poll was conducted May 16 to 19 among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. The results from the full poll have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Immigration bill clears Judiciary Committee: A bipartisan Senate group's immigration bill passed in the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 13-5 vote Tuesday. Next up for the bill is the consideration of the full Senate. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)  has said he won't block the bill from coming to the floor, a boon to the measure's chances of passing. But before it hits the floor, the Congressional Budget Office will take two weeks to determine the fiscal cost of the measure.

Fixbits:

IRS official Lois Lerner will invoke the Fifth Amendment on Wednesday.

Anthony Weiner is officially running for mayor of New York City.

City Councilman Eric Garcetti was elected mayor of Los Angeles.

Massachusetts Republican Senate nominee Gabriel Gomez is up with an ad that goes after Rep. Ed Markey (D).

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney invoked birtherism in response to questions about scandal.

It was moderate Republicans versus tea party conservatives on the Senate floor Tuesday.

A former Miss America is considering challenging McConnell.

American Future Fund has now spent more than $1 million defending Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) against attack ads on gun control.

Must-reads:

"Petraeus’s role in drafting Benghazi talking points raises questions" -- Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung, Washington Post

"With more clarity, White House adds to confusion on IRS" -- Dan Balz, Washington Post

"Conservative Okla. lawmakers face dilemma: Will they support tornado relief funding?" -- David A. Farenthold and Paul Kane, Washington Post

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan · May 21, 2013