The Washington Post

Your one-stop guide to the Republican Party’s scandal wish list

We may be months and months away from the 2014 midterms, but the bickering between Democrats and Republicans has already morphed into a never-ending hum of this:

Democrats' main campaign talking points are all about income inequality. They are loudly blaming Republicans when bills to help low-income workers and the middle class fail to pass. Republicans are experimenting with a number of perceived Obama administration scandals/failures as their  talking points. They haven't decided which will work best with the public -- or which has the most likelihood of being something of scandalous proportions. Some have faded away, like Fast and Furious. But this week, the three biggest contenders converged.

Here's a quick guide to the Republican Party's scandal wish list, why they're suspicious and how Democrats and the media have reacted.


In this May 8, 2013, file photo, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., questions a witness during the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's hearing on Benghazi on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)


The attacks on the United States' consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on September 12, 2012 -- which ended with the deaths of four United States diplomats -- have been a subject of great interest to the Republican Party. Prior to the 2012 elections, pressing the matter was partly a matter of electoral expediency -- unearthing an Obama administration scandal would do wonders for Mitt Romney's chances.

After President Obama's re-election, trying to find the scandal in the Obama administration's response to the attacks flared up again. Republican legislators remained convinced that the White House was hiding information about their less-than-elegant response. Congressional hearings about Benghazi were held in May 2013, featuring testimony from former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, former U.N. ambassador Susan Rice and many others. After their conclusion, Benghazi hysteria faded for awhile, replaced by hysteria around the Affordable Care Act and the Internal Revenue Service (more on that later). Many legislators were still trying to create a committee to initiate additional investigations into Benghazi.

In April 2014, the conservative watchdog Judicial Watch released new documents about Obama administration talking points soon after the Benghazi attacks. The same people who were originally bullish on the possibility of a Benghazi scandal saw it as a smoking gun. The House is set to vote on the creation of a 12-member select committee to continue investigating the response to the attacks. Clinton is likely to be called as a witness, and the investigation is sure to be lengthy and painful for the Obama administration.

Here's a good primer on the attacks.

Who's pushing this?

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) have been among the most vocal proponents of additional investigations. House Speaker John Boehner was a crucial factor in finally getting the select committee formed. South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy will run the select committee. A reported 206 other House Republicans had wanted the job.

But really, mostly everyone in the Republican Party is pushing this.

What do the disbelievers say?

Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the attacks, says she is "absolutely" pleased with the answers that have already been revealed in previous Benghazi investigations.

"I mean, of course there are a lot of reasons why, despite all of the hearings, all of the information that’s been provided, some choose not to be satisfied and choose to continue to move forward," she said at an event in New York on Wednesday. "That’s their choice and I do not believe there is any reason for it to continue in this way, but they get to call the shots in Congress.”

CBS News wrote about White House Press Secretary Jay Carney's response to the select committee in a press briefing earlier this week.

He did, however, note that there have been seven different investigations into the attacks that left four Americans dead on Sept. 11, 2012, as well as 13 hearings, 50 member and staff briefings and more than 25,000 pages of documents produced. Carney wouldn't speculate about how the next investigation would be handled by Republicans.

But, he said earlier in the briefing, "If you look at even what some Republicans said it casts doubt on the legitimacy...At some point you just have to assume that Republicans will continue this because it feeds a political objective of some sort."

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer wrote a letter to Boehner on Tuesday about the select committee, asking for equal representation. The select committee resolution currently calls for it to include seven Republicans and five Democrats.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a House Intelligence Committee member, said on “Fox News Sunday, “I think it’s a tremendous red herring and a waste of taxpayer resources.”

What does the right say?




What does the left say?






What does the public say?

Unsurprisingly, opinions on Benghazi fall on partisan lines, as this Pew Research poll from May 2013 shows.

Could this affect upcoming elections?

Unclear. Scandals tend to have a dampening effect on the party of the president, but the investigations haven't turned up anything scandalous yet. Gowdy has also said that the committee could last until 2016 -- clearly Republicans hope that the proceedings will have an effect on their electoral chances. When the Pew Research Center released a survey about Hillary Clinton, presumed 2016 presidential candidate, earlier this week, it revealed that Benghazi is the biggest negative in her career.

The Internal Revenue Service

Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner refuses to answer questions as the House Oversight Committee holds a hearing on May 22, 2013, to investigate the extra scrutiny the IRS gave  conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status, on Capitol Hill in Washington.                              (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)


During the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, the Internal Revenue Service had a lot of politically-inclined 501(c)4 groups and other tax-exempt groups to keep tabs on. As a shortcut, they started flagging groups that had "tea party" or "patriot" in the name, or did advocacy for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights or reducing government spending. Lois Lerner, director of the IRS' Exempt Organization Division, found out about these shortcuts in 2011, and told workers to change their procedures. In 2012, congressional Republicans started to pay attention, after many conservative 501(c)4s complained about IRS inquiries. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) held hearings questioning IRS officials, and Lerner apologized for her division's actions in 2013. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder ordered an FBI investigation, which uncovered that the IRS apparently used shortcuts to single out liberal groups, too -- groups with "progressive" or "Occupy" in the title also received increased scrutiny. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform disputes that liberal groups were targeted.

The scandal accusations died down for about a year, until more emails from Lerner were released to the public, which House Republicans saw as additional proof that the IRS targeted conservative outside groups because of their political affiliation.

The House began pressing Lerner -- who retired last year -- for more details, and she refused to play along. So, the House decided to hold her in contempt of Congress yesterday.

Click on this or this if you want to know more about this tangly topic.

Who's pushing this?

Issa has been at the lead of the investigations. The House Ways and Means Committee voted to refer Lerner to criminal prosecution last month on a party-line vote, which if pursued, could lead to jail time. But really, all congressional Republicans have been supportive of further IRS investigations. Six Democrats -- all of whom face tough re-election fights -- joined the House Republicans in the contempt vote yesterday, and 26 Democrats joined the vote to push Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS.

President Obama said in May 2013, "This is pretty straightforward. If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that is outrageous, and there is no place for it, 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 are applying the laws in a non-partisan way. You should feel that way regardless of party. But I have got no patience with it, I will not tolerate it, and we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this,"

What do the disbelievers say?

Democratic politicians have mostly kept clear of this battle -- although some have gotten very angry with the Republican Party during IRS hearings -- but a few columnists have collectively been shaking their heads at the GOP. Scott Martelle at the Los Angeles Times wrote yesterday,

Yet House Republicans are chasing Lerner anyway in what can only be viewed as a witch hunt to try to keep the right-wing base happy for the midterm election cycle. Whether Lerner was guilty of a crime in the IRS’ ham-fisted targeting of tea party-related nonprofits is something for the legal system to determine, not a bunch of vote-thirsty Republican House members. The House’s decision to seek a special prosecutor should be viewed through the same prism: grandstanding, not a desire to seek facts or truth. (Whether the votes will lead to anything is doubtful because  Congress can’t force the Justice Department to act.)

Greg Sargent at The Plum Line writes,

It’s not a coincidence that Benghazi is being paired with attacks on the administration’s credibility on #Obummercare and the endless IRS scandal, is it? This is partly about keeping Obama’s approval numbers to weigh down Democrats among independents, to be sure, but it’s also about keeping the base as worked up as possible.

What does the right say?

What does the left say?



What does the public say?

In May 2013, Quinnipiac University conducted a poll on the IRS scandal, which found 76 percent of voters thought a special prosecutor should lead investigations into the agency's 2012 practices. Sixty-three percent of Democrats agreed. The poll also found that the public considered the IRS scandal a bigger deal than Benghazi. However, there might be a bias at work in this data -- many Americans are already geared toward thinking little of the tax man.

Could this affect upcoming elections?

Doubtful. The president and most congressional Democrats have distanced themselves from the IRS on this, so Lerner and her department alone seem destined to take the heat in these investigations. However, the scandal could help Congress' popularity. When Public Policy Polling asked Americans in October 2013 whether they liked the IRS or Congress better, 33 percent preferred Congress, and 42 preferred the IRS.


Copies of the application for the Health Insurance Marketplace from the Department of Health and Human Services. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)


Repeal, revise, revile -- the Republican Party has tried getting rid of the Affordable Cart Act using every method in the book since it passed in 2010. The House has voted to repeal the legislation more than 50 times. Republican outside groups have spent millions upon millions of dollars on ads bashing Democratic lawmakers for supporting the law, in the 201o election, in the 2012 election and now in the midterms. During the less-than-elegant rollout of the government's Obamacare sign-up Web site — and during each new delay — the anger and disappointment reached a new fever pitch. The system recovered and managed to sign up millions of uninsured Americans, and conservatives have been spending more time lately discussing Benghazi and Lois Lerner than their long-standing dislike of the president's signature piece of legislation. However, as the election draws nearer, don't expect the attacks against the law and how it has been administered to stop. The Republican Party thinks low public opinion of the Affordable Care Act in ten close Senate races might be their key to victory.

Here's a list of the many delays that led Republicans to declare the law a failure.

Who's pushing this?

Again, nearly everyone in the Republican Party -- especially the Republican Senate candidates running against vulnerable incumbent Democrats. But Obamacare is mentioned far less often now by Republicans than it was before the coverage numbers were announced.  During the confirmation hearing for Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius' replacement, several Republicans expressed their support.

What do the disbelievers say?

President Obama, the biggest supporter of the health-care law that has adopted his name, said in April when announcing the more than 8 million people who signed up for Obamacare, “The point is, the repeal debate is and should be over. The Affordable Care Act is working. And I know the American people don't want us spending the next two-and-a-half years re-fighting the settled political battles of the last five years. They sent us here to repair our economy, to rebuild our middle class, and to restore our founding promise of opportunity, not just for a few, but for all.”

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, one of the most prominent Obamacare supporters because of his role in leading a relatively conservative state, said after more than 400,000 Kentuckians signed up, “From the beginning, I knew that kynect would change the course of Kentucky’s history by helping hundreds of thousands of Kentucky families, and I never wavered in my support ... We’re going to keep enrolling people until everybody in Kentucky who needs health coverage has it.”

North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan, who has seen Republican outside groups spend millions against her because of her support of the Affordable Care Act,  defended the law in the Burwell hearings Thursday.

What does the right say?

What does the left say?











What does the public say?

They are sending mixed messages. While more than 8 million people signed up for Obamacare, a recent Pew poll shows that many Americans don't like the law very much. A majority think the law has fallen short of expectations -- unsurprising given the law's bumpy unveiling. At the moment, however, the public still trusts Democrats and Obama more on health care than Republicans. The public might not care for Obamacare, but they aren't too sure about the alternative yet either.


Could this affect upcoming elections?

Maybe. Again, it's far too early to tell. Based on the millions of dollars candidates and Republican outside groups have spent against Democratic candidates citing their support of the Affordable Care Act, Republicans sure think so.

Jaime Fuller reports on national politics for "The Fix" and Post Politics. She worked previously as an associate editor at the American Prospect, a political magazine based in Washington, D.C.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The New Hampshire primary is Tuesday. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Dan Balz says ...
This was supposed to be the strongest Republican presidential field in memory, but cracks are showing. At Saturday night's debate, Marco Rubio withered in the face of unyielding attacks from Chris Christie, drawing attention to the biggest question about his candidacy: Is he ready to be president? How much the debate will affect Rubio's standing Tuesday is anybody's guess. But even if he does well, the question about his readiness to serve as president and to go up against Clinton, if she is the Democratic nominee, will linger.
Play Video
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She left the state Sunday to go to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
55% 40%
Play Video
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.