President Obama may be taking the bull by the horns when it comes to wrangling the trifecta of controversy that has dogged the White House this week—Benghazi, the IRS scandal, and the Justice Department’s decision to seize journalists’ phone records—but Republicans don’t seem to be loosening their grip on the commander-in-chief at all.
GOP lawmakers still came out swinging after Obama on Wednesday released more than 100 pages of emails on Benghazi, announced the acting head of the IRS was resigning, and backed a federal shield law for reporters in response to growing criticism that he was acting too passively to the political firestorms.
Obama also promised to work with Congress to further its oversight of the IRS and to make sure such actions are never taken again.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said that having acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller step down at Obama’s behest—following reports the agency was targeting conservative groups—was “not enough.” Priebus tweeted, “This is clearly a scapegoat that distracts from answering the core” questions. And added, “The president still owes Americans—especially the targeted groups—an apology.”
Earlier, Priebus called for Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation after it was revealed the Department of Justice had issued a subpoena for the AP’s phone records over the course of an investigation into the disclosure of classified information having to do with a CIA operation to stop a bomb plot in Yemen last year. Holder had recused himself from the investigation, putting his deputy in charge.
Like Priebus, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also suggested the IRS mess was far from over. “If the president is as concerned about this issue as he claims, he’ll work openly and transparently with Congress to get to the bottom of the scandal—no stonewalling, no half-answers, no withholding of witnesses.” He added “We are determined to get answers.”
House Speaker John Boehner, on the other hand, was not pleased about the Benghazi emails that were released, saying through his spokesman that they raise more “questions about the motivations of these changes and who at the State Department were seeking them.” Republicans have been claiming that the Obama administration was involved in covering up last year’s deadly assault in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stephens.
“This release is long overdue and there are relevant documents the administration has still refused to produce. We hope, however, that this limited release of documents is a sign of more cooperation to come,” Boehner’s spokesman Brendan Buck, added.
And then, there’s the Tea Party. Lawmakers, including Rep. Michele Bachmann, Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Louie Gohmert, held a press conference Thursday on Capitol Hill to criticize the president’s efforts.
Bachmann, who spearheaded the conference, warned the latest turmoil in the IRS could lead to further government abuse and pointed to implications for Obama’s health care plan.
There could be “political implications regarding health care, access to health care, denial of health care—will that happen based upon a persons’ political beliefs or their religiously held beliefs?” the Minnesota lawmaker asked.
Paul went a step further than Bachmann, saying, “Someone needs to be held responsible, someone needs to be imprisoned. Someone needs to be prosecuted.”
Gohmert said the AP story has taught a valuable lesson to the media. “When there is a tyrannical despot, the media will be one of the early victims. You will be used as helpful savants for a while and then when you are no longer needed, you will be pressured and put out of business as well,” he said.
Of course, it’s not in Republicans’ interest to let the controversies go. If Obama cannot quell the criticism, many say he’s in danger of being permanently weakened. Democrats have worried that his ambitious second-term agenda—gun control, immigration reform, and a budget deal—could be derailed.