In theory, when an administration is facing a series of controversies, the political fallout carries consequences – a president’s policy agenda, for example, can be derailed by scandals as the media shifts its attention, allies put some distance between themselves and the administration, and foes push policy proposals to the backburner to make room for hearings and investigations.
The ongoing uproar surrounding the Obama administration, however, is a little different. For one thing, Congress was already largely ignoring President Obama’s proposals, and it’s a short walk from being indifferent towards an agenda to ignoring it altogether. For another, for all the talk about a White House “in crisis,” none of the current controversies seem to directly relate to President Obama or anyone else in the White House.
And so, though much of the political world seems to have its hair on fire, things really aren’t that different than they were a week ago (or a month ago, or two months ago).
As she headed into meetings on Tuesday, Maine Sen. Susan Collins was talking to reporters about the possibility of a grand bargain on entitlement spending, something to replace sequestration cuts. I asked whether the new scandals would up-end that.
“I do not believe that the IRS scandal,” said Collins, “serious and troubling though it is, will forestall negotiations on the budget and immigration and other issues.”
Roll Call added that the recent uproar “could have many consequences for a White House on the defensive – but imperiling a comprehensive immigration overhaul likely isn’t one of them.” BuzzFeed reported that immigration reform is probably even more likely now since opponents are focused on perceived scandals, not destroying the legislation.
Even Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), hardly a White House ally, said there’s no reason to believe immigration reform will be derailed. “When Iran–Contra was going on, President Reagan was still able to work with Congress,” McCain told reporters yesterday. “Legislation was passed, et cetera.” That scandal captivated Washington and the world, and “everyone thought that it would damage President Reagan, but it didn’t.”
A month ago, assorted right-wing lawmakers wanted Obama impeached; Beltway pundits were annoyed by the president’s indifference to their advice; Republicans wanted more spending cuts; much of the GOP assumed there’d been a Benghazi cover-up; and a bipartisan group of lawmakers were optimistic they could pass comprehensive immigration reform, while far-right lawmakers held out hope of killing the bill.
A month later, conditions may seem different, but are they? I guess Obama will take a hit in the polls, and the recent uproar might affect the 2014 midterms, but if there’s a seismic shift caused by “scandals,” it’s hiding well.