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Second-term crisis? Obama faces down critics on multiple fronts

Just a few months after President Barack Obama was overwhelmingly re-elected, his second term is off to a rocky start.
President Barack Obama REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
President Barack Obama REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Just a few months after President Barack Obama was overwhelmingly re-elected, his second term is off to a rocky start.

The commander-in-chief is coming under fire from Republicans this week on two major issues: The Internal Revenue Service and Benghazi. The political assault on Obama is leaving some to wonder if Obama is facing a “second-term curse” or is just temporarily stuck in partisan cross hairs.

To top it off, pressure for intervention in Syria is mounting, the gun legislation he endorsed failed, and Obama faces a tough battle ahead on immigration reform.

Officials have acknowledged that the IRS' Cincinnati office wrongly targeted conservative groups, giving disproportionate scrutiny to their applications to become 501(c)(4) organizations. Initially the IRS said lower-level employees were to blame and no senior officials knew. However, according to a draft of an inspector general’s report obtained by the AP, senior IRS officials were aware of the bad behavior.

And now GOP lawmakers are calling for a select committee to probe the administration’s actions surrounding the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Several conservatives are insisting Obama tried to cover up the fact that the attack was carried out by a terrorist group. NBC News has confirmed that the White House, with input from the State Department, edited talking points about Benghazi, including getting rid of references to terrorist warnings and to the al Qaeda affiliated group Ansar al-Sharia. Those edits came in the weeks leading up to November's election.

Former House Speaker and failed presidential candidate Newt Gingrich went as far as to frame Benghazi and the IRS as a pattern. Other Republicans, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona are going as far to to allege the White House is involved in a Benghazi cover-up.

A clearly frustrated Obama made clear at a press conference on Monday that he was angry with the IRS, calling the organization’s actions “outrageous."

“There’s no place for it. They have to be held fully accountable, because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity,” said Obama, who said he became aware of the alleged actions on Friday, just like everyone else. “If you’ve got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and bipartisan way, then it is outrageous.”

The president also called the Benghazi talking points controversy a “sideshow," and blamed his opponents for creating a “political circus.” Obama said the e-mails published Friday had been released by the White House a long time ago, and the notion that there’s been a cover-up is bogus.

“The whole thing defies logic, and the fact that this thing keeps getting churned out” has a lot of do with politics, said Obama.

History has shown that presidential second term roads are bumpy.  There’s Iran-Contra during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the impeachment of Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, who came under fire for Iraq and Hurricane Katrina.

“A president’s credibility matters,” said Ron Fournier of the National Journal. “It’s far too early in this perfect storm of controversy to condemn Obama to Bush’s fate, but he and his advisers face a credibility crisis.”

msnbc’s Chuck Todd said GOPers are unlikely to loosen their grip, predicting they’ll keep pursuing these issues, particularly the one about the IRS  to “unite the Republican base.”

The president said late last month he won't be swayed by his critics when asked if he had enough “juice” to advance his agenda during his second term.

"As Mark Twain said, you know, rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point," said Obama.  "We understand that we’re in divided government right now. Republicans control the House of Representatives. In the Senate, this habit of requiring 60 votes for even the most modest piece of legislation has gummed up the works there. And I think it’s — comes to no surprise, not even to the American people, but even to members of Congress themselves, that right now things are pretty dysfunctional up on Capitol Hill."

Despite a deeply partisan Congress, Obama said he would be able to achieve the policy goals of his second term, especially on immigration reform.

"I feel confident that the bipartisan work that's been done on immigration reform will result in a bill that passes the Senate, passes the House, and gets on my desk," the president said. "And that's going to be a historic achievement."