Despite a tough couple of weeks, President Obama's job approval ratings are holding up fairly well. As I write this, 47 percent of voters nationwide offer their approval. That's little changed from attitudes of late and essentially the same as the president enjoyed during most of his first term in office.
But if you dig just a bit beneath the surface, it becomes clear that the controversies dogging the White House have had an impact. So far, there are three major issues -- the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservatives, the Justice Department's secret media probe and the circumstances surrounding the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya in Benghazi last Sept. 11.
White House press secretary Jay Carney, speaking on CNN, dismissed "the premise, the idea that these were scandals." However, voters see it differently. Just over half believe each of the three qualifies as a scandal. Only one out of eight sees them as no big deal.
Voters also reject the notion that the IRS targeting was the work of some low-level rogue employees. Just 20 percent believe that to be the case. A slightly larger number (26 percent) thinks the decision came from IRS headquarters. But 39 percent believe the decision to target conservative groups was made by someone who works at the White House.
This isn't just a case of people believing politicians always behave this way. Only 19 percent think the IRS usually targets political opponents of the president.
Skepticism is so high that few are convinced the IRS acted alone. Sixty percent believe that other federal agencies also were used to target the tea party and other conservative groups. Ominously for Democrats, two out of three unaffiliated voters share that view. ...
The Internal Revenue Service, charged with implementing the biggest change in tax laws in 20 years due to Obamacare, has created eight offices and special "teams" to handle the chore, way more than initially revealed.
Besides the top office headed by the woman in the middle of the IRS-Tea Party scandal, there are seven others and a special enforcement team that make up an organization chart that mirrors the organization of the IRS itself, according to a Treasury Inspector General's report.
The June report focused on concerns that the IRS, which is filling the Obamacare offices with 2,137 agents and officials to make sure citizens and companies comply with the new health law or pay a fine, isn't clear on its new role and how many new workers it will actually need. For example, the IRS will be in charge of analyzing hospital "community benefit activities," which it has never done before.
But in that report was the organizational chart revealing the series of Obamacare offices. They are led by a steering committee that coordinates Obamacare implementation across the IRS. It is led by the agency's deputy commissioner for services and enforcement, the office linked to the IRS scandal. Ousted acting IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller recently had that job.
Other branches include three program management offices, four services and enforcement offices, and services and enforcement exchange working teams. ...
The White House insists President Obama is "outraged" by the "inappropriate" targeting and harassment of conservative groups. If true, it's a remarkable turnaround for a man who helped pioneer those tactics.
On Aug. 21, 2008, the conservative American Issues Project ran an ad highlighting ties between candidate Obama and Bill Ayers, formerly of the Weather Underground. The Obama campaign and supporters were furious, and they pressured TV stations to pull the ad—a common-enough tactic in such ad spats.
What came next was not common. Bob Bauer, general counsel for the campaign (and later general counsel for the White House), on the same day wrote to the criminal division of the Justice Department, demanding an investigation into AIP, "its officers and directors," and its "anonymous donors." Mr. Bauer claimed that the nonprofit, as a 501(c)(4), was committing a "knowing and willful violation" of election law, and wanted "action to enforce against criminal violations."
AIP gave Justice a full explanation as to why it was not in violation. It said that it operated exactly as liberal groups like Naral Pro-Choice did. It noted that it had disclosed its donor, Texas businessman Harold Simmons. Mr. Bauer's response was a second letter to Justice calling for the prosecution of Mr. Simmons. He sent a third letter on Sept. 8, again smearing the "sham" AIP's "illegal electoral purpose."
Also on Sept. 8, Mr. Bauer complained to the Federal Election Commission about AIP and Mr. Simmons. He demanded that AIP turn over certain tax documents to his campaign (his right under IRS law), then sent a letter to AIP further hounding it for confidential information (to which he had no legal right).
The Bauer onslaught was a big part of a new liberal strategy to thwart the rise of conservative groups. In early August 2008, the New York Times trumpeted the creation of a left-wing group (a 501(c)4) called Accountable America. ...
It's an open question whether President Obama's approval rating will remain unaffected by the scandals currently engulfing his administration. But no matter how Obama himself makes out, the scandals are setbacks for the central goal of his presidency — to restore Americans' faith in the ability of government to solve problems.
For decades, American politics had lived in the shadow of the Reagan Revolution. Even Democratic President Bill Clinton was forced to declare in 1996 an end to the era of big government.
"I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not," Obama famously said during the 2008 Democratic primary cycle. "He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like, you know, with all the excesses of the '60s and the '70s, and government had grown and grown, but there wasn't much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating."
This is a bit simplistic, as government continued to expand during the Reagan years and beyond. But it is true that decades of American history helped foster skepticism among Americans about the government's ability to do big things.
Obama's timing was good for an incoming president hoping to reverse this cycle of American history and emerge as the anti-Reagan. The bursting of the housing bubble, financial collapse and ensuing recession created the perfect opportunity for an ambitious liberal president to make the case that the excesses of capitalism were to blame, and that government needed to come to the rescue. ...
The sweeping immigration overhaul moving through Congress is creating a bonanza for lobbyists.
While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the AFL-CIO and Silicon Valley companies are making the most noise on immigration reform, a grab bag of other groups and companies are working under the radar to shape the bill.
Roughly 500 companies, trade groups and unions, among others, lobbied on immigration this past quarter, according to disclosure records. Many of their interests are extremely narrow, but still require checking in on the Senate Gang of Eight’s bill.
Among those with a rooting interest in the immigration debate is the U.S. Olympic Committee, which works to bring the Games to the United States, among other duties.
Desiree Filippone, the managing director of government relations for the U.S. Olympic Committee, said improving the visa process could provide a major boost to America’s next Olympics bid.
“The easier it is to get all of these athletes and international Olympic officials into the country … [that] helps us on some level. Everything we can do to facilitate that process will better position us and improve our chances the next time we want to host any future Olympic events,” Filippone said.
For now, interest groups are focused on the Senate, where lawmakers have been hashing out legislative provisions on border security, citizenship and the flow of foreign labor into the U.S.
The Olympic Committee is employing lobbyists at Monument Policy Group to track the Senate bill and is backing an amendment from Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) that would set up a State Department pilot program that would use video-conference interviews for visa applications. ...
Perhaps no other IRS official is more intimately associated with the tax agency's growing scandal than Lois Lerner, director of the IRS’s Exempt Organizations Division. Since admitting the IRS harassed hundreds of conservative and Tea Party groups for over two years, Lerner has been criticized for a number of untruths—including the revelation that she apparently lied about planting a question at an American Bar Association conference where she first publicly acknowledged IRS misconduct.
Still, Lerner has her defenders in the government and the media. Shortly after the scandal broke, The Daily Beast published an article headlined "IRS Scandal’s Central Figure, Lois Lerner, Described as ‘Apolitical.’" Insisting Lerner, and the IRS more broadly, were not not politically motivated has been a central contention of those trying to minimize the impact of the scandal.
The trouble with this defense is that, prior to joining the IRS, Lerner's tenure as head of the Enforcement Office at the Federal Election Commission (FEC) was marked by what appears to be politically motivated harassment of conservative groups.
Lerner was appointed head of the FEC's enforcement division in 1986 and stayed in that position until 2001. In the late 1990s, the FEC launched an onerous investigation of the Christian Coalition, ultimately costing the organization hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours in lost work. The investigation was notable because the FEC alleged that the Christian Coalition was coordinating issue advocacy expenditures with a number of candidates for office. Aside from lacking proof this was happening, it was an open question whether the FEC had the authority to bring these charges.
James Bopp Jr., who was lead counsel for the Christian Coalition at the time, tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD the Christian Coalition investigation was egregious and uncalled for. "We felt we were being singled out, because when you handle a case with 81 depositions you have a pretty good argument you're getting special treatment. Eighty-one depositions! Eighty-one! From Ralph Reed's former part-time secretary to George H.W. Bush. It was mind blowing," he said. ...
This time of year, as college students return home for the summer, many parents may notice how many politically correct ideas they have acquired on campus. Some of those parents may wonder how they can undo some of the brainwashing that has become so common in what are supposed to be institutions of higher learning.
The strategy used by General Douglas MacArthur so successfully in the Pacific during World War II can be useful in this very different kind of battle. General MacArthur won his victories while minimizing his casualties -- something that is also desirable in clashes of ideas within the family.
Instead of fighting the Japanese for every island stronghold as the Americans advanced toward Japan, MacArthur sent his troops into battle for only those islands that were strategically crucial. In the same spirit, parents who want to bring their brainwashed offspring back to reality need not try to combat every crazy idea they picked up from their politically correct professors. Just demolishing a few crucial beliefs, and exposing what nonsense they are, can deal a blow to the general credibility of the professorial pied pipers.
For example, if the student has been led to join the crusade for more gun control, and thinks that the reason the British have lower murder rates than Americans have is because the Brits have tighter gun control laws, just give him or her a copy of the book "Guns and Violence" by Joyce Lee Malcolm.
As the facts in that book demolish the gun control propaganda fed to students by their professors, that can create a healthy skepticism about other professorial propaganda. ...
The unfolding IRS scandal is a symptom, not the disease.For decades, campaign-finance reform zealots have sought to limit core political speech through spending limits and disclosure requirements. More recently, they have claimed that it is wrong and dangerous for tax-exempt entities to engage in political speech.
The Obama administration shares these views, especially when conservative, small-government organizations are involved, and the IRS clearly got the message. While the agency must be investigated and reformed, the ultimate cure for these abuses is to unshackle political speech by all groups, including tax-exempt ones, from arbitrary and unconstitutional government regulation.
Beginning in March 2010, the IRS engaged in an unprecedented campaign of harassment against conservative groups, either through denials or delays in approving their tax-exempt-status applications, or through endless and burdensome audits.
In notable contrast, liberal and "progressive" organizations got approvals with remarkable speed. The most conspicuous example involves the Barack H. Obama Foundation, which was approved as tax exempt within a month by the then-head of the IRS tax-exempt branch, Lois Lerner. From media reports and firsthand accounts, we also know that the IRS disproportionately audited donors to conservative causes and leaked confidential tax information concerning conservative groups in violation of federal law.
This IRS politicization is not an isolated problem. It is an inevitable result of the broader efforts to regulate and, in fact, suppress political speech.
The IRS crackdown on tax-exemption approvals for conservative groups was directed at nonprofit social-welfare groups, often called 501(c)(4)s after the Internal Revenue Code section granting them tax-exempt status. Such groups do not have to disclose their donors and are exempt from most taxation, although donations to them generally aren't tax deductible. ...
The late columnist William Safire once said that a good clue that someone in Washington was engaged in “an artful dodge,” i.e., a cover-up, was that they used the phrase “mistakes were made.” Safire defined it as a “passive-evasive way of acknowledging error while distancing the speaker from responsibility for it.”
The phrase became infamous when both Richard Nixon and Ron Ziegler, his press secretary, deployed it to explain away Watergate without explaining who did what and when or whether any ill motive was involved.
Astonishingly, the Internal Revenue Service resurrected the Nixonian expression within hours of its clumsy revelation that it had targeted tea-party groups and other organizations with “patriot” or “9/12” in their names. “Mistakes were made initially,” the official IRS statement on May 10 read, implying that the mistakes ended after a short “initial” period. We now know that the scandal and cover-up unfolded over a three-year period, and the IRS publicly acknowledged them only after the 2012 election was safely past.
Here are some other clues that a Washington cover-up is going on.
1. No one seems to be able to name the players.
Last week, former acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller claimed he had identified “rogue” employees at the IRS’s Cincinnati office who were at the center of the scandal. But an IRS staffer at the Cincinnati office at the center of the scandal told the Washington Post this week: “Everything comes from the top. We don’t have any authority to make those decisions without someone signing off on them. There has to be a directive.” ...
Over 150 conservative leaders, groups and grassroots activists have signed an open letter opposing the Senate immigration reform bill.
“We write to express our serious concerns regarding the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill, S. 744. We oppose this bill and urge you to vote against it when it comes to the Senate floor,” the letter to be released Tuesday and obtained by The Daily Caller reads. ”No matter how well intentioned, the Schumer-Rubio bill suffers from fundamentalflaws that make it unsalvageable. Many of us support various parts of the legislation, but the overall package is so unsatisfactory that the Senate would do better to start over from scratch.”
Signed by conservatives leaders and group representatives including radio host Laura Ingraham, Fox News personality Monica Crowley, Red State’s Erick Erickson, radio host Mark Levin, Hoover Institution’s Victor Davis Hanson, and The Daily Caller’s Mickey Kaus, the letter highlights a number of issues the signers have with the legislation including their concerns that the bill:
Authorities in Houston, Texas are responding to calls for an investigation of Douglas Karpen, who is being considered the second Kermit Gosnell for killing babies born alive after abortion.
Yesterday, the Lt. Governor of Texas demanded an investigation of an abortion practitioner who is considered the second Kermit Gosnell.
A new video expose’ of Douglas Karpen has three former abortion clinic employees of abortion practitioner Douglas Karpen exposing horrific practices that took place at his abortion clinic.
That a second Kermit Gosnell would be operating in Texas is so revolting that Lt. Governor David Dewhurst is demanding an investigation. Local officials are responding to that call from Dewhurst and pro-life advocates.
“Harris County authorities and the Texas Department of State Health Services are investigating a local doctor accused Wednesday by an anti-abortion group of performing late-term abortions in 2011,” according to a report in the Houston Chronicle.
“We have several people looking into the allegations,” said Sara Marie Kinney, a spokeswoman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
In an email, DSHS spokeswoman Carrie Williams said the agency, which monitors abortion facilities across the state, is “aware of the allegations, and we are investigating.” Added Williams: “This is a very high priority for us.” ...
He’s compared himself to Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, evoked nostalgia for John F. Kennedy, sought to emulate Ronald Reagan, (belatedly) praised George W. Bush, and enlisted the assistance of Bill Clinton in his 2012 re-election effort, but as his second term stumbles along, the president with whom Barack Obama finds himself being compared is Richard M. Nixon.
My father, Lou Cannon, covered the White House with distinction for the Washington Post for many years, beginning in the Nixon administration. He employed an easy rule of thumb when fielding phone calls from anonymous tipsters:
What do the Benghazi cover-up and the IRS scandal have in common? They were both about winning elections, under false pretenses.
Winning elections, after all, is something Barack Obama is good at. He obviously loves campaigning and delivering grand orations to enormous adoring crowds.
He loves it so much that he flew off to Las Vegas to campaign the day after the first murder of a U.S. ambassador in 33 years.
What actually happened in Benghazi was out of sync with the Obama campaign line. Osama bin Laden was dead. Al-Qaida was on the run. The global war on terror -- well, don't call it that anymore.
A deliberate effort to mislead the voters was launched. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, White House press secretary Jay Carney and the president himself talked about a spontaneous protest of an anti-Muslim video -- even though no evidence of that came from Benghazi.
The White House and the State Department altered the CIA's talking points -- not just in one minor particular, as Carney claimed, but through 12 separate versions. The Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, armed with the talking points, spoke sternly about a spontaneous protest and an anti-Muslim video on five Sunday interview shows.
The campaign trail press grilled Mitt Romney for his (impolitic) statement immediately after the attacks. Obama went on talk shows and peddled his line about an anti-Muslim video. ...
The IRS and the Obama administration are coming under fire for targeting conservative groups — but a new report indicates at least one pro-life group faced discrimination as well.
The Internal Revenue Service has issued an apology to conservative groups that it targeted in the lead up to the 2012 presidential election. The move is seen by many conservatives as the Obama administration doing post-election damage control after infringing on the rights of citizens groups.
But a new WorldNetDaily report has more on how the federal agency targeted pro-lifers:
Shinn launched Cherish Life Ministries, a separate organization, to offer help to a coalition of churches that supports mothers struggling with unexpected pregnancies, promotes abstinence and advocates for an end to abortion in the community, state and nation.
“Our goal is to assist churches, organize and support a life ministry in defense of life and help function as an outreach to people struggling with unwanted pregnancies in the local community,” the site states.
Education materials are offered.
But Shinn said the IRS contacted him regarding his application for nonprofit status, and was told he didn’t qualify.
“The representative was telling me I had to provide information on all aspects of abortion, I couldn’t just educate the church from the pro-life perspective,” he said. “Every time I pressed her on this issue and asked her to clarify her position, she would state that it wasn’t what she was saying, and then, she would repeat it almost the same way.” ...
In 2010, shortly after President Obama's health care legislation was signed into law, I dubbed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius the "Empress of Obamacare" for the vast new powers she inherited. Reading through the text of the law, I counted more than 2,500 references to the secretary of HHS, of which more than 700 referred to instances in which she "shall" do something and more than 200 cases in which she "may" take regulatory action.
Back then, it was scary enough that any individual would have so many arbitrary powers -- from determining what type of insurance every American must purchase to deciding which insurers could sell policies on new government-run exchanges at what price. But in the intervening three years, it's become even more alarming, because Sebelius has demonstrated a continued pattern of intimidation and abuse of her office.
With a nation digesting news that the IRS targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny and that the Department of Justice obtained phone records of Associated Press journalists, the past week has brought plenty of reminders about the nature of government power.
In the midst of these stories, the Washington Post reported that Sebelius "has made multiple phone calls to health industry executives, community organizations and church groups and asked that they contribute whatever they can to nonprofit groups that are working to enroll uninsured Americans and increase awareness of the law."
Soliciting help from an industry that Sebelius has wide-ranging regulatory power over is clearly unethical, and quite possibly illegal. But it is not unusual behavior for Sebelius. ...