The White House Strategy For Dealing With GOP-Fueled Scandals

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
May 15 2013 7:50 PM

Mutual Contempt

The White House strategy for dealing with this season of scandals is to make Republicans look like unreasonable and overzealous crazies.

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The White House would like to keep running this play, if Republicans would only go along with it. Their strongest possible allies right now are any members of Congress who muse about impeachment, which they’ll be asked about as they run the circuit of conservative talk radio and conferences. Over the weekend, Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, who’s early to jump on any administration scandal, told the conservative talker Rusty Humphries that “people may be starting to use the I-word before too long.”

Most Republicans know the game. On Tuesday, as he was talking to reporters about the less-exciting push for a select committee on Benghazi (something Sen. Harry Reid and House Speaker John Boehner keep nixing), Sen. John McCain made a clownishly disgusted face at the very idea. “Wait a minute!” he said. “ Let’s find out all the facts, before we say the I-word.”

But it had already been said, with all the expected side effects. In 1974, the conservative activist and writer M. Stanton Evans joked that scandal made him realize that the president had the right enemies: “I didn’t support Nixon until Watergate.” In 2013, the White House aims to simultaneously prove that the IRS, Benghazi, and AP stories don’t implicate the president and that the people who think it does are themselves a grave danger.

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The Issa-Holder showdown helped that along. The tensest moments over the rest of the day came when Republicans tried to trap Holder in a theoretical violation of procedure. He had outsourced the investigation of media leaks to two U.S. attorneys, but he had never actually written down that he was recusing himself from the investigation. The U.S. attorneys ended up acting as if Holder were recused, going to a deputy AG to subpoena AP reporters’ information.

“Are you saying there’s no paper trail here?” asked Pennsylvania Rep. Tom Marino. “[Nothing to say] why you recused yourself and for what reasons?”

“As I’ve thought about it,” said Holder, “actually during the course of this hearing, that might be a better policy.”

“Don’t you think it would have been the best practice for you to just put it in writing?” asked Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador.

“I’m gonna go back and think about whether there’s some sort of policy I ought to put in place,” said Holder.

The hearing concluded; the White House released a trove of internal emails about Benghazi and announced a presidential press conference for Thursday. All that was needed to keep on polarizing the scandals was one more Republican going off and freelancing about them. And there, right there in the reporter’s inbox, was the manna from heaven.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, chairwoman of the Tea Party Caucus and former federal tax attorney, will hold a press conference on Thursday, May 16, with Tea Party leaders who will tell their stories of IRS intimidation and demand further investigation.