Reporting on Politics and Policy.

July 1 2014 12:54 PM

The Rosetta Stone of the Professional Left

While I was off, Politico's Ken Vogel broke an exciting story from inside the Democracy Alliance, the coalition of liberal donors and groups that has tried for years to coordinate an effective left. (Disclosure: From 2009 to early 2010, I worked at the Washington Independent, in which capacity I appeared on a panel at an off-the-record DA meeting. Haven't been back, though.) The funniest part of Vogel's story was a warning document, provided to attendees, that listed the names and faces of reporters who might be snooping around the 2014 Chicago meeting.

But the 62-page document Vogel scored is genuinely fascinating. It should be recognizable to anyone who's worked at a nonprofit and had to recap successes in order to appeal to new donors. Here were the six claims/brags/projects that jumped up to me.

1. The "Metis" software for "tracking conservative smears." That's a product of Media Matters, and a reason the DA encourages a strong committment to David Brock's group.

2. Training for "acts of civil disobedience." Nothing new there, but in its funding ask, the New Organizing Institute—whose largely open-press Rootscamp I've covered twice—lists the training of immigrant rights protesters as a key 2013 win. For whatever it's worth, more than one Republican congressman has told me that the hunger strikes and office sit-ins that appeared to represent public pressure turned them into hard "no" votes.

3. The Progressive Leaders Network (the anti-ALEC). I've seen little coverage on the right of Progressive Majority, but its ambition is huge. The left, having sat on its collective hands during the decades-long growth of the American Legislative Exchange Council, has watched that group write model bills that can zoom through Republican legislatures. (I remember sitting in the Wisconsin Assembly in 2011 and noticing that at least one Republican who was waiting to vote for the union-busting Budget Control Bill had an ALEC leather binder.) Progressive Majority talks of expanding its version of this from 13,000-odd legislators to 20,000.

4. The Conservative Lighthouse for Reform. The Fund for the Republic, which aims to convert "the consensus" for campaign finance reform into action, cites an alliance with Republican strategists as a big 2013 win.

5. Catalist and Sandy Hook. The progressive voter contact program, which the right eyes enviously and constantly talks about outdoing, takes credit for bringing Sen. Kelly Ayotte on board with the Manchin-Toomey bill. The method: tons of voter contact.

6. The campaign against vote suppression. The Brennan Center, which is often cited in stories about voter ID laws and Election Day cutbacks, imagines a 2014 of coordinated action across (largely Republican-run) states.

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July 1 2014 10:52 AM

Rand Paul Is Celebrating the Civil Rights Act’s Anniversary Today

It was just over four years ago that Rand Paul trampled over the establishment's candidate and won the GOP nomination for Kentucky's U.S. Senate seat. In his opening round of post-victory interviews, he sat with NPR's Robert Seigel, who used his time with a real, free-range libertarian to quiz him on the Civil Rights Act.

SIEGEL: You’ve said that business should have the right to refuse service to anyone, and that the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA, was an overreach by the federal government. Would you say the same by extension of the 1964 Civil Rights Act?
PAUL: What I’ve always said is that I’m opposed to institutional racism, and I would’ve, had I’ve been alive at the time, I think, had the courage to march with Martin Luther King to overturn institutional racism, and I see no place in our society for institutional racism.
SEIGEL: But are you saying that had you been around at the time that you would have, hoped you would have marched with Martin Luther King but voted with Barry Goldwater against the 1964 Civil Rights Act?
PAUL: Well, actually I think it's confusing on a lot of cases with what actually was in the civil rights case, because, see, a lot of the things that actually were in the bill, I'm in favor of. I'm in favor of everything with regards to ending institutional racism. So I think there's a lot to be desired in the civil rights, and to tell you the truth, I haven't really read all through it because it was passed 40 years ago and hadn't been a real pressing issue on the campaign on, for the Civil Rights Act.
SEIGEL: But it's been one of the major developments in American history in the course of your life. I mean, do you think the '64 Civil Rights Act, or the ADA for that matter, were just overreaches and that business shouldn't be bothered by people with the basis in law to sue them for redress?
PAUL: Right. I think a lot of things could be handled locally. For example, I think that we should try to do everything we can to allow for people with disabilities and handicaps. You know, we do it in our office with wheelchair ramps and things like that. I think if you have a two-story office and you hire someone who's handicapped, it might be reasonable to let them have an office on the first floor rather than the government saying you have to have a $100,000 elevator. And I think when you get to solutions like that, the more local the better and the more common sense the decisions are rather than having a federal government make those decisions.

The next day, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow talked to Paul. Most people don't even remember the Seigel radio interview—they remember Maddow taking Paul to the ropes on whether he personally would have voted with Everett Dirksen or with Barry Goldwater. An excerpt:

MADDOW: But maybe voting against the Civil Rights Act which wasn't just about governmental discrimination but public accommodations, the idea that people who provided services that were open to the public had to do so in a nondiscriminatory fashion.
Let me ask you a specific so we don`t get into the esoteric hypotheticals here.
PAUL: Well, there's 10—there's 10 different—there's 10 different titles, you know, to the Civil Rights Act, and nine out of 10 deal with public institutions. And I'm absolutely in favor of one deals with private institutions, and had I been around, I would have tried to modify that.
But you know, the other thing about legislation—and this is why it's a little hard to say exactly where you are sometimes, is that when you support nine out of 10 things in a good piece of legislation, do you vote for it or against it? And I think, sometimes, those are difficult situations.
What I was asked by "The Courier-Journal" and I stick by it is that I do defend and believe that the government should not be involved with institutional racism or discrimination or segregation in schools, bussing, all those things. But had I been there, there would have been some discussion over one of the titles of the civil rights.
And I think that's a valid point, and still a valid discussion, because the thing is, is if we want to harbor in on private businesses and their policies, then you have to have the discussion about: do you want to abridge the First Amendment as well. Do you want to say that because people say abhorrent things—you know, we still have this. We're having all this debate over hate speech and this and that. Can you have a newspaper and say abhorrent things? Can you march in a parade and believe in abhorrent things, you know?

At the time, lots of conservatives (also this guy) saw what Paul was getting at. He was unwilling to give up his theory and overall criticism of the state just to make a point about the Civil Rights Act.

Time passed. After the 2012 election, Paul stepped up his campaign to talk directly to black voters—almost none of whom were Republicans. He denied having said he would have voted against the Civil Rights Act, getting some umbrage from the left, but moving right on. Today, he announces that he'll be joining the family Dr. Maurice Rabb—the great black opthamologist—for a memorial dedication ceremony in Shelbyville, Kentucky. He announces it with this statement:

Today we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is simply unimaginable to think what modern America would be like if not for the brave men and women who stood up for the rights of all Americans. This legislation changed the future of our nation by enforcing the belief that all men and women are created equal. We must continue to build an America that our children—of every race, creed and color—deserve.

Still not quite "and I would have voted for it," but clearly this is a man who avoids making the same mistakes twice.

July 1 2014 9:22 AM

From Ralph Nader to the Club for Growth, Everybody's Doing It

In this week's podcast I talk to Ralph Nader, who at age 80 is pretty much done with putting himself on ballots. (I can hear liberals at their laptops breathing sharp sighs of relief.) His new calling is seeking out areas of agreement between the left and right -- populist causes, the best way of breaking up the banks, things of that nature.

After we talked, and after Nader spent some time deriding Sen. Bernie Sanders as an inadequate left leader who "can't even return a call," the progressive thinker trekked over to the Cato Institute, where the Heritage Foundation's new media arm got him to call for the end of the Export-Import Bank.

Conveniently enough, my new piece looks at the long-running and resilient campaign by the "populist libertarian" right (which is Koch-funded, of course) to expose, make infamous, and then kill the Export Import Bank. If you hear the words "export import" and think of Vandelay Industries or just drift away. But it's a fascinating little story of how a political cause is born, and how allies are summoned to support it.

June 30 2014 7:58 PM

The Pathetic Conclusion of Immigration Reform

A few months ago, during a slow recess (and back in his district), John Boehner made a little joke about the reluctance of his conference to back immigration reform. Everyone was in on the meaning of the joke -- Boehner himself was completely ready for a vote, and maybe even sort of working toward one.

After this achieved virality, Boehner returned to DC to explain that he didn't mean to insult anyone.

And yet over the weekend and today it was confirmed that the Speaker of the House has bailed on immigration reform, and told the White House as much. That led to today's Obama speech in the Rose Garden, where the president chided the House for not passing a "darn bill" and made good on the threat activists had wanted from him -- to remake the immigration system with executive orders. This way, everyone returns to their silos. Republican members of Congress get to tell their constituents that they killed the bill, and that Obama is a tyrant. Democrats, whose base got far less from the implosion of the negotiations, have to settle for the argument Republicans aways accused them of making to Hispanic voters -- that they needed to elect more Democrats, and beat these guys.

Even if you wanted the bill to die, you can hardly imagine a more pathetic finish, or one more calibrated to the weakness and save-my-job mentality of the Republicans. The argument leaders made in January, when the annual retreat produced some mealy immigration "principles" was that primary season would be over by summer and newly calm incumbents could vote for a bill. This was on its way to being true, and only two incumbents lost their primaries in the cycle. The trouble was that one of them was Eric Cantor, and the talk radio backers of Dave Brat's campaign were explicit about making Cantor a casualty of immigration reform.

June 30 2014 5:40 PM

Winner, Promoted Tweet of the Day: Bobby Jindal

All credit here to Jeb Lund, who noticed that a hearty zinger uttered by (whoever controls the Twitter feed of) Bobby Jindal also paid to promote it.

June 30 2014 2:54 PM

What Nuva Rings and Peyote Have in Common Today

Cast your mind back to 1990. Got it? Found your Walkman, recovered your Ken Wahl poster and "Bomb Saddam" T-shirt? OK: It's April 17, and a 6–3 Supreme Court majority is ruling against Native Americans who ingested peyote as part of a religious service, then lost their jobs for doing drugs. (The drug panic is part of the 1990 flashback.)

"Precisely because 'we are a cosmopolitan nation made up of people of almost every conceivable religious preference,' " wrote Anontin Scalia, quoting from Braunfeld v. Brown, "and precisely because we value and protect that religious divergence, we cannot afford the luxury of deeming presumptively invalid, as applied to the religious objector, every regulation of conduct that does not protect an interest of the highest order. The rule respondents favor would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind."

Three years later, after Bill Clinton becomes president, the Democratic Congress quickly passes the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. According to the new law, "government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability." It is generally understood that this will prevent religious minorities from being unfairly fired, like those poor peyote-takers were.

Now, return to the present, and trade your "Bomb Saddam" shirt for a "Drone ISIS" shirt. Liberals point out that Scalia once made such a compelling case against religious exemptions to the law that he really can't rule for Hobby Lobby. In arguments, Elena Kagan (who is personally very friendly with Scalia) takes several shots across this particular bow.

It doesn't matter. Sam Alito writes an opinion, joined by Scalia, that cites the—wait for it—Religious Freedom Restoration Act as the reason Hobby Lobby cannot be compelled by the HHS to offer birth control.

June 30 2014 12:00 PM

How a Senate Race in Colorado Proves That “Hobby Lobby” Is Good for Democrat(ic Candidate)s

If you're a progressive in the year 2014, you think of the Supreme Court and the Jaws theme starts thud-thudding in your brain. Ever since 2006, when Sandra Day O'Connor's swing vote was replaced by Sam Alito's Federalist Society autopen, the high court has been slanted right. Anything you believe in can, theoretically, be undone until it slants the other way. Gay rights aside, no progressive cause is safe from the strict-constructionist interpretation of the Constitution. Today's Harris decision is already widely understood as Alito laying the groundwork for a stronger future case to basically implode public-sector unions.

This is why the Hobby Lobby decision is narrowly helpful for Democrats.

Hear me out! There is a reason why progressive legal observers keep nervously asking if Ruth Bader Ginsburg will retire soon. Democrats have a strong 55-seat Senate majority until January 2015. According to current polling, even if the rest of the close Senate races broke their way this year, come January that majority would be reduced to 50 seats. (Vice President Biden would break ties.) That assumes that Democrats don't bungle away the seats in states that voted for President Obama, like Colorado and Iowa. In a Senate controlled by Republicans, in the new toxic environment of SCOTUS warfare, it's very hard to imagine Ginsburg (or Stephen Breyer) being replaced by someone as reliably progressive.*

On the margins—as seen in the inboxes of anyone who gets end-of-quarter fundraising emails from candidates—Hobby Lobby elevates an issue that scares Democratic voters. The birth control coverage mandate was widely popular before today's decision. Democrats in Colorado and Alaska had been battering their likely opponents by portraying them as enemies of birth control and choice. In Colorado—an example I like because both Sen. Mark Udall and challenger Rep. Cory Gardner are quite adroit—Udall hammered Gardner's support for a fetal personhood amendment, and Gardner countered late by coming out for making birth control more available. He reacted to the Hobby Lobby decision with similar acrobatics:

The court made the right decision today to protect religious liberty and the First Amendment. The Food and Drug Administration now needs to move quickly to make oral contraceptives available to adults without a prescription.

Gardner quickly blurted "religious liberty!" and scrambled to portray himself as pro-contraception access. The lesson: Democrats have more to gain if voters (unmarried women especially) start to believe that the 2014 election will chip away at reproductive rights. It's the sort of thing Democrats always say, about every election, but here's a fresh issue, a fresh reminder that they might not be happy with the party but do they really want more Alitos on the bench?

*The last Supreme Court nominee to lose a nomination outright was Robert Bork, defeated by the Democratic Senate elected in 1986. Technically, sure, any SCOTUS nominee can be filibustered, but this has not been tried since the 1968 Abe Fortas nomination, and not tried at all in the modern era of the 60-vote threshold.

June 30 2014 10:58 AM

A Hot Day at SCOTUS

Knowing that my Slate colleagues would climb all over the details of today's SCOTUS decisions, I spent the late morning at the circus. Around 10 a.m. I ducked around the cement truck that cuts off the space in front of the court, and saw a sign reading "CWA."

What was this? Were labor groups rallying outside the court to react to Harris v. Quinn, the case that threatened to undermine public-sector unions by freeing some workers from paying dues?

No, it was a sign for the faded but still omnipresent Concerned Women for America, in a cluster of protesters waiting for the Hobby Lobby decision. There was no labor presence there to react or chant when Harris came down, and no one in the crowd was really talking about it. (Lucky for labor, the decision fell far short of the precedent-slashing, union-killing nightmare that was imagined when Sam Alito was announced as the author. "Partial public employees" would be spared from paying dues, but not other workers.)

The abortion rights protesters ran the square, with their most camera-friendly interns and staffers lofting signs, joined by the mainstays of all abortion decision circuses. The "truth truck" guy, who drives around the city with a vehicle wrapped by pictures of dead fetuses. The dude wearing a Bible costume that covered his entire body, exposing only his lower legs and black-socked ankles.

I navigated past the crowd, which meant skipping the pro-life groups (who were giving reporters some quotes about how the left dehumanized women) and standing among the pro-choicers. They had adapted the amusingly realistic chant now being deployed for the U.S. soccer team: I believe! I believe that! I believe that we! I believe that we will! I believe that we will win!

The chanting made even less sense in the context of an Alito-written opinion, being handed off and run over to reporters, than in the context of a busy soccer game. Around 10:20, a cheer went up from the distant pro-life cluster. They had read the decision, and they'd won; the majority even took for granted that "plaintiffs have religious reasons for providing health-insurance coverage for their employees."

The pro-choicers around me shared a look, then jumped right into a new chant: "Pro-life, that's a lie, you don't care if women die." Belief isn't everything, unless you happen to own a hobby supply chain.

June 30 2014 8:41 AM

Ted Cruz and the Walter Mondale Myth

I'm back from a book-writing jaunt (sadly, not a book-completing jaunt, not yet), and what better way to return to the fray of politics than by discussing the 1984 presidential election?

The umpteenth entry in the ongoing Ted Cruz profile series comes from Jeffrey Toobin, and it's a good 'un. A very meta one, too. Toobin manages to get Cruz, who prefers to stick to tested themes, describing his theory of argument. "Every battle is won before it’s fought," says Cruz, describing how he argued cases. "It’s won by choosing the terrain on which it will be fought."

Toobin ends up adopting Cruz's framing for many key events, from the defeat of the disabilities treaty (which plenty of conservatives lobbied on) to the "wacko birds" insult (which John McCain quoted from a WSJ op-ed, and which Cruz happily repeats for crowds), to the government shutdown. "While the government was closed," writes Toobin, "the Obamacare Web site, healthcare.gov, made its disastrous début, and the polls turned against the Democrats."

In reality, the two-week shutdown ended after Democrats bounced in the polls. The swoon only came after it ended, and media attention returned to the HealthCare.gov debacle. Had there been no shutdown, had the media been focused on HealthCare.gov during the nadir—remember the first day, when only six human beings could sign up?—the swoon would have come earlier and harder.* But in the nation's most prestigious magazine, the narrative of the shutdown is the one preferred by Cruz.

Anyway, not my point. I come to quibble with Toobin and an anonymous Democrat.

Cruz’s concerted attempt to establish himself as the most extreme conservative in the race for the Republican nomination has not evoked much fear in Democrats. “We all hope he runs,” one Democratic senator told me. “He’s their Mondale.” (Running against Reagan as an unalloyed liberal in 1984, Walter Mondale lost every state but his native Minnesota.)

The idea that Walter Mondale lost that election so badly because he ran too far to the left is really unkillable. It's a little simpler than the truth. Mondale only won his nomination after an extended primary fight with Gary Hart, and yes, he did represent the labor and progressive wings of the party against Hart's studied reform politics. But the "Mondale ran to the left" trope is based on a commonly misunderstood line from his 1984 acceptance speech. Here is how it's remembered.

Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won't tell you. I just did.

The "lesson" is that Mondale promised to raise taxes and voters rejected it. But why was he saying this? Read the whole section of the speech.

Here is the truth about the future: We are living on borrowed money and borrowed time. These deficits hike interest rates, clobber exports, stunt investment, kill jobs, undermine growth, cheat our kids, and shrink our future.
Whoever is inaugurated in January, the American people will have to pay Mr. Reagan's bills. The budget will be squeezed. Taxes will go up. And anyone who says they won't is not telling the truth to the American people.
I mean business. By the end of my first term, I will reduce the Reagan budget deficit by two-thirds.
Let's tell the truth. It must be done, it must be done. Mr. Reagan will raise taxes, and so will I. He won't tell you. I just did.
There's another difference. When he raises taxes, it won't be done fairly. He will sock it to average-income families again, and leave his rich friends alone. And I won't stand for it. And neither will you and neither will the American people.
To the corporations and freeloaders who play the loopholes or pay no taxes, my message is: Your free ride is over.
To the Congress, my message is: We must cut spending and pay as we go. If you don't hold the line, I will: That's what the veto is for.

Mondale's tax line was a deficit-scold line. And it wasn't a one-off. Mondale's campaign ads asked voters to consider what the future would hold if Reagan kept running deficits. “There are plans today to put you $18,000 in debt: your share of Mr. Reagan's deficits," ran one ad. "But when Mondale moves into the White House, he won't forget about your place. He'll cut spending, close tax loopholes, and put new taxes in a trust fund to pay off Reagan's debt.”

 

The problem with this was that voters didn't truly worry about the deficits when the economy was growing. The recession of the early 1980s had ended by the time Mondale won his party's nomination—what had looked like a valuable chance to challenge a failing president had become basically worthless. (In the winter of 1982, polls showed that either Mondale or Ted Kennedy would beat Reagan.) Mondale tried to counteract this by insisting that the good times were based on a bubble of bad debt.

“Ronald Reagan says the economy is moving up," read one ad. "It is: up on a mountain of debt and record Reagan deficits. More borrowing than all the other presidents in history combined. That will drive interest rates up, slow the economy down,”

 

Several points here. One, most obviously, the out-of-power party doesn't run well when the economy is booming. Two, the deficit-scold message only works when the economy is slumping. (That's a little frustrating, as these are the times when deficit spending makes the most sense.) Three, it's better to get "the narrative" right, but convincing the media you got it right and convincing the voters are actually different skills.

*I remember this vividly, because I crowdsourced a story about how a few people without insurance were adapting to Obamacare, and to my surprise none of the subjects could log on.

June 25 2014 5:46 PM

New IRS Scandal: Lois Lerner Thought About Doing Something, Then Didn’t Do It

Like many people who were supposed to be finishing something, I wasted a little time on Facebook today, and came across a Republican friend's reaction to a new break in the IRS scandal. This, he said, was the story "going nuclear"—this discovery by the Ways and Means Committee that there was a "push to audit Senator Chuck Grassley."

Today, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) announced the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) targeting of conservative individuals includes a sitting United States Senator.  According to emails reviewed by the Committee under its Section 6103 authority, which allows the Committee to review confidential taxpayer information, Lois Lerner sought to have Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) referred for IRS examination. 
 
“We have seen a lot of unbelievable things in this investigation, but the fact that Lois Lerner attempted to initiate an apparently baseless IRS examination against a sitting Republican United States Senator is shocking,” said Camp.  “At every turn, Lerner was using the IRS as a tool for political purposes in defiance of taxpayer rights."

That certainly sounds bad, but given that the news of the IRS "losing" years of Lerner emails had effectively restarted the scandal, I'm not sure this strange and less-than-it-seems story amounts to Chernobyl. What did Lerner actually do? The timeline is provided by Ways and Means in the form of an email that includes previous emails in a string. I'll just post them chronologically. In the first email, from Dec. 3, 2012, we see a sort of garbled reminder that Lerner should attend a [redacted] event.

The next morning, Lerner asks Matthew Giuliano, an attorney who was at the time a manager at the IRS, if the invitation was kosher.

Giuliano quickly responds. (The time stamps don't match up here, but this appears as a response to the above email.)

To which Lerner responds:

That's it. That's the whole discussion. Lerner is ridiculously quick on the trigger to suggest referring the invitation to "exam," but even there, it's not clear that she wants Grassley referred as much as she wants an invitation that appears to be flouting rules. After she gets an explanation of everything it would take for Grassley to be at fault, Lerner shrugs and adds that she wouldn't want to share a stage at the event, the details of which, again, are obscured. That's a "push to audit" the senator?

I'm not naive enough to think the lack of things happening here means there's no story. When I asked the Twitterverse what the scandal was, I was asked rhetorically whether I was "okay" with Lerner's aborted audit and her itch to "criminalize GOPers." Let me be clear: I am as much against Lerner's "audit of Chuck Grassley" as I am Lerner's decision to set a school bus on fire and cut the brakes, watching it careen off a bridge and into a canyon. As she appears to have done neither of these horrible things, I'd argue that the vanishing of the IRS's and EPA's tranches of emails, for reasons that confound techies, are much more scandalous than the hour Lerner apparently spent wondering if she had to refer a senatorial speaking invitation to the exam department.

(It would be nice to ask Lerner what she meant, but she's hardly doing an AMA right now.)

Update: Missed this before, but the AP appears to have been the first on the "Grassley audit" story with a story headlined: "Emails: IRS Official Sought Audit of GOP Senator." You have to read down to the fifth graf to learn this:

It was unclear from the emails whether Lerner was suggesting that Grassley or the group be audited — or both. The other IRS official, Matthew Giuliano, waived her off, saying an audit would be premature because Grassley hadn't even accepted the invitation.

Unclear what Lerner was suggesting, but clear enough for a screaming headline confirming that she "sought an audit" of a pesky Republican senator.

Update II: Why overstate the story in a headline when you can perform some surgery on the emails themselves? At Townhall.com, Katie Pavlich files a story titled "Lois Lerner Asked IRS to Audit Republican Senator Chuck Grassley," adds the detail that Lerner opened email that "didn't belong to her in the first place" (it was sent to her), and quotes Lerner as writing "Perhaps refer him to exam?" The actual quote, in the emails printed at this blog and at Townhall, was the slightly more cryptic "Perhaps we should refer to Exam?" But that phrasing leaves some confusion as to whether Lerner meant Grassley or the group, so out it goes.

Update III: A friendly reader with knowledge of the tax-exempt divisions department writes in:

There's no possible way Lois actually had any authority to refer Grassley himself to Exam. She was the director of Exempt Organizations, for God's sake, one office in TE/GE, an IRS backwater. An audit of Grassley would have come from an entirely different operating division, Wage and Investment (W&I). The IRS is like a corporation with several subsidiaries. What's being suggested here makes as much sense as someone about five levels deep in Disney Cruise Lines calling Marvel Studios and telling them they should really think about a Howard the Duck reboot and would be received with a similar response.

OK, so let's look at which media outlets botched the story in the endless quest for a good headline and a Drudge link.

"Emails Reveal Former IRS Official At Center Of Scandal Suggested Targeting A Sitting GOP Senator For Audit" (Business Insider)

"Lerner sought IRS audit of sitting GOP senator, emails show" (Fox News)

"Lois Lerner of IRS sought audit of Grassley, emails say" (Des Moines Register)

Those headlines are as fake as Chuck Grassley's reaction to the story is confusing. In a statement last night—released 18 months after the emails were exchanged, months in which Grassley did not claim to be audited—the senator declared it "very troubling that a simple clerical mix-up could get a taxpayer immediately referred for an IRS exam without any due diligence from agency officials." That would be troubling, yes, except as the emails show us, the "agency officials" quickly decided that no one was being referred for an audit.

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