Time to come clean, Mr. President
The White House tried the line that the current spate of scandals aren't scandals. The administration tried the excuse that it is all a GOP witch hunt. Hillary Clinton on Benghazi tried, "What difference does it make?" The president has repeatedly insisted he didn't know or wasn't told about significant, unprecedented policies (e.g. surveilling reporters, creating a new criminal theory to punish reporting). His spokesman even suggested it is a good thing for the president not to be told certain things (e.g. the IRS scandal) before he reads about it in the papers.
The Obama-friendly media has suggested throwing under the bus two women, the White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler and Lois Lerner, who took the Fifth, certainly not the most senior figures responsible for a spasm of overreach, political witch-hunting and egregious incompetence. Firing underlings isn't an effective strategy. It's a start, but not the sort of advice the White House should adopt with hopes this will all blow over in a month.
How about these steps?
President Obama instructs everyone in his administration to grant full cooperation to Congress, inspectors general and the FBI in whatever investigations transpired. That is what Bush did in the Valerie Plame incident, and senior officials understood it was not acceptable to take the Fifth.
He asks the State Department Accountability Review Board (already under scrutiny for its slap-dash job) to go question Hillary Clinton and other senior officials whom they did not bother to interview the first time on Benghazi.
The president offers his own staff (the national security adviser and his deputy, as well as the former White House counterterrorism adviser and now CIA chief John Brennan) to come clean on their roles in the IRS and Benghazi scandals.
The president fires Attorney General Eric Holder for, among other things, failing to adhere to and make certain his department followed the practice of every other administration regarding spying on reporters. He requests an independent prosecutor to determine if he lied to Congress about the non-written recusal. He hires a respected, independent-minded attorney general (as George W. Bush did with Michael Mukasey).
The president agrees to a press conference and answers all questions on Benghazi, the IRS, spying on reporters and the HHS shakedown of healthcare companies. He offers an apology to members of the press who were surveilled. He doesn't filibuster or impune the motives of those asking hard questions.
The president hires a senior, respected figure as chief of staff, who among other things is directed to replace any member of the communications team who misled the media and the American people.
The administration has acted in ways that outrage voters and embody, sorry to say, the Chicago Way (reward your friends, destroy enemies, use the law as a weapon). If Obama can't break himself of the addiction to Chicago bare-knuckles brawling with political opponents, his presidency will collapse. If he rises above it, he might accomplish something in his second term and keep the Senate in Democratic hands.
Is Senate slipping away from Dems?
Stuart Rothenberg writes that while President Obama's approval numbers haven't yet tanked, the political landscape has changed enough to affect his take on the Senate races:
For the past few years, the public's focus has been on Republicans' opposition to the president's agenda, their desire to shrink (even cripple) government and their conservatism. But the IRS scandal, along with controversies involving the attack in Benghazi and the Justice Department's collecting of journalists' telephone records, has change the political narrative.
In real terms, that means the Obama scandals put the White House "on the defensive and should boost enthusiasm on the political right throughout this year . Given the different natures of midterm electorates, the new political narrative increases the risk for Democratic candidates in red states, where Democrats must win independent and, in many cases, Republican voters to be successful."
He therefore shifts his ratings:
- West Virginia (Open seat; John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV, a Democrat, is retiring): From tossup/tilt Republican to lean Republican.
- South Dakota (Open seat; Tim Johnson, a Democrat, is retiring): From tossup/tilt Republican to lean Republican.
- Arkansas (Mark Pryor, a Democrat): From tossup/tilt Democratic to pure tossup.
- Louisiana (Mary L. Landrieu, a Democrat): From tossup/tilt Democratic to pure tossup.
- Alaska (Mark Begich, a Democrat): From lean Democratic to tossup/tilt Democratic.
- North Carolina (Kay Hagan, a Democrat): From lean Democratic to tossup/tilt Democratic.
This is precisely why Democrats shouldn't place too much credence in the president's poll numbers, and not only because the full impact of the scandals may not yet be felt. Obama is a lame duck. He's not on the ballot, but he and red-state Democrats' support for him are liabilities outside safe blue states. The key now for Republicans is to field solid candidates who won't blow themselves up.
These scandals may or may not be as bad as Watergate, but 2014 could be a lot like 1974. Richard Nixon wasn't on the ballot; he'd already been forced to leave office. Republicans lost nearly 50 House seats and four Senate seats, ceding control of both houses to the Dems. Before anyone belabors the point that no one thinks Obama will resign, understand that the point of the reference is to remind us that scandal-plagued White Houses are bad for their own party in midterms. The counter-example is 1998 when the Republicans were perceived as going nuts on the Monica Lewinsky scandal and lost five seats in the House and gained none in the Senate. (Not since 1934 did the party out of power in the White House fail to make gains in the midterm of the president's second term.)
To sum up, Democrats are kidding themselves if they think the scandals aren't bad news for 2014, but Republicans must stick to the facts and appear judicious in order to capitalize in the midterms.
Benghazi turns out to be a big deal, and not for just Republicans
The spin that the American people aren't interested in Benghazi or that it's only Republicans who think something is fishy isn't faring too well in a plethora of other polls.
The GOP figures on all these are off the charts (vs. the administration). But independents are much more like GOP voters than Dems. In some cases, they view the president more harshly.
The newest Post/ABC poll finds: "Last year's deadly attack on a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, is shaping up as a real political problem for President Obama, with concern extending well beyond the conservative base. More than half of Americans say his administration is trying to cover up the facts of the attack." Asked if the White House is engaged in a cover-up, 56 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of independents say yes.
From the latest Fox News poll (figures for independents are in parenthesis): 75 percent (77 percent of independents) are following closely or somewhat closely the scandal; voters' approval of President Obama's handling trails disapproval 32 to 53 percent (29 to 54 percent for independents); 60 percent (same for independents) think there was a cover-up; 62 percent (60 percent of independents) think the president could have done more to help Americans; and by a 50-to-37 percent margin (54-to-28 percent for independents), they think the misstatements were political, not to protect national security.
Earlier this month, Huffington Post reported that its poll showed "that 42 percent of Americans said they disapprove of the way it has been handled, while 27 percent said they approve." Independents disapproved by a 47-to-19 percent margin.
CNN shows voters disapprove of Obama's handling of the Benghazi scandal by a 53-to-42 percent margin. Among independents, 58 percent disapprove. CNN is an outlier, however, on whether the administration misled the public intentionally, finding only 44 percent (and 44 percent of independents) think it did. But there, too, 84 percent of all voters and 80 percent of independents think it is important or very important to get to the bottom of it. Fifty-nine percent of all voters and 58 percent of independents think the attack could have been prevented. Only 37 percent of all voters and 37 percent of independents think the GOP is overplaying its hand.
More troublesome for the left in all these polls is the growing distrust of government, no doubt a result of the cumulative impact of Benghazi, the Internal Revenue Service and the media-spying scandals. If you are a Democrat on the ballot in 2014, you might think hard about running interference for the White House. The public is fed up, and they'll have only Ds to take it out on in the midterms.
Give the public some credit. With most of the media ignoring Benghazi until recently and non-stop spin from the administration and its liberal enablers disparaging those seeking answers, the voters have figured out that it really does matter what happened and if our leaders lied to them.
Iran and Congress rebuke Obama's Syria policy
Two significant events yesterday suggested the president's position on Syria -- inert -- is getting more untenable by the day.
The United States has new evidence that Iran and Hezbollah have direct involvement with the Syrian regime, a senior State Department official told reporters traveling with Secretary of State John Kerry in Oman.
The official said that, according to the Free Syrian Army, Hezbollah and Iranian fighters have been helping the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad in Qusayr, near the opposition stronghold city of Homs.
It is the most visible effort we have seen of Hezbollah to engage directly in the fighting in Syria as a foreign force. We understand there are also Iranians up there," the official said. "This is an important thing to note -- the direct implication of foreigners fighting on Syrian soil now for the regime."
It may be important to note, but not to do anything about it. In short, Iran is fighting a proxy war -- as it has for decades -- against the United States, and the administration is doing nothing of consequence.
Congress however is acting. The Hill reports:
A bill to arm the Syrian opposition cleared its first legislative hurdle on Tuesday, easily passing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a vote of 15 to 3.
The lopsided vote is a bipartisan rebuke for President Obama, whose administration has consistently raised concerns that such weapons could fall into the hands of Islamist militants. Lawmakers, however, say the ongoing violence in Syria more than 70,000 people have been killed in the 26-month-old civil war and fears that Islamists are gaining the upper hand among the rebel groups supersede those concerns
The bill simply authorizes the president to make arms available to rebels who have been vetted, but even that is objectionable to the president, who is studiously attempting to remain inactive.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) made several incendiary claims. First, he labeled the effort a "rush to war" despite the bill's specific language that is not an authorization of the use of force. Certainly, this president is not contemplating the use of U.S. troops. There already is a war, with 70,000 dead. Second, he accused his fellow senators of aiding "allies of al-Qaeda." ("You will be funding today the allies of al-Qaeda. It's an irony you cannot overcome.") He even went so far as to assert that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's tenure had been good for (and presumably would be preferable for) Syrian Christians. At times he seemed to sing Assad's praises for housing Christians and opposing al-Qaeda.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) informed Paul that if al-Nusra succeeds, the Christians certainly would be exterminated. And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) rebuked him, citing Assad's role in harboring terrorists who have inflicted violence on Christians and others.
The rebuttal to Paul was bipartisan and harsh:
Paul's two amendments constituted his first legislative act to soften the Menendez-Corker bill, which earned the support of powerful lawmakers from Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) -- all of whom rejected Paul's allegations. "I don't think any member of this committee would vote for anything we thought was going to arm al Qaeda," said Rubio. "Al Qaeda, unfortunately, is well-armed," added [Sen. Robert] Menendez. "That is the present reality in Syria." . . . Corker added that not arming rebel groups such as the more moderate Free Syrian Army would ensure the dominance of the better-equipped al-Nusra Front.
In truth, we have no good options now because the president has remained passive for so long. Had President Obama acted swiftly to help oust Assad or to support Syrian rebels before the influx of jihadists, we would not now be facing a Hobson's choice. Had he acted swiftly to inflict damage on the regime after the use of chemical weapons was discovered, Iran might have thought twice about aiding Assad. But now we sit, with only rotten alternatives and the widespread impression of U.S. weakness.
If we do nothing, Assad, with his chemical weapons and Iranian protectors, may well survive. Alternatively, our passivity may hand the reins to al-Nusra Front. And, having done nothing to alleviate their plight, we will certainly earn the enmity of the Syrian people.
Is arming the "better" rebels preferable to doing nothing, allowing either Assad or al-Nusra to prevail? Yes. Is there a great risk that by doing nothing we will confirm Iran's suspicions that we are willing to assent to their dominance in the region? Yes.
The real lesson here is that we should not elect as commander in chief someone who lacks the ability and will to defend U.S. interests. And, moreover, it is critical to find a president who won't concede Iranian hegemony in a region in which a resolute U.S. presence once prevailed.
The press vs. the White House
The Obama administration has a particularly ineffective and ham-handed approach to the media. It has launched an unprecedented attack on journalists, going so far as to label James Rosen's ordinary newsgathering as a criminal. It sought from its first days in office to delegitimize Fox News and limit its press access. It has evaded, delivered half-truths (and smaller fractions) and tried to frustrate mainstream reporters. But as the White House is falling down around its ears, the administration calls in lefty journalists for a private meeting. This is the distillation of "you're either with us or against us."
The strategy is not going so well. Mainstream reporters are lashing out at Jay Carney in the briefing room, while the reporting is generally hard-hitting on the full range of White House scandals. And a chunk of left-of-center pundits is scathing. Dan Pfeiffer's outing on Sunday was generally panned and earned the White House another four Pinocchios.
Ryan Lizza has added to the reporting on the Rosen case, explaining:
Ronald C. Machen, Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, who is prosecuting the case, has seized records associated with two phone numbers at the White House, at least five numbers associated with Fox News, and one that has the same area code and exchange as Rosen's personal-cell-phone number (the last four numbers are redacted).
In all, Ronald C. Machen, Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, has seized records associated with over thirty different phone numbers.
Fox, unsurprisingly, has vowed to stand behind Rosen. ("We are outraged to learn [Monday] that James Rosen was named a criminal co-conspirator for simply doing his job as a reporter. In fact, it is downright chilling. We will unequivocally defend his right to operate as a member of what up until now has always been a free press.") Fox is anything but marginalized.
Meanwhile, the White House Correspondents' Association has belatedly entered the fray. Referencing Carney's statement at a briefing that "if you're asking me whether the president believes that journalists should be prosecuted for doing their jobs, the answer is no," the group declared:
Indeed, reporters should never be threatened with prosecution for the simple act of doing their jobs. The problem is that in two recent cases, one involving Fox News' James Rosen and the other focused on the Associated Press, serious questions have been raised about whether our government has gotten far too aggressive in its monitoring of reporters' movements, phone records, and even personal email.
We do not know all of the facts in these cases, so we will just say this in general: Our country was founded on the principle of freedom of the press and nothing is more sacred to our profession. So we stand in strong solidarity with our colleagues who have been scrutinized. And in terms of the administration, ultimately what will matter more in all of these cases is action not words.
Carney's statement is typical of the weasel words we've come to expect in this administration. Is Obama the president who can halt criminalization of the media or a distant observer reflecting on events beyond his control?
If Obama actually means what Carney says, he should order the documents from the fishing expedition be returned, instruct the DOJ not to pursue such secret dragnets in the future and shift from saying he has "no apologies" to offering one.
In a real sense, then, the White House has gotten its way. The media is now divided between sycophantic apologists and everyone else. There are fewer of the former, however, by the day, and those who remain have, by close identification to the panic-stricken administration, lost a great deal of influence.
From press adoration in 2008 to open warfare in 2013. It's quite a transformation.