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The Issue: How far is the reach of the scandal monster dogging Obama?

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International   |   May 26, 2013 at 3:30 AM
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Talk about a whiff. The Obama administration, in one extraordinarily difficult stretch, was belted with the specters of the U.S. Consulate bombing, word of the IRS targeting conservative groups and the revelation that the FBI was rifling through The Associated Press' phone records.

Good morning, good afternoon and good night.

Uneasiness abounds on both sides of the aisle on Capitol Hill: The Democrats because of fear the fallout will stretch into the 2014 midterm elections and the Republicans because they want to make sure the fallout extends into the midterms without any missteps of their own. Hearings have been and will be held in the Republican-led House and the Democratically controlled Senate.

What do voters think?

They think questions about who knew what when in the Obama administration concerning the terrorist attacks on the consulate in Benghazi or the IRS scandal likely will remain big news a year from now, results of a recent Rasmussen Reports poll indicate.

The national survey found 55 percent of likely U.S. voters said they think it is at least somewhat likely at least one of the controversies will still be making headlines next year, versus a scant 8 percent who said such a scenario wasn't likely at all.

Rasmussen said other surveys revealed:

-- 57 percent of voters said they want the IRS offenders jailed or fired.

-- 45 percent rate the Obama administration's response to the Benghazi attack as poor.

-- 42 percent said they think the Justice Department was trying to bully media in the AP matter.

Despite the scandals -- and the drips-and-dribbles responses from the White House -- three polls released last week indicate the American public still holds Obama in good standing.

The polls by CNN, Pew and Washington Post-ABC News indicate the public believes there was wrongdoing by the IRS and in the aftermath of the Benghazi attack, but that belief hasn't affected Obama's standing -- for reasons that have nothing to do with the scandals. (The Washington Post-ABC poll pegs Obama's approval rating at 51 percent and CNN has it at 53 percent).

The main reason for the seeming disconnect is the economy.

"For the first time since the 100-day mark of Obama's first term, most say they are optimistic about the direction of the economy," the Post said. "More than half, 56 percent, say the economy is on the mend, the most to say so in polls since 2009."

White House spokesman Jay Carney has been peppered with questions about what Obama knew about the IRS matter, as well as when. Carney has been telling reporters that it was "appropriate" that nobody told the president anything since no action could be taken until an inspector general report came out. Anything before that would have been tantamount to interfering in an investigation.

Carney said it was "absurd" for anyone to suggest Obama was kept in the dark to maintain "plausible deniability."

In the hue and cry from numerous quarters over the FBI's seizure of phone records of 20 AP lines, Carney said the president, per a previous statement, wants to balance the freedom of the press with national security, Roll Call said.

Concerning Benghazi, some Republicans staffers told Roll Call they are concerned the GOP may be snatching defeat from the jaws of victory because of a preoccupation with chasing down and spreading unfounded or incorrect accusations that emerged from the recent House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearings into the attack that led to the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other diplomatic employees in September.

"We have got to get past that and figure out what are we going to do going forward," one staffer said. "Some of the accusations, I mean you wouldn't believe some of this stuff."

Discussions of security issues for the U.S. diplomatic community in Libya have, so far, been pushed offstage by accusations from some Republicans that Obama either failed to act out of incompetence, insufficient concern or because of some as-yet mysterious political motive, Roll Call said. Many of the allegations surfaced as part of an investigation led by House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

"There are some real issues there and then there is just some crazy stuff," a senior House GOP aide said.

Republicans would do well to remember what happened when they tried to oust Bill Clinton -- they failed at their impeachment effort and lost a few seats in the subsequent election and they failed to blunt effects of that election and created ill-will when they stood firm and shut down government, a Roll Call commentary said.

The circumstances are different now, but the cautionary tale remains. Republicans must be careful of overreach as they raise questions about the Obama administration's behavior and would enhance their chances at the polls if they can use the scandals to question the Obama team's performance and goals.

As far as Democrats and the White House are concerned, they must work to portray Republicans as preferring to embarrass the president rather than dealing with the concerns of real people, the commentary said.

As lawmakers engage in careless whispers, taking the offensive and being on the defensive, lobbyists say their short-term priorities are scandal-proof, The Hill said.

Congress' investigations have taken the spotlight off tax and immigration reform, and farm legislation, which is fine with the conservative group Heritage Action, which has been trying to back-burner some of those bills.

But farm lobbyists said that they believe House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., will keep his commitment to bring the farm bill to the floor this summer.

"We have lots of time to get this bill done by this fall. [House Speaker John] Boehner has said several times publicly we will do the farm bill this year, and I think he will stick to that commitment. It would be nice to have it done soon, but if it gets momentarily set aside, we can deal with that too," one top agriculture lobbyist told the Washington publication.

Steve Censky of the American Soybean Association was blunter.

"The House is and should be able to handle multiple issues," Censky said.

The investigations also haven't really affected the momentum of immigration reform, which passed out of its first Senate committee last week.

"Congress can walk and chew gum at the same time," said Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a business coalition advocating for an immigration overhaul.

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