Faced with the IRS, Associated Press, and Benghazi controversies, President Obama tried to reintroduce himself Thursday as a repairman.
All three incidents raise concerns about management in his administration. While Obama said he welcomes any opportunity to further investigate all three issues, the president stressed that he’s part of the solution, not the problem.
“My concern is that if there is a problem in the government we fix it,” Obama said at a Rose Garden press conference after meeting with the prime minister of Turkey. “That’s my responsibility.”
This is an important change in the White House’s message. Political leaders tend to sculpt their words based on generic intentions—protect the middle class, spur job growth, reduce the deficit, etc. It is easier to dwell on intentions when gridlock makes passing laws close to impossible.
Actual outcomes—which can be messy and complicated—seldom receive as much attention from politicians. To address the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Tea Party-themed groups applying for nonprofit status, this means genuine cooperation between the White House and congressional Republicans.
Obama figures that the criminal investigation launched by the Justice Department and removing the acting IRS director is sufficient to address this particular scandal, but not the circumstances that enabled it.
In a critical statement, Obama said he planned to work with Congress to address the “ambiguity” in the law that contributed to the IRS scandal. As of now, aspiring 501(c)(4) groups with a political bent seem to dance along an unseen line between their stated IRS purpose of “social welfare” and their actual raison d’etre of getting preferred candidates elected.
The president expressed his confidence in Attorney General Eric Holder, who has come under fire for the Justice Department seizing two months of phone records belonging to AP reporters who wrote a story last year about a thwarted terrorist plot in Yemen.
Obama linked this to the death of four U.S. officials during a terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, noting the he is responsible for the safety of military, intelligence, and diplomatic personnel. Any leaks of classified information that “can” jeopardize their safety presents a risk, the president said.
Once again, Obama suggested that he could fix the situation by passing a media shield law. This would shift some of the burden onto House Republicans who might now need to balance their desire to get to the bottom of all three incidents with policy solutions of their own.
That would require a willingness by GOP lawmakers to trust the White House--something they have been hesitant to do after feeling they were burned in past negotiations over the debt ceiling and taxes, and which has been exacerbated by the possibility that the IRS actions were directed by higher level officials.
The GOP also—in theory—gains a political edge over the White House if faith in Obama erodes, a possibility not lost on House Speaker John Boehner in remarks Wednesday before the president spoke.
“Nothing dissolves the bonds between the people and their government like the arrogance of power here in Washington,” the Ohio Republican said. “And that’s what the American people are seeing today from the Obama administration. Remarkable arrogance.”