The White House is still reeling from a trio of scandals that just will not die: Benghazi, the IRS targeting of conservative groups and the DOJ’s wiretapping of AP and Fox News reporters phones. Now another scandal is on the horizon, officials in the Department of Health and Human Services have reportedly been using alternate email addresses to avoid disclosing information on Obamacare under federal Sunshine Laws.
While the evidence on whether the White House was involved in the DOJ’s or IRS’s actions is mixed the President has yet to take serious action on either issue. Instead, he has appeared to be above the fray and largely ignored the scandals. This has not helped him avoid being connected to the scandals however. According to new polls a plurality of voters in regards to the DOJ believe Eric Holder lied to Congress when he testified he had no involvement in the wiretapping of reporters phones. Likewise, these same voters do not believe the IRS’s actions were made solely at the Cincinnati field office by low-level officials.
The President’s lack of action may have also made him seem disconnected from the daily roll of governing. Liberals have dinged him for violating the 1st Amendment, conservatives for attacking conservative groups through the IRS and the middle remains apathetic due to the stuttering recovery. This is showing in polls. Before the scandals became full-blown in early March the President’s approval rating in the RCP average was near 50% and his disapproval hovered at 44%. Today, those numbers are much different with about 48% disapproving and about 47% approving. In numerous polling the President is below 50% in approval.
It might seem simple for the President to fix these problems. He could pledge to clean up the IRS, make sure it is devoid of partisan attacks on conservative groups and also fire Eric Holder (who increasingly looks like he lied to Congress-perjury). However, the loyalty President’s find in their top cabinet officials is not easy to replicate. Bill Clinton and Janet Reno had known each other in politics since Clinton was Governor in Arkansas. George Bush did not get rid of Donald Rumsfeld and Karl Rove until late in his second term because his family had worked with them since the 80’s. Eric Holder and Barack Obama have worked together since Harvard Law School. It does not hurt that they also agree ideologically. Also, Obama would have to stand up to the powerful union that virtually every member of the IRS is a member. It is unlikely the President would pick a fight with them.
Pressure from some Democratic circles has not moved the administration. Privately, moderate and conservative Democrats in Congress worry that the scandals may bleed into their races. Because of that many endangered House Democrats are joining Republicans in calling for a Special Prosecutor to investigate the IRS. Senate Democrats up for reelection this year have been more muted but they have subtlety echoing their fellow House members actions. This, as Democratic leadership is urging members to embrace key White House legislation that has passed or needs to be passed.
While the White House looks like it is running orderly and the scandals have not phased it, little actions show likewise. At every single White House press conference, Press Secretary Jay Carney is on the defensive about the scandals. The White House has had no new legislative proposals come out of its walls. This as the debt ceiling debate looms, student loan rates are set to double by July 1st, and sequestration continues to cause untold havoc to the economy (according to the White House).
Perhaps the White House has settled on a new strategy to try to change the narrative about their administration. The President recently blasted Senate Republicans for holding up his DC Circuit Court of Appeals nominees. The President has also hit House Republicans for playing politics with the student loan debate and warning them he will brook no fight on the debt ceiling. Many pundits credit this feistiness with helping turn around the 2012 election for Democrats.
But the 2012 election was in an environment where the Republican nominee was robotic and Congressional Republicans were appealing to the uber-right. Meanwhile, the White House had an election team driven on data and a lack of scandals to worry about. Today, that political environment is drastically different. The President cannot even get involved in the Immigration Reform debate in Congress because it might scare conservative Republicans and Democrats away from the bill.
It is unlikely these scandals are going to go away anytime soon. The media and Congressional Republicans will assure this. And as these scandals linger on the White House will suffer. As for the GOP, the question seems to be will they benefit or will they overplay their hand?
Update: It broke today that the White House and DOJ knew under FISA that millions of Americans who use FISA were having their phone calls recorded due to a top secret judicial order allowing such action. Whether this becomes a scandal or not remains to be seen.