The White House’s terrible, horrible Friday spills over: Everything that happened last Friday — the reporting on the revisions to the Benghazi talking points, the news that the IRS had targeted conservative groups, reporters pummeling White House Press Secretary Jay Carney at his briefing — represented the White House’s worst day since the first presidential debate. And it all spilled over to the Sunday shows and today’s news. As the Washington Post now reports, “At various points over the past two years, Internal Revenue Service officials singled out for scrutiny not only groups with ‘tea party’ or ‘patriot’ in their names but also nonprofit groups that criticized the government and sought to educate Americans about the U.S. Constitution, according to documents in an audit conducted by the agency’s inspector general.” Indeed, the IRS story is bigger long-term problem for the Obama administration than perhaps it realized on Friday afternoon when its initial response lacked a real sense of outrage.
*** IRS story packs a bigger political punch: One reason why is because Benghazi has already been litigated so much (at congressional hearings, at two presidential debates, during Susan Rice’s consideration for the secretary of state job). But Friday’s revelation that the IRS had targeted conservative-sounding names (and not liberal-sounding ones) in applications for tax-exempt status will trigger new congressional hearings and new questions for the president and his team. More significantly, the IRS news is a political gift to a Republican Party whose base was strained on immigration (remember that Heritage Foundation study?) and even on guns (remember the tough questions Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Jeff Flake were getting?). Now, you’re seeing a GOP base united by two things they absolutely dislike: President Obama and the Internal Revenue Service. The news also is a gift to Republicans like Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, or any incumbent Republican in Washington hoping to avoid a tough primary in 2014 — they get to demagogue the heck out of this story and show they will stand up for the Tea Party.
*** Slow ride, take it easy: For the Obama White House, if there’s one common theme to both the Benghazi and IRS stories, it’s how slowly it responded to them. It’s something that Sen. Dianne Feinstein alluded to on “Meet the Press” yesterday when NBC’s David Gregory asked her what she would have liked to see Obama or Secretary of State Hillary Clinton do different after Benghazi. “Oh, to move faster. To say, ‘Yes, this was in fact a terrorist act.’ I mean, it was so evident.” When Gregory asked her why the administration dragged its heels, Feinstein responded, “I think this is a cautious administration. You see it in other respects.” That’s a kind interpretation. On Benghazi, the White House is essentially leading reporters to believe they were ultimately refereeing a bureaucratic turf fight between the CIA and State. But they also, when questioned, claim they’d do nothing differently other than — perhaps — delay giving a public accounting even further in the hours and days after the attack. When it comes to this Benghazi controversy, the questions for non-partisans (because partisans are searching only for what supports what they believe): Why did State push for the big change in the talking points? Was this about pushing back on the CIA, because it thought the agency was deflecting responsibility since the Benghazi outpost was more CIA than State? Was this about State doing CYA regarding CIA warnings about diplomatic security?
*** Q&A time for Obama: Don’t be surprised if these two stories — Benghazi and the IRS — come up at President Obama’s joint press conference with British PM David Cameron at 11:15 am ET. Afterward, Obama travels to New York City, where he hits two DNC fundraisers and then a joint DSCC/DCCC event. Also today, Vice President Biden delivers the commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania.
*** Cedar Rapids: Outside of Washington… Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) had a pretty important weekend in Iowa. The dispatch from NBC’s Mike O’Brien: “On Friday, Sen. Rand Paul put his stake in the ground for a possible run in 2016 by mocking the Obama administration and delivering a blistering critique of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. The administration has been criticized for failing to provide security during the attack and for its characterization of the incident afterward. Speaking at the Iowa GOP’s annual Lincoln Dinner, Paul questioned the initial response to the attacks and asked, ‘First question to Hillary Clinton: Where in the hell were the Marines?’ ‘It was inexcusable, it was a dereliction of duty, and it should preclude her from holding higher office,’ the Kentucky Republican added to loud applause” at the Lincoln Day Dinner in Cedar Rapids, IA. Also, speaking of Paul in Iowa, don’t miss the story in the Washington Post about Rand Paul’s concerted effort to reach out to evangelicals, a core GOP constituency that Rand’s father Ron, rarely courted and usually alienated.
*** New Gomez internal poll shows him trailing Markey by 3 points: In Massachusetts’ special Senate election, which takes place next month, the Gabriel Gomez (R) campaign has released an internal poll (conducted May 5-7) showing him trailing Ed Markey (D) by just three points, 46%-43%, with 11% undecided. That’s in contrast to independent surveys conducted around the same that finds Markey with larger leads (46%-38% per WBUR and 52%-35% per Suffolk). According to the Gomez internal poll, the Republican has a 14-point lead among independents (50%-36%) and is carrying Republican by a 94%-3% clip. Yet Markey leads among Democrats by just 73%-12%. (The question to ask: Does that continue to hold up?) The timing of the release of this Gomez internal poll is important: It comes after Democrats had hammered Gomez on news that he “claimed a $281,500 income tax deduction in 2005 for pledging not to make any visible changes to the facade of his 112-year-old Cohasset home… But Gomez and his wife, Sarah, were already barred from making any changes to the exterior of their home under the bylaws of the local Historical Commission, raising the question as to whether their donation — the price of which is based on the loss of value in their real estate — had any monetary worth.” Meanwhile, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has a new web video hitting Markey for the “bounced check” scandal of the early 1990s.
*** New Cuccinelli ad focuses on the economy, taxes: In Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli (R) is up with his second TV ad of the race, and the spot is all about the economy. “Small businesses are the backbone of our economy,” Cuccinelli says to the camera. “But they are being overtaxed and over regulated I’ve a plan to make Virginia an engine for job growth It starts with closing tax loopholes and putting an end to special interest giveaways. We’ll use the savings to cut taxes for those who’ve earned it.” Last week, NBC’s Mike O’Brien reported that Cuccinelli’s $1.4 billion tax plan “would cut the personal income tax rate to 5 percent (down from 5.75 percent) and reduce the corporate tax rate to 4 percent (from 6 percent)… [T]he attorney general would help offset the $1.4 billion price tag for his tax cuts by identifying and eliminating ‘outdated exemptions and loopholes that promote crony capitalism.'”
*** Herseth Sandlin won’t run in SD: And in South Dakota, here’s a big recruiting loss for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee: Stephanie Herseth Sandlin won’t run for the Senate. MSNBC’s Jessica Taylor gets comment from the DSCC, which had been bullish on Herseth Sandlin’s chances of getting into the race: “There will be a strong Democratic candidate that can seize on the divisive GOP primary and provide South Dakotans with a clear alternative to the dysfunction on the Republican side. Mike Rounds is like the second coming of Tommy Thompson.”