Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 24, 2014

Damage Control: Obama’s Wednesday News Dump

The White House worked overtime Wednesday to try to change the narrative on two ongoing controversies embroiling the Obama administration.

First, it called reporters to a sudden afternoon “deep background” briefing, according to CQ Roll Call’s harried White House reporter, Steven T. Dennis. Just as Dennis emailed the newsroom that he was in possession of a binder full of emails relating to the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack on a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, the White House announced that the president would give a 6 p.m. statement on the ongoing scandal over the IRS’s decision to target conservative groups seeking non-profit status for extra scrutiny.

Whether the one-two punch will actually take the wind out of Republicans’ sails is yet to be seen, but there were some signs that Obama had successfully put the GOP on defense for the first time in a few weeks.

The president’s announcement that he had asked for and received the resignation of acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller seemed to leave Republicans with little to do but praise Obama and pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., for example, tweeted that he was glad Obama had taken his advice: “Pleased Pres Obama listened to my call for accountability. New IRS Commissioner is necessary to begin to restore public confidence.”

Of course, the GOP’s current attempts to block the president’s picks for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Labor Department may foreshadow the confirmation debate that’s likely to come, once Obama actually nominates someone to the post.

Other Republicans seemed to have not heard Obama say that he would work hand-in-hand with Congress to fix problems at the IRS.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., released a statement shortly after the president spoke. “If the President is as concerned about this issue as he claims, he’ll work openly and transparently with Congress to get to the bottom of the scandal — no stonewalling, no half-answers, no withholding of witnesses,” he said. “These allegations are serious — that there was an effort to bring the power of the federal government to bear on those the administration disagreed with, in the middle of a heated national election. We are determined to get answers.”

To be fair, McConnell probably doesn’t trust Obama’s promise to help Congress investigate his administration.

Meanwhile, the White House hopes the 100 pages of internal documents relating to Benghazi will cut into the GOP’s narrative that the White House and State Department staffers sought to downplay the idea that the attack — which killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others — was caused by terrorists.

As Dennis reported for CQ.com, senior administration officials contend that the Benghazi talking points used by administration officials after the attack were edited almost exclusively by CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell.

“Morell independently shared State Department concerns about the level of detail in the talking points, and felt it would not be professional to include repeated CIA warnings about violence in Benghazi without giving the State Department a chance to say what it had done to respond to those warnings,” Dennis reported. “Administration officials also emphasized that the emails given to reporters — and earlier shown to congressional investigators — show that it was the CIA that took out references to al-Qaida and inserted references to protests into the talking points before the White House ever saw them.”

But there still appears to be plenty of fodder for Republicans, given that the emails include concerns from State Department staff that they would be criticized by Congress for failing to heed warnings about security threats.

As Speaker John A. Boehner’s spokesman Brendan Buck said Wednesday evening, “The seemingly political nature of the State Department’s concerns raises questions about the motivations behind these changes and who at the State Department was seeking them. This release is long overdue and there are relevant documents the administration has still refused to produce. We hope, however, that this limited release of documents is a sign of more cooperation to come.”

Emily Pierce is deputy editor of Roll Call.

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