Republicans Focus On Democrats' Political Misdeeds

Have Republicans finally succeeded in persuading the public at large that the Benghazi attack wasn't just a tragedy but actually a huge scandal? Another big problem for the Obama administration was revealed last week:the IRS was paying special attention to conservative political groups.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Again and again, President Obama's administration tries to pivot attention toward East Asia. Administration officials believe China and its neighbors are where the economic future lies.

GREENE: And yet it's the Middle East that keeps demanding the president's attention. It brings to mind that line from F. Scott Fitzgerald: So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

INSKEEP: Today the president meets the British prime minister, David Cameron. A big topic for them is the civil war in Syria. And we hear from Cameron elsewhere in the program.

GREENE: The president also faces questions about last year's attack on a U.S. diplomatic building in Benghazi.

INSKEEP: And joining us as she does most Mondays is Cokie Roberts. Cokie, good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, have Republicans finally succeeded in persuading the public-at-large that that attack in Benghazi, Libya wasn't just a tragedy but actually a huge scandal?

ROBERTS: Well, whether they've succeeded or not, they've certainly gotten some fuel for their fire from the emails that the State Department wrote about the talking points on the Benghazi raid.

INSKEEP: What to say about it afterward, that was the question.

ROBERTS: And what to say about it afterwards. And reporting on those internal emails shows that the State Department was trying to edit the talking points for - to make, to make things look better for them and for the secretary of State. And so now the Republicans are saying that this is a big scandal, that it's a cover-up, that a special committee should be named to investigate it, Democrats of course saying the Republicans are just trying to go after their possible presidential candidate in 2016, Hillary Clinton. The California Republican, Darrell Issa, the chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee in the House, disputes that. Here he is yesterday on NBC.

(SOUNDBITE OF NBC BROADCAST)

REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA: Hillary Clinton is not a target. President Obama is not a target. The target is how did we fail three different ways - fail to heed the warnings of an impending attack; fail to respond properly during the attack - at least we certainly could have done better and I think everyone knows that; and then fail to get the truth to the American people in a timely fashion.

ROBERTS: So this is going to continue and more hearings will be held. The Republicans aren't going to let this one go.

INSKEEP: And critics of the administration will point out that while they feel the administration was not paying enough attention to potential problems in Libya, the IRS was paying plenty of attention to conservative political groups. What do you make of that?

ROBERTS: Well, that is really quite a - amazing thing to have happened, for the IRS to have said that they gave extra scrutiny to groups that had the words Tea Party or Patriot in their names. This has a lot of people, actually in both parties, very upset. And the word Nixonian has been bandied about a lot this weekend, since those revelations came out.

Now, you know, the IRS says they didn't really mean it to be political; it was in a field office that this went on. And they were just trying to see if these groups were legitimately tax-exempt. But it doesn't bode well for the administration.

INSKEEP: Well, Cokie Roberts, this administration has been described - I don't even know how many times - as remarkably scandal-free. But when you get into the second term of an administration, there's often some dirty laundry that comes out. Is that what's happening now?

ROBERTS: Well, that is part of what's happening. And it certainly is scandal-free so far in terms of any kind of financial misdeeds or any sexual misdeeds. It's political misdeeds - and those are, you know, things that obviously the opposition party is going to go after. The president is very lucky that he has a Democratic Senate because it's much harder to have a full-blown bipartisan - or seemingly bipartisan - investigation when you own one house of the Congress. And that has been protecting him so far.

INSKEEP: And of course the president is also facing criticism about Syria.

ROBERTS: And that's something that you can certainly argue is considerably more serious. This is a question of real policy options. And as you said earlier, the British prime minister is coming to town and this is obviously going to be at the top of their agenda, is trying to figure out what to do about the ongoing crisis in Syria where the death toll keeps rising. And the president is under pressure to do something more, but nobody knows exactly what.

INSKEEP: Cokie, thanks very much as always.

ROBERTS: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's Cokie Roberts.

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