Ask Aaron: This week in politics

May 14, 2013

Aaron Blake live chatted with readers in his new weekly Post Politics chat series.

Hello all, and welcome to the second weekly "Ask Aaron" live chat!

We had a great discussion last week of the Mark Sanford special election. This week, we confront much weightier and more national issues -- specifically the trifecta of the IRS scandal, the Benghazi investigation, and now this report that the Justice Department secretly obtained AP phone records.

But we've also got some key Senate developments, with Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.) and former congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) opting not to run and complicating Democrats' 2014 majority calculus.

So what's on your mind? Ask away...

Aaron, are you getting your own regular chat? That is great news. About this IRS thing. First of all, we haven't seen the full IG report, just the leaked portions, but don't let that stop anyone from jumping to conclusions. Second, is it possible that the IRS was scrutinizing lots of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status around the year 2010 because - gosh - there were lots and lots of new conservative groups cropping up around that time? Anyone remember the rise of the Tea Party movement was around that time? And isn't it the IRS's job, really, to make sure that groups requesting tax-exempt status are following the requirements? What is the big deal here?

To answer your first question: Yes. Every Tuesday at 2 p.m. Be there or be square.

To the second question: I've been a little unclear on this as well. When IRS official Lois Lerner held her disastrous conference call on Friday, she tried to suggest this wasn't politically motivated and that non-conservative-sounding group names may have been targeted as well. To this point, though, we have yet to see much/any evidence that left-leaning groups were targeted as well. If that evidence existed, I imagine the IRS (or someone else) would be very anxious to get it out. The fact that they haven't been able to produce it yet suggests it's not there.

You make a good point that Republicans were MUCH more out-front in the proliferation of political non-profits. The IRS could have made the same argument that you are making if they wanted to try and explain this away. My guess is that wasn't a tenable explanation because of the IG report that's coming out, and they knew it.

Obama's worst week ever?

Between last Tuesday and today? Quite possibly. 

Of course, journalists are often accused of having short memories. We might be forgetting something.

Months after the election, the media seems to have woken up to the fact that Obama lied about Benghazi. What do you think of the timing of the Fact Checker report that Obama did indeed blame a YouTube video and not terrorism for Benghazi?

Here is the fact checker piece that you reference, from the Post's Glenn Kessler:

It's really interesting how this debate has evolved over the last few months.

I think a big reason Obama got a pass on this during the debate was because Mitt Romney got tripped up in his facts, and Obama was a little more exacting with his language -- "terror" versus "terrorism."

But Glenn makes a great point that the initial White House statement on this didn't specifically say Benghazi was an act of terrorism -- or terror. It was more vague. And the BIG difference now is that we know that language that made more of a direct connection to terrorism was edited out of the talking points.

So people can accuse the media of dereliction of duty, but the fact is that we have more facts on this now, because of ABC's reporting on the 12 edits to the Benghazi talking points.

I was just wondering, um, how does that taste, Aaron? Do you ever get tired of being wrong? Just curious. Doubt you'll post this, but anyway. Kisses!

I'm all for accountability, but I believe that last Tuesday I said Sanford had the momentum. I'm not sure what you're referring to.

Check out the first question here:

I am a Minnesota native and also a University of Minnesota graduate. You know that based on my pedigree, I am most likely a Democrat. I was in fact until a few years ago, now I consider myself an independent. I was prepared to vote for Hillary Clinton for President versus Obama, now based on her performance as Secretary of State, I would not vote for her as a dog catcher. I wonder if Democrats understand what a mess she has made by not acknowledging she has full responsibility. She really is talking out of both sides of her mouth.

This is a really interesting comment. I do wonder when the sheen is going to come off her a little bit. She can't possibly keep her high-60s approval rating, one would think, in such a polarizing debate.

And even if you don't believe that she was direcetly responsible, the fact is that every day this controversy continues, her record as secretary of state continues to be an issue.

We'll see what the next poll says.

On the IRS scandal, who benefited? It seems like the IRS went to a lot of work to target these conservative groups -- creating reams of new questionaires, etc -- and they did it knowing they were violating IRS rules and breaking the law. That doesn't sound like IRS behavior. But Obama and the Democrats -- they certainly benefited. Why is the media so quick to let them off the hook? I know Obama is untouchable unless they come up with the IRS version of a stained blue dress, but it still seems like the easiest game of connect-the-dots ever.

I really don't think anybody is letting Obama "off the hook" on this one. If you've been watching the White House press briefings the last few days, the questions have been VERY tough -- on this and Benghazi.

I don't think, though, that you can say they were involved just because they may have benefitted from the extra targeting. We just don't have the evidence. But I would expect there to be plenty of digging on this, and we've already seen plenty of reports that contradict the IRS's version that this was simply "low-level staff."

I think Obama is going to lose the Senate in 2014 (IRS, AP, Benghazi..) If that happens, and the House stays as it is, his tenure is "over"?

This is quite possible, though still unlikely. Republicans are looking good in their quest to win two Democratic-held open seats in West Virginia and South Dakota. Beyond that, they would need to win four more seats, and they've got the opportunity.

If Obama has a GOP House and Senate in 2015 and 2016, it's hard to see him getting much done. Even when Obama had a Democratic House and a nearly filibuster-proof Senate in 2009, it was tough to pass the health care bill and cap and trade.

Aaron, there was a post on Gawker yesterday that claimed that liberal churches were also targeted by the IRS. However, it's on Gawker, so you need to realize that: there's more of an agenda on that site than in real media sites; it's not the most well-sourced reporting; and it is Gawker.

A ringing endorsement for Gawker!

I think we're going to have to wait for the IG report. Until then, everything is anecdotal. Just because a nonprofit was asked extra questions doesn't necessarily mean they and their kind were "targeted" for the wrong reasons. The fact is that the IRS is in the enforcement business, and there are probably plenty of examples of them giving nonprofits a hard time. The question is whether it was part of a pattern that targeted groups for partisan reasons.

Do people in South Carolina have any idea how people from other states view them? This latest election result, the incident of Joe Wilson yelling at Obama, etc. only make South Carolina look like they have no common sense.

In defense of my friends in South Carolina...

* My home state (Minnesota) has elected both a comedian and a professional wrestler to STATEWIDE office.

* Louisiana has reelected politicians who were either the subject of criminal investigations, under indictment or had been convicted.

* California elected the star of bad action movies as its governor.

* Of the living governors of Illinois, about half are in jail right now or have served time.

So, no, South Carolina doesn't have a monopoly on being politically weird.

Why are these political groups allowed to be tax-exempt in the first place? Is it just because Big Money runs Washington?

The distinction is that the groups are allowed to be tax-exempt if they don't participate directly in elections, but rather just advocate on issues. So they will often walk a fine line, criticizing a politicians' votes without directly saying not to vote for them, for example.

So basically, these groups are political/ideological; they're just not expressly saying "elect this person" or "don't elect this person."

If you were to eat at a Riverside Perkins with plans to order hash browns, which table would you choose to sit at?

Everyone knows the answer is Table No. 5.

Has Rep. Joe Kennedy been keeping his head down these first few months? What do you think about his political future?

I haven't heard much from him, with the exception of him opening a leadership PAC.

I think the question is whether he wants to stay in the House (where he will be safe forever) or eventually try to take the next step to the Senate like his Kennedy predecessors have. I don't think you can over-state how much that name means in Massachusetts and how easy (relatively speaking) it would be for him to win a statewide office.

But for him, it's probably best to bide his time and not ruffle feathers too early. Give it a few years, figure out how Congress works, and then start plotting the next move.

You'll excuse me if I don't get what the distinction is supposed to be between "terror" and "terrorism". Frankly this hair-splitting about after-the-fact characterization seems totally idiotic to me. But I guess that's the way the outrage machine works.

I think the distinction is more about directly labeling something "terrorism" versus talking broadly about "acts of terror."

But to your point: I don't think the talking points, by themselves, are the big issue for Republicans. What they do, though, is bolster the GOP's argument on the broader issue of Benghazi -- i.e. 'the administration covered something up or screwed up.' If Republicans can plant that seed of doubt using the administration's handling of its talking points, the rest of their case becomes easier to make.

But remember, those talking points probably cost Susan Rice a nomination as secretary of state. So it's not like they're nothing.

With everything else blowing up, is immigration reform DOA? As an immigration reform advocate, I don't even trust the Democrats' motives because they might want to blame the Republicans and just keep getting 70% of the Hispanic vote.

At this point, Republicans in Congress say they are still optimistic that they can pass immigration reform and that the well isn't yet poisoned. But you have to believe that this Benghazi thing, in particular, is only going to inflame the partisanship that already exists here.

I think the prospects for passing immigration reform are often over-estimated. It's going to be very tough to get it through the House. That was true two weeks ago and it's probably more true now.

Alex Ov blew the playoffs! and by a 5-0 score! Doesn't he get some love?

For the first time in my life, I made a point to watch a Capitals game last night. I learned my lesson.

I will run it by The Fix boss...

Thanks again to everyone for another spirited chat. Lots of great questions and comments -- including many that we didn't get to, unfortunately.

But that's what next week's chat is for! We'll see you at 2 p.m. next Tuesday.

In This Chat
Aaron Blake
Aaron Blake covers national politics at the Washington Post, where he writes regularly for the Fix, the Post's top political blog. A Minnesota native and summa cum laude graduate of the University of Minnesota, Aaron has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and The Hill newspaper. Aaron and his wife, Danielle, live in Annandale, Va.
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