Power Play

Move on to What?

White House tries to shift from scandal, is there an independent counsel coming, and reporters rankled over records grab


“Already, officials that would normally talk to us, and people we talk to in the normal course of newsgathering are already saying to us that they’re a little reluctant to talk to us. They fear that they will be monitored by the government…It’s not hypothetical, we’re actually seeing impact already.”

-- Gary Pruitt, president of the Associated Press, on “Face the Nation.”

How does an administration move on from scandals that are still unfolding?

The answer: Not very effectively.


President Obama and his team tried last week to shift the focus to “middle-class jobs” and this week is working to talk about counterterrorism and national security with a big policy speech dealing with the old vogue topic of drones.

But not even robot killing machines in the sky will be able to distract the press and public, unless of course the president is announcing that the IRS field office in Cincinnati was equipped with drones to buzz the offices of the Lubbock Tea Party.

His second-term agenda was already mostly toast before Scandalmania hit town and the political focus was quickly shifting to next year’s midterm elections and, in related news, the aggravations of implementing Obama’s 2010 health law. Unless the president is ready to start bombing Iran, Syria or North Korea, there isn’t much for him to turn the discussion to.

The Boston bombing is still a recent fascination, but no president would like to call attention to the first large-scale, domestic terrorist attack in more than 11 years. Kicking up the terror alert level wouldn’t help Obama restore public confidence in his administration.

And the next predictable big story is the coming clash with congressional Republicans over a full-year plan for federal borrowing and spending. Budget news is a tough sell most of the time, and with most already expecting a continuation of small-bore brinksmanship from both sides, there’s even less appeal. Unless Obama is ready to come out in favor of Medicare vouchers, there’s little chance for him to make news. Taking Republicans out for dinner won’t make the front pages anymore.

So how do you demand that reporters “move on” when there’s nothing to move on to?

The White House is looking to claim scandal victory because it was shown that House Republicans overcooked their characterizations of the administration cover up of the involvement of Islamist militants in the raid on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya. “We deceived you, but not as badly as our opponents claimed,” has got to be the slimmest solace ever offered to reporters on a scandal.

But while the Benghazi botch and cover up continues to simmer, the other two scandals besetting the administration are boiling over.

The alarm over the Department of Justice’s severe snooping at the Associated Press has grown, not shrunk, in the week since the news broke. Rather than backing down, the nation’s leading wire service, is stepping up and calling on the president to “rein in” the agency.

Reporters and pundits left, right and center are terribly uneasy with the Obama standard for spying on the press and there has so far been nothing like a satisfactory answer from anyone on Team Obama. Invoking national security and then clamming up won’t do when a president is conjuring a power that would have raised alarm even in the days immediately after 9/11.

But it’s the IRS that really has Obama up to his ears in crocodiles.

Even the announcement of the scandal is scandalous. The IRS official who went public with the internal audit that found the agency had targeted Obama’s political enemies planted a phony question on the topic with a friendly lawyer at a roundtable discussion for tax attorneys. Don’t do that.

The official, Lois Lerner, remains on the job. As does everyone who has so far been publicly identified in association with the scandal. The president is this week to nominate a mid-level administration official to take over the troubled agency, not a signal that Obama yet understands how damaging the IRS scandal is and will be to his administration.

Team Obama is trying to take a page out of the Clinton playbook for dealing with scandal. Democrats are trying to demonize the accusers and urge reporters to move on to more important issues.

But that’s a lot easier to do when what you’re asking people to move on from is ultimately about oral sex.  Perjury, yes. Obstruction, yes. But perjury and obstruction about the ministrations of a White House intern. Gross, perhaps, but it didn’t affect any citizens until parents had to start covering their children’s ears during the evening news.

When the IRS and the Department of Justice are accused of harassing the public and the press, there’s a lot more at stake here than the redefinition of sex. By trying to move on so quickly and without reassuring voters that the problems have been corrected, Obama is leaving a strong impression that he has something to hide.

To allay those concerns, the president would be far better off to get serious, hunker down and address these concerns.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET  at  http:live.foxnews.com.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.