Thursday, May 16, 2013

Obama's 'juice' squeezed by scandals?

The burst of controversy out of the IRS and Justice Department, in addition to lingering GOP pressure over Benghazi, has sidelined attention to President Obama's agenda.?

By Linda Feldmann,?Staff writer / May 14, 2013

President Barack Obama walking from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington May 9. The president finds himself rocked by multiple controversies that are demoralizing his allies, emboldening his political foes -- and posing huge distractions.

Carolyn Kaster/AP/File


Suddenly, the Obama administration is under siege. And predictably, media talk of a ?second-term curse? is taking hold as the White House tries to push back on a narrative of scandal that seems to befall US presidents after reelection.

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From the Internal Revenue Service to Benghazi to the Justice Department, the actions of US officials are under scrutiny, leaving the White House gasping for air as it insists President Obama?s second-term agenda is alive and well.

But if, months from now, the White House is still playing 20 questions with the media over controversial behavior by government agencies, then Mr. Obama will have a hard time convincing Americans he?s still focused on policy. Typically, the first year of a president?s term is the most fertile period for passing legislation, before politics takes over in the run-up to midterm elections.

For now, the White House is struggling to make the questions stop. Even close allies of the president suggest the White House?s posture is too passive.

But whether Obama?s ?juice? for second-term accomplishments is being squeezed by scandal is another matter. The president won reelection by a convincing margin and started his second term with decent job-approval ratings. But he couldn?t get legislation to expand background checks for gun buyers out of the Senate, despite emotional speeches around the country and 90 percent support in opinion polls.

The power of the presidential bully pulpit is a ?myth,? says George Edwards, a presidential scholar at Texas A&M University in College Station.

Also, a president can?t, through sheer force of personality, force a balky Congress to bend to his will if the members don?t believe it?s in their own political interests to vote the way he wants, Mr. Edwards says.

?This notion that presidents ? Lyndon Johnson is the prime case ? can pin members? backs to the wall and get whatever they want, that?s nonsense,? he says. ?That?s not how it works.?

Next up in Congress is the battle over comprehensive immigration reform. Most important to the prospects for legislation is whether Republicans leaders can get enough of their own members to go along with the bill. The GOP?s need to attract Latino voters could be the most salient factor in driving Republicans to work with Democrats on the issue ? not presidential pressure.

So where does all this leave Obama, as he tries to get back on top of his game?

He can start by being more proactive, suggests a former top aide. When news broke last Friday that the IRS had subjected conservative groups to extra scrutiny in their applications for tax-exempt status, Obama waited three days to say anything. ?

At a press conference Monday, the president cast himself as a member of the public, saying he learned about the IRS?s actions from the same news reports everyone else did. Then, in lawyerly language, he expressed conditional outrage over what had happened.


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