Congress returns to work on Monday after the Memorial Day recess — yes, Congress took the whole week off — and the House and Senate appear to have different agendas.
The Democratic-led Senate "plans to bring a sweeping immigration bill to the floor next Monday, with the goal of passage by July 4," says Jonathan Weisman in The New York Times. In the GOP-controlled House, meanwhile, Republicans "are setting their sights more firmly this week on the IRS," President Obama's attorney general, and other political controversies:
After weeks of trying to leaven the House's growing investigatory zeal with serious legislating, House leaders and committee chairmen appear to be giving themselves over to an expanding and aggressive oversight effort — on the IRS, the Justice Department's targeting of reporters, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.'s statements to Congress on that targeting and the Sept. 11 attack on the United States Mission in Benghazi, Libya. [New York Times]
To get the week started, on Sunday Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) released partial transcripts of congressional interviews with two unidentified lower-level IRS employees in the under-fire Cincinnati office. The excerpts suggest the IRS' Washington office was involved in targeting Tea Party applicants for tax-exempt status. Issa, chairman of the House oversight committee, set up the release by appearing on CNN's State of the Union Sunday morning.
Issa "let loose a volley of accusations on Sunday that seemed to end a brief period of restraint for him," says The New York Times' Weisman. Issa dismissed the idea from the IRS that two "rogue employees" were mainly responsible for the flagging of Tea Party groups, telling host Candy Crowley that the special scrutiny was "a problem that was coordinated in all likelihood right out of Washington headquarters — and we're getting to proving it." Crowley asked Issa to show his cards. (Watch above.)
Like with so many things that happen in Washington today, the video above is a sort of ink-blot test — what you see depends on where you stand on the partisan spectrum. Issa's Democratic counterpart on the oversight committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), says that "Issa's reckless statements today are inconsistent with the findings of the inspector general, who spent more than a year conducting his investigation." Instead of "lobbing unsubstantiated conclusions on national television for political reasons," Cummings adds, we need to work in a bipartisan way to follow the facts where they lead."
Obama critics disagree. Based on the released transcripts, "it seems clear that we have only begun to scratch the surface of the IRS scandal," says John Hinderaker at Power Line. The documents were reason enough for Issa to call White House Press secretary Jay Carney a "paid liar" on CNN. "I am not sure I agree with the apparent consensus that of the scandals now besetting the Obama administration, the IRS scandal is the most serious," Hinderaker adds — "Benghazi is worse" — but something stinks in Washington.
Oh come on, says Jason Easley at Politicus USA. "Issa had so little evidence that when pressed he pulled out his standard cry that the White House won't turn over the documents." That's what he always does — "go all X-Files and claim the truth is out there, but Obama won't let him have access to it." But luckily, Easley says, "after getting burned by the Republican edited Benghazi emails, parts of the media are showing more caution when dealing with Issa's conspiracy theories." Issa has tipped his hand, Easley adds: This is "nothing more than another partisan witch hunt."
That's the problem with these congressional investigations, says Susan Duclos in Wake Up America: "Liberals and the Obama administration will spin them as being 'political', despite the fact that they are being conducted by Republican and Democratic lawmakers." And sure, Carney is a "paid liar," says Duclos, but so is "every White House spokesman, whether for a Republican president or a Democrat." If he is "changing stories, falling on their sword, and lying blatantly," well, that's his job.
Here's the thing, says Andrew Sullivan at The Dish. If Issa can get away with calling Carney a liar, "maybe this is a good opportunity to revisit the past of the chief moral scold and smear artist in Washington." Issa has been arrested for stealing cars, credibly accused of arson, and "exposed as a proven liar," Sullivan says. So "if you apply the standards of evidence Issa uses to indict the president — pure innuendo, speculation and smears — then you can fairly say that Issa was a likely car thief, con-man, and arsonist."
Obama's presidential campaign adviser David Plouffe had a similar thought:
Strong words from Mr Grand Theft Auto and suspected arsonist/insurance swindler. And loose ethically today.thehill.com/video/house/30…
— David Plouffe (@davidplouffe) June 2, 2013
Paid liars and Grand Theft Auto — that's "an unusually harsh and personal war of words," says CNN's Jake Tapper, "even for the current hyper-partisan atmosphere in Washington, D.C."
Issa using the "L" word — liar — is unusual in a town where pols and members of the media regularly dance around such a direct accusation, preferring words that allow for the possibility of misspeaking or misleading, but not deliberately speaking an untruth. Plouffe's reference to charges and suspicions against Issa from a generation and two generations ago is also unusual in a city where such mentions are considered gauche and uncollegial. (Take, as but two examples, those whose careers managed quite well despite Chappaquiddick and Iran-Contra.) [CNN]
Despite the weather, it's shaping up to be a long, hot summer in Washington.