Does firing the IRS chief help Obama?

Republicans aren't impressed with the president's response to the tax agency's targeting of conservative groups

President Obama
(Image credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Obama on Wednesday night ousted the acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Steven Miller, over the agency's improper targeting of conservative groups, which Obama called "inexcusable." Miller's firing marked the first major, concrete move by the president to dampen a flurry of scandals threatening to disrupt his second-term agenda. The administration even released a letter in which Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told Miller to resign to "restore public trust" in the IRS. But will the termination make a difference?

Among commentators, the consensus is that the move, though decisive, won't be enough to nip the crisis in the bud — at least not entirely. "That's not how Republicans work," says Joan McCarter at Daily Kos. "But this swift reaction of the White House could make a prolonged hissy fit by Republicans politically damaging to them."

Obama's harshest critics, however, aren't impressed. "Nice try, Mr. President," says Joe Battenfield at the Boston Herald. "Feigning anger, firing an unknown bureaucrat and fleeing the podium won't cut it with voters, or stop the hemorrhaging of the scandals that have spawned a Watergate-like feel around the Obama administration."

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Obama took no questions and, more importantly, no responsibility for the ugly episode of the federal government abusing its power for political reasons. This was just political theater designed to distance Obama from something that happened on his watch...The problem for Obama is that what happened in the IRS was all about partisan politics. The IRS was harassing conservative groups opposed to Obama's re-election, and the big question is why any low-level bureaucrat would be engaged in a concerted effort to hurt Obama's opponents. [Boston Herald]

Conservatives say one reason the backlash will continue is that Republican politicians aren't the only ones unlikely to be satisfied by the administration's damage-control efforts, which also included Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement that the Justice Department had launched an investigation into the IRS' actions. While the agency focused extra scrutiny on applications for tax-exempt status coming from Tea Party groups and other conservative organizations, Aaron Goldstein at The American Spectator questions whether the Obama administration's moves will "be sufficient to mollify the public."

The IRS scandal resonates with Americans in a way that Benghazi hasn't and the AP scandal probably won't. Most Americans don't like the IRS to begin with so any impropriety they commit is going to hit a raw nerve. [American Spectator]

Even if the administration faces continued attacks, however, Obama's forceful response is bound to help, the president's supporters say. Obama needed to make clear that the White House had no role in the IRS' ham-fisted blunder. "Clearly the president of the United States didn't know about what was happening in low level bureaucracies, but he's still the boss of government," Jonathan Prince, who worked in the Obama State Department, tells Politico. "He had to say 'I care, I'm angry.'"

So it seems Obama has managed to mitigate the fallout, at least for the time being. If nothing else, notes Jennifer Epstein at Politico, Team Obama can enjoy the spoils of winning one news cycle. "After days of anxiety, Democratic operatives said the White House has found its footing," Epstein says. That stability may not last long, though: On Friday, congressional Republicans will have the opportunity in a hearing to hash out the IRS debacle, putting the Obama administration back on the defensive.

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