Forty years ago today, the Watergate hearings got underway in Congress. As the Washington Post's Jules Witcover reported at the time, "there was little in this first day of the Watergate hearings to please the sadistic, except perhaps the sight of hundreds sitting stolidly through yawn-inspiring recountings or oft-told tales of how the whole business began." The very first witness predicted that then-President Richard Nixon "ultimately will be regarded as one of the greatest presidents the country has ever known."
Of course, it didn't work out that way, as Nixon's role in the Watergate scandal led him to become the first – and only – president to resign the office.
Fast-forward 40 years, and President Barack Obama finds himself beset by a series of woes. The Internal Revenue Service was caught singling out conservative groups for extra scrutiny; the Department of Justice admitted seizing two months worth of Associated Press reporters' phone recordsof; and Republicans in Congress are continuing to make hay out of the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
But do these problems rise to the level of Watergate? Columnist George Will linked them in a piece for the Post on Thursday. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said, "Of all the great cover-ups in history — the Pentagon papers, Iran-Contra, Watergate, all the rest of them — this … is going to go down as most egregious cover-up in American history," referring to Benghazi.
Obama dismissed such talk during a press conference Thursday. "I'll let you guys engage in those comparisons, and you can go ahead and read the history, I think, and draw your own conclusions," he said.
And not all conservatives are sold. "Stop saying it's a Watergate … Let the facts speak for themselves," columnist Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., added, "I don't think this is the equivalent of Watergate or Iran-Contra. There's a big difference when literally somebody in the White House was ordering these things. This is not something anyone ordered." Meanwhile, MSNBC's Morgan Whitaker found seven other instances of Republicans calling something Obama's "Watergate," none of which, of course, turned out to actually be worthy of the name.
So do any of Obama's current scandals rise to the level of Watergate? Here is the Debate Club's take:
Steve King Republican Representative from Iowa
No – IRS and AP Scandals Are No Watergate
Tracy Sefl Democratic Strategist
James Robenalt Partner at Thompson Hine
Charles B. Rangel Democratic Representative from New York