Democratic strategists are increasingly confident that the three high-visibility scandals of the past week won't do lasting political damage to President Obama. Democratic pollster Geoff Garin told me that the controversies have created a "tempest in a teapot" and predicted there would be no long-term effect on Obama.
A new CNN/ORC International poll lends credence to these views. It shows that Obama's approval rating hasn't changed very much despite all the coverage of the scandals. Fifty-three percent of Americans said they approve of the job Obama is doing, while 45 percent disapprove. This is comparable to his rating in early April, when 51 percent approved and 47 percent disapproved of his job performance.
Of course, sometimes it takes a while for scandals to sink in with the public. And it's also true that, even if Obama escapes personal blame, continuing congressional investigations could divert attention from his larger agenda, including deficit reduction, immigration reform and gun control.
Another problem is that critics portray the scandals as evidence of federal incompetence or abuse of power, especially the revelations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups such as tea party affiliates that were seeking tax-exempt status. This could further undermine public faith in government, which is central to Obama's goal of continuing to expand the activism of Washington on a variety of fronts, from health care to climate change.
For the past week, Obama has been the target of harsh criticism over the IRS abuses; the administration's handling of the deadly terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, last year, and revelations that the Justice Department seized the phone records of journalists from the Associated Press in a probe of leaks.
But some pollsters, including Gallup, have found that public interest in these scandals has not been very high. (And most Americans said congressional Republicans are not overplaying their hand in reacting to the controversies.)
For the moment, White House and Democratic party strategists see hope that the scandals won't have a lasting impact. And this has encouraged Obama advisers to go on the offensive against the majority House Republicans, especially those who are leading the investigations of the executive branch.
White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer turned in a series of combative and sometimes prickly performances Sunday as he defended Obama on five TV talk shows.
"There is no question that Republicans are trying to make political hay" with their IRS probes, Pfeiffer said. He acknowledged that there is a "very real problem at the IRS," but he added on NBC's "Meet the Press": "We've seen this playbook from the Republicans before. What they want to do when they're lacking a positive agenda is try to drag Washington into a swamp of partisan fishing expeditions, trumped-up hearings, and false allegations. We're not going to let that happen. The president's got business to do for the American people."
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Facebook and Twitter.