Scandals Imperil Obama's Second-Term Agenda

Like Clinton and Reagan before him, Obama is stymied by second-term scandals.

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If history is a guide, President Obama will have a difficult time governing as long as the current wave of scandal and multiple investigations continues to distract the White House, Congress and the media.

Past presidents have suffered similar fates as their agendas were derailed or delayed under comparable circumstances. Bill Clinton squandered an entire year of his presidency as he fought congressional and media investigations of his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky and his lying about that adultery. In the end, Clinton was impeached by the House but the Senate decided not to remove him from office.

[BROWSE: Editorial Cartoons on the IRS Scandal]

Ronald Reagan's larger agenda was stymied during the investigations into the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. Reagan survived but his credibility was damaged.

Of course, the most dramatic example of all was Richard Nixon's attempt to hold onto his job amid the Watergate scandal. He failed and was forced to resign in 1974.

Obama's situation is not nearly as dire as Nixon's. One reason is that he is taking steps to mitigate the damage, at least in the most potentially harmful investigations that are going on now: the probes into the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

[READ: Obama Fires IRS Chief in Wake of Scandal]

On Wednesday, Obama condemned the IRS misconduct, said his administration was forcing the resignation of Acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, and promised further actions to prevent IRS abuses in the future.

But he continues to dismiss criticisms of his administration's handling of the deadly attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi last year. He calls the Republican investigations into the Benghazi incident a partisan "sideshow." This has angered some GOP legislators even more.

Meanwhile, the president's main initiatives for 2013 are stalled or stymied, including deficit reduction and a comprehensive deal on the budget, immigration reform and gun control.

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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, 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 and followed on Facebook and Twitter.