Republicans are reacting angrily to claims by President Obama and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney that recent political controversies were really "phony" scandals manufactured by Obama's opponents. In fact, Obama and Carney may have made matters worse for the administration by stirring up Republicans, prompting expressions of outrage from them, and motivating them to continue pursuing the issues.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said, "There's nothing 'phony' about these scandals, Mr. President. Not when four Americans are dead. Not when the agency enforcing your health care law has been harassing Americans because of their political beliefs. The American people deserve answers, and we will continue to fight to get the truth – no matter how badly the administration wants to sweep these issues under the carpet."
Boehner was referring to allegations that the Internal Revenue Service has targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny, and also to the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, last year that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. Boehner called the Benghazi situation "terrible" and said majority House Republicans would continue "to investigate the IRS for its abuse of power."
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Obama is eroding public trust in government. "This is just arrogance of power," Ryan told Fox News. "They are in campaign mode and they're ignoring this. ... When our commander in chief says, 'This is phony. There's no reason to be concerned about this. There's nothing to see here,' that's just arrogance." Ryan, who specializes in economic issues. was the Republican vice presidential nominee last year.
In a speech earlier this week, Obama said his critics were trying to damage him with distractions, posturing and "phony" scandals.
Carney added fuel to the GOP fire at his media briefing Thursday when he said, "I think we all remember a few weeks ago when Washington was consumed with a variety of issues that, while in some cases significant, there was an effort underway to turn them into partisan scandals. I don't think anybody here would doubt that. And what we've seen as time has passed and more facts have become known – whether it's about the attacks in Benghazi and the talking points, or revelations about conduct at the IRS – that attempts to turn this into a scandal have failed."
Carney said Obama wants "the new leadership there [at the IRS] to take action to correct improper conduct." But the press secretary added that there was no evidence of any improper or partisan activity that was "known by, or directed by, the White House."
Overall, Carney said, "A lot more energy and focus was paid by some in Congress as well as in the media on issues that, while important, are not of the highest priority to the American people, and they were not scandals." The goal should have been what Obama is now emphasizing in a series of speeches around the country – implementing a program "that helps the economy grow and helps the middle class, which he believes should be our primary focus and obsession right now when it comes to domestic policy," Carney said.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.