When all else fails, blame George W. Bush for everything.
In the video above, Pelosi refers to a Bush appointee. That appointee is former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman. As a reminder, Shulman was appointed by Bush but has donated his money to Democrats.
This would be an A-list political story if it weren't buried beneath the avalanche of scandal that's consumed the nation's attention and undermined the president's approval ratings in recent weeks. We reported on Monday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is maneuvering to execute the so-called "nuclear option" on filibusters of executive appointments, perhaps as soon as July. Since the game plan was initially sketched out by a liberal blogger in the Washington Post (who also confirmed that the White House has bestowed its blessing on the power grab), more circumstantial evidence has emerged that appears to confirm Reid's intentions:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that he will delay votes on several of President Obama’s nominees for key posts until July, a decision raising the prospect that he’ll seek further changes to Senate rules that would allow executive appointments to be confirmed by a simple majority. Senate leaders had considered holding a vote this week to confirm Richard Cordray as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a nomination Republicans have maintained they would filibuster unless the Obama administration agreed to overhaul the agency. Action is also pending on two of Obama’s Cabinet nominations — Thomas E. Perez for Labor secretary and Gina McCarthy for EPA administrator — after party-line votes in Senate committees last week. Two other Cabinet picks face confirmation hearings later this week. At his weekly news conference, Reid told reporters that he would not bring those nominations to the full Senate until after it considers two major pieces of legislation, the farm bill and comprehensive immigration reform. “So we'll have to look at July,” he said, with the possible exception of a pending nominee for the D.C. Court of Appeals. “We're going to make sure that all the nominees have votes.”
Senate Democrats may be itching to hit the nuclear trigger more than ever in light of two federal courts' repudiations of the president's unconstitutional "recess" appointments made while Congress was not technically in recess. Regardless of their motives, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is already warning Reid that any further action to curtail the rights of the minority would effectively "blow up" the institution of the Senate. In a floor speech this morning, McConnell tied Democrats' potential filibuster power grab to the federal government's "culture of intimidation" playing out in living color at the IRS, HHS, and DOJ:
“For example, Senate Democrats were incensed that Republicans had the temerity to exercise their Advice and Consent responsibility to block a grand total of one — that’s right, one — nominee to the D.C. Circuit. What did our Democrat colleagues do in response? They consulted with the White House and pledged to pack the D.C. Circuit with appointees, quote, ‘one way or the other’ — meaning using the nuclear option...
The Senate has confirmed 19 of the President’s judicial nominees so far this year. By this point in his second term, President Bush had a grand total of four judicial confirmations.
Moreover, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee just voted unanimously to support the President’s current nomination to the D.C. Circuit. And the Senate Republican Conference agreed yesterday to hold an up and down vote on his nomination, which has only been on the Executive Calendar since Monday, to occur after the Memorial Day Recess. That way, Members who do not serve on the Judiciary Committee could have a week to evaluate this important nomination. Instead, the Majority Leader chose to jam the Minority—he rejected our offer for an up or down vote and filed cloture on the nomination just one day after it appeared on the Executive Calendar...
And regarding nominees generally, Senate Republicans have been willing to work with the President to get his team in place:
The Secretary of Energy was confirmed 97 to 0.
The Secretary of the Interior was confirmed 87 to 11.
The Secretary of the Treasury was confirmed 71 to 26.
The Director of the [OMB] was confirmed 96 to 0.
And the Secretary of State was confirmed 94 to 3—just 7 days after the Senate received his nomination. So these continued threats to use the nuclear option point to the Majority’s own culture of intimidation here in the Senate. Their view is that you had better confirm the people we want, when we want them, or we’ll break the rules of the Senate to change the rules so you can’t stop us. So much for respecting the rights of the minority. So much for a meaningful application of Advice and Consent."
How ironic? In what will inevitably invoke comparisons to the 2009 Iranian election protests, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has denounced the government’s decision to bar his chief aid from entering the upcoming election. The Associated Press reports that Ahmadinejad will use all his remaining political clout to challenge the right for his confidant, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei to seek candidacy.
Other Iranian reformers with more progressive platforms were also left off the list, including former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was removed from contention after government officials feared that his name might spark up renewed uprisings. The recent political strife in Iran has led to a released statement from Iran's police chief, Gen. Esmaeil Ahmadi Moghaddam, who was quoted this week by the official Islamic Republic News Agency as saying it was "permissible to spill the blood" of anyone opposing Iran's system called "velayat-e-faqih," loosely translated as rule of the clerics.
The Iranian president, known for his inflammatory threats against Western views, is desperately attempting to hang on to power as the end of his term nears. According to the AP:
“Ahmadinejad — once seen as firmly within the theocracy's fold — is now viewed by the leadership as a troublesome maverick after trying to challenge the authority of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Ahmadinejad's attempt to expand the presidential reach was a costly miscalculation. It collapsed his standing with Khamenei — who stood by him during the 2009 riots and protests — and greatly undercut his influence. Dozens of his allies have been arrested or politically marginalized.”
Though Ahmadinejad has promised to fight this self-described “injustice”, his only alternative move would be to appeal directly to the Ayatollah—an unlikely strategy following his recent outbursts. And while political analysts believe Ahmadinejad could form his own opposition faction, the party’s views wouldn’t differ much from the status quo, and would be a matter of self-preservation for the weakened president.
The title of “president” in Iran is often misunderstood as the top position in Iran when actually the Ayatollah, elected by an assembly of clerics, maintains the final say in all decisions. The current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his Guardian Council are tasked with whittling down the list of over 600 presidential hopefuls.
Iran is host to a number of diverse political factions from ultra-conservative to liberal leaning, but their voices are seldom heard. The Guardian Council enjoys operating under the guise of a democracy, and will inevitably select presidential nominees that fall in line with their own ideology.
The 2009 Iranian protests marked one of the first times a non-Ayatollah sponsored nominee, a member of the Green Movement, had threatened the balance of power in Iran. The rebellion quieted down after the United States and other Western powers refused to lend support. Ayatollah Khamenei was eventually forced to step in and denied repeated requests for an appeal.
Iran appears to be headed for the same economic woes and acidic foreign policy that have tarnished the countries reputation over the past decade. It’s only fitting that President Ahmadinejad, the man whose government defended him during a rigged election, has decided to accuse them of the very same exploit—reiterating the continued narrative of a dysfunctional country suffering from its own hypocrisy.
Yesterday the head of tax exempt organizations at the IRS, Lois Lerner, made an opening statement before the House Oversight Committee claiming she had "done nothing wrong" and then proceeded to plead the Fifth surrounding the IRS targeting of conservative groups. Now, according to counsel and Chairman Darrell Issa, because Lerner made and opening statement before invoking her Fifth Amendment rights, she effectively waived her right to do so and will be called back before the committee to testify. Lerner is also still under subpoena.
Republican Representative Darrell Issa said on Thursday he will call Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner back to testify before his committee on the IRS-Tea Party scandal after she asserted her constitutional right not to answer questions.
"We are obligated to bring Lerner back because she did not properly take the Fifth (Amendment)," Issa said.
"She clearly chose to make her statements and then not open herself up to even any questioning as to the statement she made," said Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
According to a new Rasmussen Report, the majority of Americans believe other agencies outside of the IRS also targeted conservatives. The report also shows the majority of Americans believe the IRS targeting came from Washington and directly from the White House, not a few "low-level" employees Cincinnati.
Most voters think the Internal Revenue Service’s decision to target conservative groups was made in Washington, D.C. and that it wasn’t the only government agency going after these groups.
Just 20% of Likely U.S. Voters believe the IRS’ explanation thus far that low-level employees at its Cincinnati office made the decision to target the conservative groups. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 65% think the orders came from Washington, with 26% who think the decision was made by someone at IRS headquarters and 39% who believe someone who works at the White House made the call.
Sixty-seven percent (67%) of GOP voters think the decision to have the IRS target these conservative groups was made by someone at the White House, and a plurality (41%) of unaffiliated voters agree. Only 13% of Democrats share that assessment.
Suggesting a very high level of skepticism, 60% think it’s at least somewhat likely that other government agencies also targeted Tea Party and other conservative groups. Just 30% consider this unlikely. This includes 39% who say it’s Very Likely other government agencies were involved and only nine percent (9%) who feel it’s Not At All Likely.
Perhaps most stunning is the fact that 37% of Democrats think it likely that other agencies were used to target conservative groups.
In terms of conservatives being targeted by federal agencies, we already have evidence of that with True the Vote's experience.
The group received an unprecedented level of scrutiny from the IRS since its original application for 501(c3) status was filed in 2010. The IRS sent rounds of questions over several years that went as far as demanding to see each and every tweet Engelbrecht had ever sent out and each and every speech she had ever given.
The IRS did not stop there. They demanded to know who had spoken at the group and to see each and every speech the speakers had given. They demanded to know the identities of all members of the group and who had attended their meetings. The list of probing and outlandish questions was exhaustive.
Soon, the IRS began to audit Engelbrecht’s family business and her personally. And the scrutiny from the federal government did not stop with the IRS.
Two DOJ agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) began to make their presence felt in Engelbrecht’s life as well.
“They [FBI] contacted us, asked questions about one of the people who attended a program," Engelbrecht told Breitbart News. "They asked for us to call if he ever showed back up. They repeated [their calls] over time, but no longer about that individual. They said they were just calling to check up with us. They called to check up with us a great deal and said it was ‘routine."
- The president's job approval rating has dipped underwater at 45/51, an eight-point negative swing since last month. He's at 40/52 among independents.
- Attorney General Eric Holder's job approval has plummeted to 28/40 with approximately a third of voters not knowing enough to answer. This may fuel whispers that Holder may be on his way out.
- Obama's trustworthiness quotient is now split evenly, down from positive territory in the months leading up to the election.
- A whopping 68 percent of Americans believe the federal government is "out of control" and threatening basic liberties. Republicans ought to concentrate on articulating an agenda that speaks to that widespread disaffection.
- More Americans label Obama a "lame duck" president than say he's still effective.
The poll asks a few questions about the scandals themselves, which yielded results not too dissimilar from the WaPo and CNN findings we've highlighted this week. In short, people are concerned, think the stories are legitimate, and want to know more. Fox just released a second tranche of data, which also features some interesting nuggets. On gay marriage, a clear majority (41/52) opposes amending the Constitution to define marriage as one man and one woman, down from (58/34) in favor ten years ago. And as much as the trio of current scandals may be weighing down Obama's numbers, there's another big wet blanket draped over his presidency:
22. Do you think it would be better to leave the new health care law in place, or would it bebetter to go back to the health care system that was in place in 2009?
Better to keep law: 34 percent
Better to go back to previous system: 56 percent
Fox's 34 percent support level is nearly identical to Kaiser's figure we reported in April. In the new poll, Obamacare is upside down by double digits on this question among men, women, voters of every age group, Republicans and independents. Only Democrats and non-whites say they prefer the new law to the previous system. By a two-to-one margin, Americans say their families will be worse off under the "Affordable Care Act" than prior to its passage. So much for the president's assurances that the law's roll-out is already over for 90 percent of Americans, who should already be "enjoying" its benefits. Obamacare is toxic, and it's likely to get worse as the logistical "train wreck" of implementation plays out, premiums continue to rise, costs explode, and the tainted IRS kicks off enforcement of the hyper-unpopular mandate tax. It could be that the health law is hurting the president just as much as any of the scandals. John Nolte notes that the president's job approval has sunk below the 50 percent mark in four new surveys, including this one. I'll leave you with one of Philip Klein's five reasons why Obama's scandals aren't prone to backfire on Republicans like Bill Clinton's impeachment saga did:
Clinton’s scandal involved sex - Without re-litigating the entire impeachment debate, it’s fair to say that Clinton’s scandal revolved around his sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. This made it a lot easier for Clinton to appeal to Americans’ sense of forgiveness and portray political opponents as prying into his personal life as opposed to dealing with the nation’s problems. In contrast, though both sides debate Obama’s culpability, the issues at the heart of the current scandals are all very serious — dealing with a terrorist attack on a U.S. ambassador, IRS targeting ideological groups of a certain stripe and the Department of Justice spying on journalists. According to a CNN poll released Sunday, “Americans appear to be taking all three controversies very seriously, with 55% saying the IRS and Benghazi matters are very important to the nation and 53% saying the same thing about the AP case.” So, it’s harder to put Republicans on the defensive for investigating these issues than it was to attack the 1998 GOP for expending so much effort investigating Clinton for lying about oral sex.
Click through for the other four. I wonder how the public's opinion on Benghazi might be impacted by this story, which we mentioned on Tuesday but hasn't quite broken through yet -- particularly in light of this data point from the administration.
If there is no other takeaway from the IRS scandal, it is that our Internal Revenue Service needs a serious organizational attitude adjustment. Two examples from recent days come immediately to mind.
First, there's Lois Lerner's invocation of the Fifth Amendment yesterday. Now, in some situations, it's possible to have sympathy for those who, like Lois Lerner, have invoked the Fifth Amendment -- particularly if they're doing so in the context of a politically-delicate, overzealous federal prosecution of some non-violent offense.
But Lois Lerner's use of the Fifth Amendment yesterday was unbelievably galling -- and here's why. It's about the hypocrisy. Even taking her own words at face value -- that she's innocent -- she's invoking the Fifth because she doesn't want to subject herself to the embarrassing, intrusive, highly personal stress of federal invesigation.Well, guess what her agency -- with her knowledge -- was routinely doing to conservative groups? And that's why her assertion of the Fifth was so contemptible. She's trying to escape herself the same kinds of unpleasantness she (and others at her agency) knowingly inflicted upon innocent people whose only offense was seeking non-profit or 501(c)(4) status.
The second example is the IRS blowing its congressional deadline for producing certain specified emails related to the targeting scandal. Imagine what would happen to you if you decided simply not to comply with demands for documents from the IRS.
The overarching theme of the IRS scandal thus far -- from Lerner, to the obnoxious testimony of Steven Miller, to the flouting of document requests -- has been arrogance. This is what's known as the arrogance of power. Far too much, for far too long, far too many people there have been given too much power with too little accountability. It has bred a culture of entitlement, imperiousness, and contempt for the people government is supposed to serve.
In America, government is not supposed to be the master. Government is the servant. But that's the kind of mentality and service orientation that disappears as soon as government becomes too big and too powerful.
It's time for a thorough reform and rethinking about the tax code and the agency that's supposed to enforce it with justice and humility.
Does concealed carry belong in churches and schools? A trainer, a schoolteacher and security experts help provide answers to one of America’s hottest debates in the June issue of Townhall Magazine. Mark Kakkuri reports.
"Suzanne,” a K-12 teacher in Detroit, Mich., entered the classroom. Students filed in and took their seats. In minutes the lecture would start, followed by a written exam and then a practical exam. Today, however, was a Saturday, and Suzanne was not the teacher, but the student. And this wasn’t her classroom, but that of Rick Ector, a certified instructor for those wishing to obtain a concealed pistol license in Michigan.
As Ector introduced himself and the topic of concealed carry, the discussion naturally turned to recent school shootings. Suzanne raised her hand, and Ector motioned for her to speak. She told the class she was a teacher and shared her concerns over security at her job.
“The school where I teach has almost identical safety measures that were in place at the Sandy Hook Elementary School,” she said. “Paltry measures, such as simply locking the front door, are inadequate because if a bad guy just bursts the door free or if an authorized visitor, such as parent, opens the door— the bad guy still has access.”
While Michigan does not allow concealed carry on school grounds— GOP Gov. Rick Snyder recently vetoed legislation that would have made this permissible—Suzanne said that if she were authorized, she would be willing to carry a handgun on the job.
She’s likely not alone.
In 2012, the FBI reported 19,592,303 National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) “checks,” a procedure that occurs every time a firearms dealer sells a firearm to make sure the buyer is not a felon and therefore ineligible to purchase a firearm. As of March 2013, the FBI reported 7,014,240 NICS checks, which puts 2013 on pace to surpass 2012’s total by more than 10 million. By comparison, the FBI in 2005 reported 8,952,945 checks. Although the NICS system cannot account for every firearm sale, it is often a key measure of such sales in the U.S.
Not only have firearms sales been increasing year after year, but also the number of those carrying concealed handguns has grown as well. Forty-nine of 50 states allow for some form of concealed carry—only Illinois does not— and a 2012 Government Accountability Office report says that as of Dec. 31, 2011, there were about 8 million active permits in the U.S. Prior to the GAO study, previous estimates put the number at around 7 million.
With gun ownership seemingly at historic levels as well as an unprecedented interest in concealed carry, “pro-gun” and “gun control” rhetoric has risen as well. Moreover, as the country acclimates to the nuances of increases in concealed carry—specifically, where guns may be legally carried concealed and where they may not—incidents of violence have drawn some of the debate to the concealed carry status for two key places: churches and schools.
Carrying concealed weapons in churches or schools demands careful consideration of multiple factors.
Brian Gallagher, founder of securityatchurch.com, an online portal devoted to providing church security tips and resources, says the most important issue related to individuals carrying guns at schools or places of worship is training.
“Just because a person is legally authorized to carry a weapon does not mean they have the proper training and judgment to use it during a emergency or crisis,” he says.
So does Salon's reliable lefty Joan Walsh.
Yesterday, both men were seen arriving at the West Wing for, presumably, a new iteration of White House talking points (hey, maybe Walsh was there, too). So we can all assume that President Obama wants Lois Lerner gone.
Why can't he fire her himself? Well, according to Politico,
It appears that no one has been formally reprimanded and a spokesperson for the union representing IRS workers said it hasn’t been called to help any employees yet. Most employees involved in the targeting program are covered by protections for federal workers that could drag out the termination process.
If you want "reforms," this would be a good place to start. Stuff like targeting citizens for their political beliefs should be a no-brainer.
Even so, Lerner seems pretty senior to qualify for routine civil service protections. Presumably, she could be asked for her resignation, just as Steven Miller was. So why is the President stalling, and instead sending pundits out to seek her scalp instead?
Really, when we learn (1) who -- if anyone -- notified an administration member about the internal IRS report before the election confirming the targeting ; and (2) who was involved in slow-walking the IG report until after the election, a lot of these questions may answer themselves.
There was no way Lois Lerner's part in the IRS saga would end quietly, even as she invoked her right to remain silent.
Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, boldly asserted this afternoon that Lerner "waived" her right to plead the Fifth Amendment when she made an opening statement at this morning's hearing. From POLITICO:
The California Republican said Lerner’s Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination was voided when she gave an opening statement this morning denying any wrongdoing and professing pride in her government service.
“When I asked her her questions from the very beginning, I did so so she could assert her rights prior to any statement,” Issa told POLITICO. “She chose not to do so — so she waived." ...
“The precedents are clear that this is not something you can turn on and turn off,” he told POLITICO. “She made testimony after she was sworn in, asserted her innocence in a number of areas, even answered questions asserting that a document was true … So she gave partial testimony and then tried to revoke that.” ...
“I understand from her counsel that there was a plan to assert her Fifth Amendment rights,” he continued. “She went ahead and made a statement, so counsel let her effectively under the precedent, waive — so we now have someone who no longer has that ability.”
Essentially, he argues, her opening statement, in which she proclaimed her innocence, constituted a forfeiture of Fifth Amendment protection because she spoke on her own behalf about her involvement in the matter. Issa intends to invite Lerner before the committee again in the hopes of conducting a proper grilling, and others--including Rep. Trey Gowdy--agree that she must now give testimony.
"Mr. Cummings just said we should run this hearing like a courtroom, and I agree with him," Gowdy thundered. "[Lerner] just testified. She just waived her Fifth Amendment right. You don't get to tell your side of the story and then not be subjected to cross examination — that's not the way it works. She waived her right to Fifth Amendment privilege by issuing an opening statement. She ought to stand here and answer our questions."
However, it's not so simple as that. Legal scholars say that the Fifth Amendment works differently in Congressional fact-finding hearings than in a court of law--one cannot simply conflate the two, as they exist for different purposes. Fifth Amendment expert James Duane gave the following explanation (h/t to Allahpundit for the link):
First, unlike in a trial, where she could choose to take the stand or not, Lerner had no choice but to appear before the committee. Second, in a trial there would be a justifiable concern about compromising a judge or jury by providing them with "selective, partial presentation of the facts." But Congress is merely pursuing information as part of an investigation, not making a definitive ruling on Lerner's guilt or innocence.
"When somebody is in this situation," says Duane, a Harvard Law graduate whose 2008 lecture on invoking the Fifth Amendment with police has been viewed on YouTube nearly 2.5 million times, "when they are involuntarily summoned before grand jury or before legislative body, it is well settled that they have a right to make a 'selective invocation,' as it's called, with respect to questions that they think might raise a meaningful risk of incriminating themselves."
In fact, Duane says, "even if Ms. Lerner had given answers to a few questions — five, ten, twenty questions — before she decided, 'That's where I draw the line, I'm not answering any more questions,' she would be able to do that as well." Such uses of selective invocation "happen all the time."
Unfortunately for Issa and company, it seems Lerner was within her rights to make a statement and then clam up. Of course, drawing greater attention to her silence could, ultimately, help in the investigation of the IRS; if they ask her back and she stonewalls, the public might want to know why. Hopefully, in any event, someone--anyone--will bear some legitimate responsibility for the whole affair, and lose the job they clearly never should have had in the first place.