Mark Schoeff Jr.: Hoosier Republicans see 'duty' to probe Obama
Thursday, May 16, 2013 4:34 AM
WASHINGTON — As President Barack Obama reels from three controversies that have mired the start of his second term in scandals that threaten to overshadow his agenda, Republicans in the Indiana congressional delegation say their party has a responsibility – even a duty – to dig into the matters.
“The role of House Republicans is to find out what the facts are,” said Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-8th CD.
Weeks – perhaps months -- of investigations and oversight hearings loom.
On Wednesday, Obama accepted the resignation of the acting commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, Steven T. Miller, after the agency was found to have targeted conservative groups for greater scrutiny over applications for tax-exempt status.
The administration on Wednesday also released emails related to the way it portrayed an attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last September that killed the U.S. ambassador.
In addition, the administration is grappling with fallout from the Department of Justice’s seizure of phone records of Associated Press journalists related to the news organization’s reporting about al-Qaeda activities last year.
For now, the scandals are playing to the GOP’s strength. They can each be portrayed as the result of an overreaching government or an administration that emphasizes political expediency.
But the GOP could do some overreaching itself, as it delves into the controversies while issues like immigration, tax reform and the economy are potentially delayed.
In a speech on the House floor on Tuesday, Rep. Luke Messer, R-6th CD, addressed those concerns.
“Some may call it political, but there is nothing political about keeping the oath of every member of this chamber to protect and defend the United States Constitution,” Messer said. “There is nothing political about working to ensure that none of these scandals gets swept under the rug.”
Hoosier Republicans say they do not anticipate political backlash.
“We’ve had good discussions in the House Republican Conference about making sure this is about facts, not politics,” Bucshon said.
Rep. Todd Rokita, R-4th CD, said that Republicans are staying in their lane.
“The American people have the right to know what the White House knew and when,” Rokita said. “We need to go as far as we need to go to find the full truth.”
Two freshman GOP members of the Hoosier delegation say that their constituents support congressional probes.
“The voters of the Fifth District do believe it is Congress’ role to provide oversight,” said Rep. Susan Brooks, R-5th CD. “This is not about beating on the president. This is about holding the executive branch accountable for the priorities it sets, for the mistakes it makes.”
Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-2nd CD, said that she has been approached frequently by constituents who are concerned about the emerging scandals.
“I heard about it all weekend,” Walorski said. “People are shocked. This is an overreaching of government, and that offends every American. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue. This is an American issue.”
On Wednesday, Walorski sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew that outlined 19 questions about the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups. She demanded answers by June 15. It’s one of what is likely to be dozens of GOP requests for more information from the Obama administration.
The pushback goes beyond his party, said Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd CD.
“It’s not just Republicans asking questions,” Stutzman said. “The press is asking questions; the American people are asking questions.”
Democrats are, too. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has scheduled a hearing next week about the IRS’ targeting of conservative groups.
U.S. Sen. Dan Coats wants criminal penalties for IRS employees. “It smells a lot like Watergate,” Coats said.
Rep. Todd Young, R-9th CD, said each side of the aisle have been responsible in their approach to the controversies. “Both parties seem committed to ferreting out the answers the American people deserve,” Young said. “It’s amazing how disciplined we’ve been. I’m most hopeful we can get answers from a cooperative administration.”
One of the primary answers that will be sought is who gave the IRS directive. “Typically, priorities and strategy comes from higher levels of government,” said Brooks, a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana. “I find it hard to believe that low-level employees thought of this on their own.”
The House GOP will have to decide on the scope of the inquiries. For instance, the chamber is poised to vote on a resolution that would establish a special committee to probe the Benghazi episode.
Stutzman is undecided and said that the current investigatory panel is effective.
“Our oversight committee is doing fantastic work [and] asking the right questions. [It] has been diligent and thorough,” Stutzman said.
Over the next few months, it will have plenty to do.
Schoeff is HPI’s Washington correspondent.