President Barack Obama, seeking to regain his footing amid controversies hammering the White House, named a temporary chief for the scandal-marred Internal Revenue Service Thursday and pressed Congress to approve new security money to prevent another Benghazi-style terrorist attack.
The efforts did little to satisfy Republicans, who see the controversies as an opportunity to derail Obama’s second-term agenda. House Speaker John Boehner suggested the White House had violated the public’s trust, and he promised to “stop at nothing” to hold the administration accountable.
“Nothing dissolves the bonds between the people and their government like the arrogance of power here in Washington,” Boehner said. “And that’s what the American people are seeing today from the Obama administration — remarkable arrogance.”
The targeting of conservative political groups by the IRS and new questions about the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year — along with the Justice Department’s seizure of journalists’ phone records — have consumed the White House for nearly a week. Of the three controversies, the president’s advisers see the IRS matter as the most likely to linger. At least three congressional committees are planning investigations into the agency that touches the lives of nearly every American.
“I think we’re going to be able to fix it,” Obama declared during a joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Soon afterward, Obama appointed senior budget official Danny Werfel to temporarily run the IRS, one day after Acting Commissioner Steven Miller’s forced resignation. The White House is expected to nominate a permanent commissioner later this year.
However, the president knocked down the prospect of appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS, saying the congressional investigations and a separate Justice Department probe should be enough to nail down who was responsible for improperly targeting tea-party groups when they applied for tax-exempt status.
Obama and Erdogan were questioned during a light but steady rain during Thursday’s outdoor event. As the rain picked up, the president summoned a pair of Marine guards to provide umbrellas for Erdogan and himself.
The news conference marked Obama’s first comments on the government’s widely criticized seizure of telephone records of reporters and editors of The Associated Press in an investigation of news leaks. The president spoke of the importance of striking a balance between “secrecy and the right to know” but said he would make no apologies for trying to protect classified information that could put Americans at risk.
The president said he continues to have confidence in Attorney General Eric Holder, who has been the target of intense criticism from lawmakers after the phone-record subpoenas were made public.