WASHINGTON — Just four months after his inauguration for a second four-year term, President Barack Obama finds himself on the defensive in three controversies that threaten to derail his political agenda. Obama may be on the verge of joining a long list of his predecessors who ran into severe political problems in their second terms in office.
Analysts say the most serious threat to the president at the moment is the budding scandal involving the Internal Revenue Service, the government’s tax-collecting agency.
The IRS has admitted officials targeted conservative Tea Party groups seeking tax exempt status. Obama tried to keep ahead of the scandal by announcing the resignation of acting IRS chief Steven Miller.
“It is inexcusable, and Americans are right to be angry about it and I am angry about it. I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but especially in the IRS,” said Obama.
IRS issue draws ire
The revelations about the IRS have outraged Republicans in Congress and they are promising a full round of investigations.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader, said, “Now clearly, we have only started to scratch the surface of this scandal. The American people are looking for answers and I am determined to help them get to the bottom of this.”
The IRS scandal is one of three controversies that have enmeshed the Obama White House.
The administration remains on the defensive over its handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, last year that claimed the lives of four Americans.
And the Justice Department is being pressed to justify the secret seizure of phone records from the Associated Press in connection with a leak investigation.
It is the prospect that the IRS targeted Americans for their political views, however, that sparked a strong reaction from across the political spectrum, said analyst John Fortier.
“And so that I think that is what makes it just stick much more in the craw of the American people [upset them], both that it is not a very popular organization, but also it is one that people know that it has significant information that could redound upon them and they would not want to see it done to them,” said Fortier.
The scandals are a distraction for the president, said Fortier, but not necessarily crippling.
“The agenda that he has now is one that has to get the agreement of both parties, and I think the scandal might be somewhat broadly hurtful to him but is not going to damage him if both parties see some value in working together on some of these issues,” he said.
Fortier adds that one of those issues that still may draw bipartisan support is immigration reform.
Obama may be about to join a long line of predecessors, though, who ran into trouble in their second terms, said former Reagan White House chief of staff Ken Duberstein.
“Every presidency goes into a ditch, usually in the fifth or sixth year. And if you do not have the trusted relationships in the House and the Senate or with the American people, then you do not have any safety net to fall back on.”
Duberstein notes that all recent two-term presidents - Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush - experienced either scandals or political setbacks in their second terms.