Will Government Probes Crowd Out Policy Debates?

BY Christina Bellantoni and Katelyn Polantz  June 3, 2013 at 9:45 AM EDT

IRS protest; photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Tea party activists protest against the IRS last month in West Palm Beach, Fla. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Official Washington begins the month of June with a massive agenda set against a backdrop of scandal politics that have kept the White House on the defensive and won’t be letting up any time soon.

On the docket are major policy debates and fiscal fights, but chances are most attention will go to a trio of government probes.

As lawmakers return to the capital following a weeklong Memorial Day holiday, Politico predicts that “scandals — the Internal Revenue Service, Benghazi, media subpoenas and the fate of Attorney General Eric Holder — still dominate the headlines and agenda.”

Over the weekend, new stories about the IRS spending lavishly on conferences and targeting donors to a Republican group did little to put out the flames.

The Treasury inspector general for tax administration is expected to release a new report Tuesday showing the IRS spent nearly $50 million on 220 conferences from 2010 to 2013, including one Anaheim, Calif., convention that cost about $4 million and featured some rather unusual training videos.

The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe details the findings in a story that mentions both “Star Trek” and the “Cupid Shuffle.” It’s no hot tub but will certainly get as much attention as last year’s probe of the General Services Administration.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the IRS “took the unusual step of trying to impose gift taxes on donors to a prominent conservative advocacy group formed in 2007 to build support for President George W. Bush’s Iraq troop surge.”

House Republicans will mount new hearings Tuesday and Thursday in an attempt to get to the bottom of who knew what and when.

At the same time, the Senate returns to consideration of the farm bill this week. Lawmakers are facing pressure over proposed cuts to the food stamp program known as SNAP, and there’s little agreement between the House and Senate on the issue.

Next week, senators will turn to immigration reform. (More on that below.)

The New York Times dubs the week a “critical juncture.” Jonathan Weisman writes:

For President Obama, how those competing priorities balance out could mean the difference between securing a landmark accomplishment — the first overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws since 1986 — or becoming consumed by charges of scandal.

But for his part, the president is focusing on his own agenda, “rather than let Congress command attention,” Weisman writes.

On Monday, Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will host a national conference on mental health at the White House, bringing together advocates, care providers, educators and others. On Tuesday, Mr. Obama will host President Sebastián Pinera of Chile at the White House.

The president will travel to Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday to talk about middle-class jobs and then fly to California for a summit meeting Friday with President Xi Jinping of China at Sunnylands, the Walter and Leonore Annenberg estate in the Palm Springs area. It will be their first meeting since Mr. Xi’s ascension, with issues like economics, North Korea and cybersecurity on the agenda.

With some in Congress spoiling for a fight, a renewed battle for disaster relief aid following the tornadoes in Oklahoma, and an uncertain fiscal outlook with no visible prospects of agreement on the budget, it’s looking to be an interesting summer.

INSIDE IMMIGRATION

It’s immigration crunch time. The immigration reform package will see a debate in the Senate beginning June 10. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., predicted Sunday that a sweeping immigration reform measure will pass the Senate by the July 4th holiday.

Voters aren’t as sure. More than 70 percent of those surveyed in a Quinnipiac University poll don’t expect Congress to forge a final deal that results in immigration reform reaching Mr. Obama’s desk.

That doesn’t mean the leaders of the Gang of Eight, particularly Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., aren’t trying. He is preparing a plan to give Congress more power on setting U.S-Mexico border security strategies, Carrie Budoff Brown and Seung Min Kim of Politico report. The plan could appease Republicans wary on the current bill. Tougher border security measures could also make it harder to keep progressives at the table.

“Rubio doesn’t see how the current version of the legislation gets enough votes to break a filibuster, let alone the 70-plus votes that Gang of Eight leaders want. Republicans view border security as a threshold issue, and many have told him that the requirements must be tightened before they can even consider backing the bill, Rubio has said,” they write.

USA Today addresses the pathway to citizenship measures, a keystone of the reform bill that could help legalize some of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. Another sticking point for conservatives may be allowing immigrants to seek citizenship before the country meets its border security goals.

From the story: “Immigrant rights leaders say they don’t want border security requirements that are so rigid they are impossible to meet. If those requirements are tied to citizenship, then millions of people would remain here with no hope of ever becoming citizens or even legal permanent residents, immigrant rights leaders say.”

Former President George W Bush, who attempted to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people during his presidency, chimed in to the debate and criticized the political climate that has made politicians more sensitive to immigration reform.

“I think the atmosphere, unlike when I tried it, is better [for a bill's passage], maybe for the wrong reason. The right reason is it’s important to reform a broken system. I’m not sure a right reason is that in so doing we win votes,” he [told the Huffington Post](http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/30/george-w-bush-bike_n_3359824.html)’s Jon Ward.

The NewsHour has hosted a series of discussions about the bill proposed in the U.S. Senate. Last week, correspondent Ray Suarez interviewed two local law enforcement officers in borderlands on what they would need to secure their sections of the U.S.-Mexico line. Although they had different perspectives on what to do generally, both sheriffs’ officers said they need more resources.

Watch the conversation here or below:

We have more features covering the debate on our special immigration page. Our series “Inside Immigration Reform” has also highlighted provisions for highly skilled workers and the situations the unskilled labor market faces.

Stay tuned for the next installment — a debate about the cost of creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented people.

Some provisions in the law will affect smaller groups of immigrants. For instance, Filipinos who are children of World War II veterans could find an easier path to the United States because of the bill, Southern California Public Radio reports.

NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs produced this video on the effect of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, on students in Texas:

LINE ITEMS

  • The latest in the ricin investigation [has officials looking to Texas],(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/01/ricin-letters_n_3372453.html) following a series of letters sent to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun control group and the White House.

  • Mr. Obama on Friday asked young people to pressure lawmakers to adopt his budget that would stop student loan interest rates from doubling on July 1. The NewsHour asked an expert on student debt and leaders of millennial generation advocacy groups on the left and right for their solutions on the student loan system. Watch that conversation.

  • Here is a cool timeline from the National Journal showing Rep. Michele Bachmann’s career rise, right up to her retirement announcement last week. Roll Call examined what the Republican’s decision not to seek re-election means for Minnesota’s 6th district, especially since her Democratic rival dropped his own bid, too.

  • In a new ad that pushes back against Bloomberg’s gun control campaign, Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., says, “No one from New York or Washington tells me what to do.”

  • The Democrat-Gazette paints the scene in the courtroom on former Arkansas treasurer Martha Shoffner, whose guilty plea for accepting cash bribes to steer official state business to a bond broker was rejected Friday. The Associated Press has more here.

  • New Mexico GOP Gov. Susana Martinez’s former campaign manager was indicted for allegedly hacking the campaign’s email.

  • A bill that would legalize gay marriage in Illinois was delayed by the state House of Representatives.

  • Bloomberg News highlights young Republicans in Tennessee who support same-sex marriage.

  • Longtime Democratic staffer Jesse Ferguson, now with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, goes public with his fight against cancer.

  • Former Rep. Majorie Margolis, Chelsea Clinton’s mother-in-law, will run for a congressional seat in Pennsylvania.

  • Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, a former Republican, officially became a Democrat.

  • The left-leaning Public Policy Polling has a new survey of Virginia’s gubernatorial contest showing Democrat Terry McAuliffe ahead of Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, 42 percent to 37 percent. But both men are unpopular.

  • Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker is testing out a small-government message … in Iowa. The Washington Examiner looks at how he’s being received.

  • Bolstered numbers of female lawmakers on the Hill underscore the power of the purse.

  • The man who had planned an armed march into Washington has scrapped the idea after all.

  • Reuters reports that an 8-year-old Maryland boy “who was suspended from school for nibbling a pastry snack into the shape of a gun has been given a junior membership in the National Rifle Association.”

  • Fox News’ Megyn Kelly and Erick Erickson have an epic argument about the role of female breadwinners.

  • Mr. Obama will honor the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens on Wednesday. (And yes, inclusion of this link totally shows Christina can be the bigger woman.)

  • Playing the washboard, drawing the U.S. map and writing about horse sex: You’ll be surprised by at least one of these special talents of U.S. senators.

  • Bush paints cats, too!

  • Your latest installment of posts about the June 26 Congressional Women’s Softball Game. If you’re in Washington, stop by our Monday night happy hour fundraiser for the charity game to say hi to Christina and other members of the Bad News Babes press team.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • Mark Shields and David Brooks talk with Judy Woodruff about the delicate situation in Syria, Mr. Obama’s expected FBI director nomination and the state of the tea party. Watch here or below:

  • Christina is filling in as host of the Doubleheader with Mark and David while Hari Sreenivasan is on his honeymoon. On tap: Bachmann follies and David’s love of the Mets. Watch here or below:

TOP TWEETS

Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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