Politics Put On Hold As Nation Surveys Oklahoma Tornado Damage

BY Terence Burlij and Christina Bellantoni  May 21, 2013 at 8:55 AM EDT

Flipped vehicles are piled up outside the heavily damaged Moore Medical Center after a powerful tornado ripped through the area on Monday in Moore, Oklahoma. Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

The Morning Line

A massive tornado ravaged a suburb of Oklahoma City on Monday, leveling buildings, killing at least 51 people, and temporarily brushing aside a trio of brewing political storms that had been the focus of official Washington in recent weeks.

President Barack Obama will receive a briefing from senior members of the administration’s response team prior to delivering a 10 a.m. ET statement on the Sooner State rescue and recovery efforts from the White House State Dining Room. (Mr. Obama’s original schedule had a series of closed meetings, including one with people affected by immigration policy.)

Watch the president’s remarks on the situation in Oklahoma here.

At the same time, a Senate Finance Committee hearing will get underway on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers will hear testimony from the ousted acting IRS commissioner and the former head of the agency who was in charge during the period agents were targeting conservative groups that had applied for tax-exempt status.

But the congressional investigation into the IRS’s conduct will most certainly be overtaken by whatever developments emerge from the city of Moore, where the death toll is expected to rise Tuesday. A spokesperson for the state medical examiner’s office has been told to expect another 40 bodies.

Among the confirmed dead are 20 children. The storm ripped through Plaza Towers Elementary School, where a search and rescue operation is ongoing. According to the New York Times, area hospitals reported at least 145 people were injured, including 70 children.

“This is bigger than anything I’ve ever seen,” Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said Tuesday on NBC’s “Today Show.”

The president spoke Monday with Fallin and Rep. Tom Cole, whose congressional district includes Moore. Mr. Obama also signed a major disaster declaration to immediately free up federal resources for recovery efforts in Oklahoma.

Speaking with NPR’s “Morning Edition,” Cole said the area would need federal assistance. “This is what disaster aid is for,” said Cole.

As the NewsHour went on the air Monday night, we were still learning about the extent of the devastation. We talked with several Oklahoma-based officials who gave us the latest.

Watch the segment here or below:

 

As for the Finance Committee hearing, it will include a now-familiar cast of characters who testified last Friday about the scandal — acting/outgoing IRS commissioner Steven Miller and J. Russell George, the Treasury Department inspector general for tax administration who conducted the audit released last week. Also expected to appear for the first time is former IRS commissioner Doug Shulman, who led the agency at the time that groups with “tea party,” “patriot” or “9/12″ in their names were being singled out for extra scrutiny.

On Monday, the White House gave a new timeline about when officials in the building learned about the IRS findings. White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler opted against telling the president because the IRS inspector general’s report was not finished, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

And Roll Call’s Eliza Newlin Carney explored in detail the campaign finance problems this dustup highlights.

Jon Cohen and Dan Balz reported on a new Washington Post-ABC News poll showing majorities of Americans believe the IRS “deliberately harassed” conservative groups.

A new CNN poll found sentiment about the tea party movement has improved since the news of their targeting surfaced. Tea party activists are 9 percentage points more popular than when CNN asked about them in March.

CNN’s pollsters found 55 percent of Americans surveyed believe the IRS scandal is a big deal. Still, Mr. Obama remains likable.

The Post poll also found the president’s numbers remaining steady, with a 51 percent positive and 44 percent negative approval rating.

LINE ITEMS

  • Rep. James Lankford said Monday that a similar Oklahoma tornado in 1999 cost $1 billion to clean up.
  • Partisans are already noting that both Oklahoma senators voted against relief for victims of Superstorm Sandy along the East Coast.
  • Voters in Los Angeles choose a new mayor Tuesday. The Los Angeles Times lays out the candidates and the issues. Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti are racing to win what is expected to be a low turnout race. Garcetti, backed by top Obama adviser David Axelrod, held a slim lead. Both candidates are Democrats, thanks to the Golden State’s jungle primary. Politico has more on Axelrod’s support contrasted with former President Bill Clinton’s for Greuel.
  • Mr. Obama will travel to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania from June 26 through July 3, the White House announced.
  • Pew Research Center’s Andy Kohut puts some of the numbers about race and voting in context.
  • Sen. Chuck Schumer called a meeting with a number of gay rights activists, including leading New York City mayoral candidate and city council speaker Christine Quinn, in New York earlier this month to discuss an amendment to the immigration bill that would include same-sex couples. The issue is one that could upset the delicate bipartisan coalition that supports comprehensive immigration reform. Politico’s Maggie Haberman has details.
  • And Senators are close to the markup finish line, meaning a bill could be on the Senate floor by early June.
  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Tom Daschle, the man who once held his job are at odds over who should run in South Dakota for retiring Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson’s seat.
  • Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., tells his hometown paper he isn’t so sure about running for a seventh term.
  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told a gathering of New Hampshire Republicans on Monday that the GOP needs to broaden its reach if the party is to win back the White House in 2016.
  • The Washington Post reports that the Susan B. Anthony List will spend millions for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s Virginia gubernatorial bid, hoping to make the November contest a test run for anti-abortion efforts in the 2014 Congressional midterms.
  • The National Republican Congressional Committee didn’t completely abandon Mark Sanford after all. The South Carolina Republican Party Federal Campaign Committee received $164,000 from the NRCC three weeks before the 1st Congressional District special election, which Sanford went on to win.
  • The New York Times examines Reublican Gabriel Gomez’s chances against Democratic Rep. Ed Markey in next month’s Senate special election in Massachusetts. Stu Rothenberg has more on polling in the race.
  • The Associated Press keeps up with the story we linked to on Monday about Arkansas Treasurer Martha Shoffner, reporting that an affidavit filed in federal court alleges the Democrat “repeatedly took cash payments, sometimes rolled up and hidden inside a pie box, from a broker who invested state money.”
  • The Club for Growth is crowing that its members have raised more than $500,000 toward a $1 million goal to fund ads against Arkansas Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, one of the most vulnerable incumbents on the ballot next year.
  • Jurors heard closing arguments in the case involving New York’s controversial Stop and Frisk policy.
  • Mia Love is going to give a Congressional bid another chance in Utah next year.
  • Tuesday morning, low-wage federal contractors who service food courts and run tourist gift shops will strike at Washington, D.C. buildings, including the Ronald Reagan and Old Post Office Buildings, the Smithsonian museums, and Union Station. They are asking for a living wage. The strikes come as the major cities of Milwaukee and Detroit saw fast-food-worker and retailer strikes.
  • Virginia Republicans will select a challenger for Democratic Sen. Mark Warner at a convention in 2014, a process likely to lead to a more conservative candidate.
  • Politico’s Morning Score noticed that Sen. Marco Rubio will be the headline speaker at a July conference in Miami for Maverick PAC, the group started by George P. Bush to recruit young Republicans.
  • With the cicada invasion upon us, it shouldn’t be surprising to see the insect referenced in politics. They’ve had legs in the past, once used by Reagan to describe Democrats and in an attack ad on John Kerry.
  • Democratic fundraiser Scott Dworkin may run for Rep. Mel Watt’s seat in North Carolina. The president named Watt to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency earlier this month.
  • The Supreme Court has chosen to hear a case next term on praying at government meetings.
  • The NewsHour’s Supreme Court correspondent, Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal, gets name-dropped in this comic by Charles Fincher.
  • Ray Manzarek, we’ll miss you.
  • This might be the only time you’ll ever see “Party of Five” and “Nancy Pelosi” in the same sentence.
  • David Axelrod’s Chicago Institute of Politics made a spoof video to get students to come to former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau’s study group. “Where’s the change? Where’s the hope?” Axelrod complains to Favreau. “You’re supposed to be the big genius!”

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Katelyn Polantz and desk assistant Mallory Sofastaii contributed to this report.

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

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