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GOP turns focus to ‘cover-ups’ for midterm strategy

BY Domenico Montanaro, Terence Burlij, Simone Pathe and Rachel Wellford  May 8, 2014 at 9:08 AM EST
Former IRS official Lois Lerner (C) exercises her Fifth Amendment right not to speak about the IRS targeting investigation before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee during a hearing on March 5. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Former IRS official Lois Lerner (C) exercises her Fifth Amendment right not to speak about the IRS targeting investigation before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee during a hearing on March 5. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • House GOP targets IRS, Benghazi
  • Benghazi: All about the base and Clinton?
  • Republicans split on fundraising off Benghazi
  • 2014 watch: Aiken waits while Tillis regrets ‘divide and conquer’ comments

House holds Lerner in contempt: The GOP-controlled House voted mostly along party lines Wednesday to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt for refusing to testify about the agency’s improper targeting of tea party groups seeking tax-exempt status. The chamber also approved a measure calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS’s treatment of conservative groups. This comes less than a week after House Speaker John Boehner announced the formation of a select committee to probe the Obama administration’s handling of the September 2012 terrorist attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya. The moves signal the intent of congressional Republicans to make the fall campaign about more than the flawed rollout of the Affordable Care Act. Republicans contend the steps are aimed at holding the administration accountable for its actions. “When is the administration going to tell the American people the truth? They’ve not told the truth about Benghazi, they’ve not told the truth about the I.R.S,” Boehner said Wednesday. (By the way, six Democrats in tough races voted with Republicans on Lerner: Arizona’s Ron Barber, Georgia’s John Barrow, Minnesota’s Collin Peterson, North Carolina’s Mike McIntyre, West Virginia’s Nick Rahall, and Florida’s Patrick Murphy.)

All about the base? In the case of Benghazi, the New York Times’ Jeremy Peters notes that Democrats have accused Republicans of exploiting the attacks to damage former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s potential presidential prospects in 2016. “They have to rough her up,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. told the Times. “If Hillary announced definitively tomorrow that she had no interest in running for president, I think Benghazi would disappear,” he added. Republicans will surely point to a poll released last month by Fox News showing 60 percent of Americans believe Congress should continue to investigate the administration’s handling of the attacks in Benghazi. That poll, though, didn’t show the issue hurting Clinton; she still led Republican opponents by double digits in hypothetical 2016 match-ups. The question is how much weight the issue will carry with voters in November compared to the economy, health care and other bread-and-butter issues. But, just as Republicans charged that Democrats were merely trying to turn out their base with pushes on the minimum wage and equal pay, Democrats are pointing to politics about the IRS and Benghazi.

Banking on Benghazi? The new chairman of the select committee tasked with looking into Benghazi, South Carolina GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy, said Wednesday that Republicans should not raise money off “the backs of four murdered Americans.” Yet the National Republican Congressional Committee sent an email to supporters asking them for a donation to become a “Benghazi Watchdog.” Speaker Boehner pledged Wednesday that the investigation would not turn into a “circus,” but the fundraising missive shows how hard it will be for Republicans to resist making political hay (and some money) out of the probe. The risk for Republicans is that the more political the investigation appears, the tougher it will become for Gowdy and the other panel members to convince the BROADER public about the legitimacy of their findings.

2014 wrap — Aiken race: The Clay Aiken race in North Carolina’s second congressional district won’t likely be wrapped up for a week or two. Aiken is up 369 votes out of about 23,000, which is just outside the 1 percent or less margin needed for a candidate to be able to request a recount. (The candidate would have to pay for it, by the way.) According to the North Carolina Board of Elections: Absentee ballots are still out; domestic ones could trickle in until Friday; and it could be until Monday when all overseas and military ballots are received. Aiken challenger Keith Crisco would need to pick up a net of about 100 votes to get inside the 1 percent margin. County canvassing will happen Tuesday. Then Crisco has until 5 p.m. ET Wednesday to file a challenge. Certification likely wouldn’t happen for another week or so if the race isn’t dragged on longer by a recount.

2014 wrap – Tillis regrets ‘divide and conquer’ comments: With Thom Tillis avoiding a runoff in North Carolina, the New York Times Upshot model ups Republicans’ chances of taking over the Senate to 55 percent. But Tillis is dealing with the fallout of a video Democrats unearthed of the North Carolina state House speaker saying in 2011 that Republicans need to “divide and conquer” people on government assistance. He said that some “choose to get into a condition that makes them dependent on the government and say at some point, ‘You’re on your own. We may end up taking care of those babies, but we’re not going to take care of you.’” On MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown Wednesday, asked if he regrets the comments, he said, “I do,” but then added, “The frustration is that we have people that are abusing the system at the expense of us being able to do more for the people who desperately need the safety net. My point was to say we need to make it very clear, government exists to help those who cannot help themselves. And those who can need to do everything that they possibly can to let us free up those resources so that we can do better things for those who desperately need it.” By the way, we can report, Senate Majority PAC has booked an additional $800,000 in TV ads. This is going to be an epic spending arms race.

2016 wrap – Hillary on guns, and unfortunately for Christie, no one likes traffic: Hillary Clinton may not be a candidate yet, but that’s not stopping her from making political points at her regular speaking engagements. She told the National Council for Behavioral Health conference on Tuesday that the country’s gun culture has gotten “way out of balance,” and in an implicit knock to states like Georgia that have recently loosened their guns laws, she said, “We’ve got to rein in” the idea that “anybody can have a gun anywhere, anytime.” … New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie headed north to campaign with the governor who once said he’d be the Chris Christie of Maine — the first time the RGA head campaigned with a candidate in public since the George Washington Bridge scandal broke. Making the rounds at Becky’s Diner, Christie encountered a friendly crowd, but the lane closures were never far away. “He’s done a nice job as governor and I think he’s a really good man,” said one Portland resident. “But I didn’t like the bridge scandal. I hate traffic.”

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1945, President Harry Truman announced that World War II had ended in Europe. Where did the German troops officially surrender the day before? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. No one guessed yesterday’s trivia correctly. The answer was: 17 weddings, including one presidential wedding.

LINE ITEMS

  • President Barack Obama attends fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in California on Thursday.

  • Current Director of the Office of Management and Budget Sylvia Mathews Burwell starts her two-part confirmation hearing Thursday morning to become the next Secretary of Health and Human Services.

  • Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat facing off with Sen. Mitch McConnell in Kentucky this fall, is out with her first ad of the cycle, and it focuses on how she streamlined overseas military ballots.

  • The Washington Post’s Paul Kane goes to Georgia and finds Rep. Jack Kingston with the “surprising air of a front-runner.”

  • Florida Sen. Marco Rubio cut a Spanish language ad for Rep. Cory Gardner, who is running for Senate against Democrat Mark Udall in Colorado.

  • Inviting Mr. Obama to Arkansas creates a “win-win situation” for Sen. Mark Pryor, writes Roll Call’s David Hawkings. If government aid comes through, he’ll be able to say he “put Arkansas first,” and if it doesn’t, he can blame an unpopular president.

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid blocked all Republican amendments to the energy bill Wednesday, in an attempt to keep a vote on the Keystone XL pipeline separate.

  • Mr. Obama can’t wait for red-state Democrats to ride out the summer before unveiling his power plant emissions limits if he wants to see them enacted before he leaves office.

  • Citizens Against Government Waste, a fiscally conservative think tank and advocacy group, reports that $2.7 billion dollars were included in the 2014 budget for pet projects.

  • Personal income tax revenues in the first quarter of this year fell by .4 percent, and states are pointing to the fiscal cliff.

  • Just two weeks ahead of Kentucky’s primary and a month before Mississippi’s, the Senate Conservatives Fund has gone silent in those states, diverting their dwindling cash to small House races and safe Senate primaries instead.

  • Flowers Foods, the maker of the Wonderbread and Nature’s Own brands, is the most Republican-leaning company, according to The Upshot’s analysis of its political contributions.

  • During a House Energy and Commerce hearing Wednesday, health care insurers testified that the Affordable Care Act did not cause a takeover of their industry.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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