Tennesseans join clamor for inquiries on Obama Administration actions

8:48 PM, May 14, 2013   |    comments
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By Paul C. Barton / Gannett Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - With Obama Administration missteps seen as emerging scandals by some and generating bipartisan outrage among many, members of the Tennessee congressional delegation offered their own outcries Tuesday.

And Republican members were unanimous in foreseeing multiple investigations -- at least in the House -- that could consume a lot of the oxygen left in President Barack Obama's second term.
"Anytime you violate the people's trust there is a price to pay," Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, said in an interview.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, said the controversies could move Obama from lame-duck status in his second term to "dead duck" status.

House Republicans, Roe and other Tennessee members said, are determined to get to the bottom of all three situations - shortcomings in security last year at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya; the Internal Revenue Service singling out conservative political groups and making them answer exhaustive questions about their operations; and the Department of Justice secretly obtaining phone records in 2012 of journalists working for the Associated Press.

"What in the world are they doing (snooping on) phone lines at the Associated Press?" Roe said, emphasizing it was a blatant attack on freedom of the press.

"I think they are all three serious (situations)."

Republican Sen. Bob Corker said that while many Washington controversies fail to capture the public's imagination, questions about the propriety of IRS actions are totally different.

"I think this is chilling," Corker said. "This is a very serious violation of the public trust."

"We have had Tennesseans and Tennessee groups who have felt they were targeted by the IRS," added Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, while declining to name some. "The cover-up mentality that has taken hold is completely inexcusable."

Rep. Diane Black, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said she was looking forward to the start of committee hearings Friday on the IRS situation.

In a statement, Black said she would "not rest until the full scope of the Internal Review Service's corruption is uncovered, the guilty parties are held accountable, and actions are taken to ensure that this never happens again. I will be demanding answers from the acting Commissioner of the IRS and the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration."

Not all of the outrage was Republican.

"The IRS should never target Americans for their political beliefs. We must investigate who broke the law and punish them," said Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville.

About monitoring phones at the Associated Press, Cooper said, "Forcing the AP to disclose sources is deeply troubling, particularly since legal safeguards were not apparently followed."

But in regard to Benghazi, the Democrat said he saw some troubling political games.

"I hope the result of the Benghazi hearings will be safer diplomats and a wiser foreign policy, but today it looks more like a game of gotcha," Cooper said.

But his Tennessee Republican colleagues said the administration brought the Benghazi questions upon itself by attempting to minimize the situation for political advantage.

"Most people in their heart of hearts believe the administration slanted the situation because there was an election," Corker said.

"I want to understand when somebody is going to be held accountable."

Roe said former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remains too defensive about the situation.

Clinton "would look at it differently if it were her children (killed)," he said. "We abandoned them by not coming to help them."

And Blackburn said she still wants the answer to such questions as "who gave the stand-down order."

Meanwhile, Roe and Blackburn were not the only ones predicting the multiple story lines would be costly to the administration in its effort to advance its agenda.

"These (investigations) are going to take a lot of time," Corker said.

And even though Democrats, not Republicans, control Senate committees, Corker said he and other GOP senators would lobby for hearings on that side of the Capitol.

Corker, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, began the process last week when he and other GOP members sent a letter to Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. and committee chairman, asking for a hearing related to some of the latest information to surface about the Benghazi situation.

"We're going to keep working with him," Corker said, adding that he hopes public outcry will persuade Senate Democrats to hold their own investigations into the assorted controversies.

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Contact Paul C. Barton at pbarton@gannett.com

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