On a Wednesday, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee Montagne is in Afghanistan this week. I'm Steve Inskeep.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And I'm David Greene. Good morning. When we think about the controversies swirling around Washington this week, there's a common denominator. They fall on the shoulders of Attorney General Eric Holder.
INSKEEP: First, news broke that the Justice Department secretly obtained phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors. This has ignited a First Amendment uproar.
Tea Party activists are calling for a full investigation, and possibly lawsuits, following revelations that the Internal Revenue Service flagged so-called patriot groups for extra scrutiny in applications for federal tax-exempt status.
Among those claiming unjust and unconstitutional targeting by the IRS is a group called TheTeaParty.net, which bills itself as the largest grass-roots conservative Tea Party organization in the country.
The sudden eruption of second-term scandals in his administration will have many costs for President Obama, but surely the most grievous will be the lost opportunity to transcend the partisan wars of Washington. That aspiration was his fondest dream for his second term, much as it was for his first. Now it seems destined to be dashed once again.
The Senate Judiciary held its second round of debate on changes to the bipartisan immigration bill. Tuesday's focus was visas for workers, including visas for skilled technical work. David Welna talks to Melissa Block.
This was the critical moment, the brief time between his inaugural and when the nation's collective focus turns to whom his successor will be, when President Obama had to make real progress on his second-term agenda and thus forge his legacy.
Instead, the president finds his administration, the public, Congress and the news media distracted by controversies over Benghazi, the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups and a leak investigation in which the Justice Department secretly obtained months of phone records of Associated Press journalists.
President Ulysses S. Grant gets the credit — or blame? — for helping make "mistakes were made" a phrase that politicians can't seem to avoid using.
White House press secretary Ron Ziegler was famous for mounting a strong defense of President Nixon during the Watergate scandal. In 1973, he famously apologized to The Washington Post and reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, saying "mistakes were made in terms of comments" that the White House made about them.
Credit Terry Ashe / Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image
In December 1986 and again during his State of the Union address a month later, President Reagan conceded that "mistakes were made" by his administration when it sold arms to Iran and shipped the proceeds to Contras in Nicaragua.
Credit Alex Wong / Getty Images
Steven Miller, now the acting commissioner at the Internal Revenue Service, grabbed the "mistakes were made" lifering in an op-ed published by USA Today on Tuesday.
Credit Doug Mills / AP
Democrats play the "mistakes were made" card as well. In January 1998, President Clinton was asked about a fundraising scandal. "Mistakes were made here by people who did it either deliberately or inadvertently," he replied.
Credit Spencer Arnold / Getty Images
President Ulysses S. Grant gets the credit — or blame? — for helping turn "mistakes were made" into a phrase that American politicians can't seem to avoid using.
When it comes to approving new medical treatments, the Food and Drug Administration is balancing the need for patient safety against the urgency of making important new treatments available as quickly as possible.
Some argue the FDA sets the bar too high, requiring a process that takes too much time and money to carry out. They say that can leave patients waiting longer than necessary for promising treatments or lead to drugs not being developed at all.
This IRS scandal has given Republicans an unexpected opportunity to chide the Obama administration. And it comes as the GOP was resurrecting questions about how top Washington officials, including the president, handled the attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya last year.
NPR's David Welna has more on the latest political firestorm.
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep.
We're going to spend some time this morning, examining tax examiners at the IRS. The Internal Revenue Service is under fire for paying extra attention to conservative groups that were seeking tax exempt status. The groups had names suggesting they were linked with the Tea Party.
GREENE: Now, social welfare organizations can claim tax exemptions, political groups are treated differently.
Lanny J. Davis, a former special counsel for President Clinton, is a man who knows something about managing a White House crisis. And he isn't exactly impressed by how President Obama's aides have handled the fallout from numerous crises, from Solyndra to Benghazi and now with the Internal Revenue Service controversy.
Eric Wilson, head of the Kentucky 9/12 Project, portrays a representative of the tyrannical kingdom as he talks to children on the first night of Vacation Liberty School at a church in Georgetown, Ky., in 2010.
What would you do if the IRS wanted to see your interactions on social media?
At least one Tea Party group in Ohio received just such a request. As part of a broad inquiry for information about the group's activities after it had applied for tax-exempt status, the IRS wanted details about how the Ohio Liberty Coalition promotes or publicizes itself on social media such as Facebook.
Americans appear to be split over the Obama administration's handling of the aftermath from the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.
Louisiana drivers would be able to add the message "I'm a Cajun" on their licenses, under a bill making its way through the statehouse. Here, shrimp fisherman Merlin Boudreaux holds up part of his catch in Morgan City, St. Mary Parish, La.
A bill making its way through the Louisiana Legislature would let Cajun citizens celebrate their ancestry by customizing their driver's license, adding the phrase "I'm a Cajun" below their photograph.
It would cost $5 to add the message; the money would go toward "scholarships distributed by the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, a program promoting French language and culture in the state," reports NOLA.com.
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. The Obama administration is playing defense on multiple fronts. One topic, the IRS; officials there have admitted they targeted conservative groups that were applying for tax-exempt status. The other issue is Benghazi. Republicans are once again hammering the White House for editing talking points about last September's deadly attack in Libya.
As we just heard, it's been a rocky few weeks for the Obama administration. And joining us now for some analysis of the politics of the moment is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hey there, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.
CORNISH: So what's going on here? Is the White House, you know, in the grip of that second term curse?
Tea Party activists gather on Capitol Hill in 2011. A surge in applications for 501(c)(4) status in recent years has revealed sometimes murky and contradictory rules governing the political activities of tax-exempt groups.
President Obama expressed outrage Monday over the Internal Revenue Service's admission that it targeted certain conservative groups for extra scrutiny. By the time the president weighed in, members of both parties in Congress had already begun preparing hearings to grill IRS officials on the issue.
The controversy is rooted in a question neither the IRS nor Congress has answered clearly: Exactly what kind of political activity is allowed for tax-exempt groups — particularly those with secret donors?
The disclosure White House emails is the latest twist in the controversy of how the Obama administration handled the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi last September. Much of the debate here in Washington is over what happened afterwards and the roles of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama.
It's "outrageous and there's no place for it" if the Internal Revenue Service did, as it has admitted, single out some conservative groups for extra scrutiny in recent years, President Obama said Monday morning during a news conference at the White House.
Millions of Americans rely on food stamps to keep from going hungry. They can also use them to buy sugary drinks. Some groups, including the National Center for Public Policy Research, say that's not right. Host Michel Martin discusses this with the Center's Justin Danhof, and University of Illinois Professor Craig Gundersen.
We're switching gears now. If you're like most people out there, at some point, you've probably found yourself pulling extra hours or extra shifts and you might have looked forward to getting a little extra something in your paycheck at the end of the week or month.
"The Internal Revenue Service's scrutiny of conservative groups went beyond those with 'tea party' or 'patriot' in their names — as the agency admitted Friday — to also include ones worried about government spending, debt or taxes, and even ones that lobbied to 'make America a better place to live,' " The Wall Street Journal reports.
And let's turn now to the topic of political intelligence. This is the business of collecting highly detailed information from Congress and the regulatory agencies and then using it to make it money on Wall Street. The Securities and Exchange Commission is now investigating this practice. The probe comes a year after Congress passed legislation that barred lawmakers and staffers from the leaking insider information as a violation of their official duties
Republican lawmakers on Sunday called for a full investigation of the Internal Revenue Service after it was revealed Friday that it had singled out Tea Party and other conservative groups for heightened scrutiny in applications for tax-exempt status.
NPR's congressional correspondent David Welna speaks with host Scott Simon about the flurry of last-minute amendments, most from conservative Republicans, to alter the bipartisan immigration legislation.
The Pentagon says the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration could leave the U.S. with a military that is simply unprepared for the most challenging combat missions. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told Congress in April that the military is eating its seed corn.