From the federal overhaul of American medicine that brought us the Cornhusker Kickback, the Louisiana Purchase, and Gator Aid, we can now add the Sebelius Shakedown. In what it calls an “unusual fundraising push,” the Washington Postwrites, “Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has gone, hat in hand, to health industry officials, asking them to make large financial donations to help with the effort to implement President Obama’s landmark health-care law.” According to the New York Times, Sebelius has suggested “seven-figure donations.”
Sebelius’s actions, which may or may not have violated federal law, are certainly an abuse of authority. When possibly the second-most powerful person in Washington comes and suggests that perhaps you should make a donation to her administration’s favorite cause, it’s hard to say no — especially when she holds almost unchecked power over the business sector in which you compete.
The Timeswrites, “After first denying that [Obama] administration officials had engaged in fund-raising, [Ms. Sebelius’s] department confirmed Friday that [she] had made calls soliciting support from the health care industry, including insurance and pharmaceutical executives.” The Times adds, “The Department of Health and Human Services [HHS] said that Ms. Sebelius’s actions to supplement money appropriated by Congress were proper and would continue.” Sebelius, the Times notes, has been fundraising since March.
According to the Times, “several executives said they were uncomfortable with the discussions because the federal government has the power to approve or reject the health plans they want to sell in insurance markets that will be run by federal officials in more than 30 states.” The Times writes, “An insurance executive said that some insurers had been asked for $1 million donations, and that ‘bigger companies have been asked for a lot more.’”
Sebelius has encouraged that donations be made to Enroll America, a sort of community organizing group for Obamacare. The Times reports, “The president of Enroll America, Anne Filipic, worked on Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign, became an aide to Ms. Sebelius, was later deputy executive director of the Democratic National Committee and then worked in the Obama White House as deputy director of the Office of Public Engagement.” Comically, it adds, “But a former Obama administration official, who spends time raising money for Enroll America, said its work [is] ‘not political.’”
Neither of my pieces quoted the Rhodes email. This was no accident. Near-verbatim is not verbatim. My first piece quoted the House GOP report on Benghazi and reported that Rhodes suggested taking the issue to the Deputies Committee meeting scheduled for the next day. My second piece paraphrased the House report – attributing concerns to State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland, the author of the email to which Rhodes was replying, rather than the State Department generally – and reported that Rhodes suggested taking the issue to the Deputies Committee meeting scheduled for the next day. Rhodes did not respond to a request for comment from TWS before the original report on his emails.
Tapper’s report quotes my second piece. I’ve included all of this below – my email to Rhodes, the email that was provided Tapper, and my descriptions of the Rhodes email in two pieces in TWS.
1) Email to Rhodes.
It’s Steve Hayes from the Weekly Standard. I’m working on a piece about the Benghazi talking points. I understand you wrote the email on the evening of September 14th suggesting that the talking points issues be resolved at the Deputies Committee meeting the next morning. I’d be eager to get your account of what led to that email and what happened in the meeting that led to the version of talking points the administration ultimately used – that [sic]I’m jumping on short flight now, but would I'm available later tonight to talk. Or happy to take whatever thoughts you have by email.
2) Tapper’s version:
“Sorry to be late to this discussion. We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.
“There is a ton of wrong information getting out into the public domain from Congress and people who are not particularly informed. Insofar as we have firmed up assessments that don’t compromise intel or the investigation, we need to have the capability to correct the record, as there are significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression.
“We can take this up tomorrow morning at deputies.”
3) Description in the May 13, 2013, edition of TWS:
At a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Senate majority leader Harry Reid blamed laws restricting abortion and pro-lifers who picket abortion clinics for pushing women to the clinic of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted Monday for murdering three infants.
"What led to these convictions of murder for this man is the fact that people have been pushed back into these holes to do something that's legal," Reid said before mentioning the picketing of clinics and "all these restrictive laws."
According to the Senate's top Democrat, the case highlighted the need for "clean and sterile" late-term abortion clinics.
"I think to keep pushing these clinics back into the situations where they wind up like this is wrong," Reid said. "I think no matter how you stand on the issue of abortion, people who make that decision should do it and not have to be worried about infections and some butcher like this doing the bad things they do. They should be in a place that's clean and sterile and have people that know what they're doing and care about what they do."
Reid's remarks came in response to a question from THE WEEKLY STANDARD about whether or not he supports a bill introduced last week that would ban abortion in the nation's capital after the fifth month of pregnancy, with exceptions for when the life or physical health of the mother is at risk. There are currently no restrictions on abortion throughout all 9 months of pregnancy in the federal district. Reid did not directly comment on the bill but expressed general opposition to restrictions on abortion.
In an undercover video released recently by the pro-life group Live Action, a late-term abortionist who operates five blocks from the White House is asked by a pregnant woman what would happen if her baby were born alive during an abortion. "We would not help it," the doctor said.
Update: Reid has said for many years that he's "pro-life" and even voted in 2003 against an an amendment stating that Roe v. Wade was rightly decided. In addition to expressing hostility to abortion restrictions this afternoon, Reid declared flatly that "the law of the land is now what the Supreme Court has said."
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Spokesman Jay Carney said some at the White House "were aware" of reports that IRS was targeting conservatives, but that nobody bothered to do anything about it:
"I still don't quite understand the timeline," said MSNBC's Chuck Todd, about the IRS scandal. "We had members of Congress complaining about this for two years. Did it just never reach you guys here at the White House that there was these complaints that conservative groups felt they were being singled out and targeted?"
"I'm sure people were aware of and knew some of the stories that had been reported about the complaints, but we were not aware of any activity or of any review conducted by the inspector general until several weeks ago," Carney responded.
Todd replied, "Should you have been made aware sooner? I don't understand."
"Let's just say that -- well, first of all for all the reasons why distance between -- you know, why the IRS should not be politicized, you know, there has to be that distance. But on the specific question that you had, I want to wait and see what the report says and wait and see what we actually know happened and what the facts are before we comment beyond what the president said yesterday on this matter and before we make any decisions or pronouncements about what actions should be taken. I mean, you heard the president say what he believed and what he feels what is reported about specific targeting turned out to be true. But we need to see if that's actually the case," Carney said.
Speaking today in Stockholm, Sweden, John Kerry called "climate change" a "life and death" issue. And the secretary of state apologized on behalf of the United States for not doing enough to fight "climate change."
"I also want to say that we appreciate Sweden’s partnership because these challenges in Europe and North Africa and Central Asia simply do not belong to one nation; they’re shared by all of us and they affect all of us. And at the top of that list of shared challenges which does not get enough attention, and it’s one of the principal reasons that I came here today to share bilateral meetings with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister but also will travel on to Kiruna to take part in the Arctic Council, a principal challenge to all of us of life and death proportions is the challenge of climate change," said Kerry.
"It is not a challenge that can be solved by any one nation, and in our discussions with the Prime Minister he pointed out to me that, in fact, Sweden’s contribution to the problem of – to the problem of climate change is a tiny point percentage of the total problem. And yet Sweden’s contribution to the solution is much more significant than anything that might be expected because of the level of its own contribution to the problem. So Sweden is way ahead of the curve."
Kerry want on to apologize for lack of action on the part of America:
"And I have to say that I regret that my own country – and President Obama knows this and is committed to changing it –needs to do more and we are committed to doing more. And we come here to Kiruna with a great understanding of the challenge to the Arctic as the ice melts, as the ecosystem is challenged, the fisheries, and the possibilities of increased commercial traffic as a result of the lack of ice raises a whole set of other issues that we need to face up to."
"If I could then go back to the IRS issue," said a reporter from the AP. "The president did use the word 'if these activities had taken place,' but there has been an acknowledgement on the part of the IRS leadership that these things did indeed occur. I wondered why the president used that phrasing in claiming that it was outrageous?"
"Those from the IRS that have spoken about this obviously have much greater insight into what took place than we do. We have not seen the report. We have not independently collected information about what transpired. We need the independent inspector general's report to be released before we can make judgments. One person's view of what actions were taken or what that individual did is not enough for us to say something concretely happened that was innapropriate," said Carney.
Richard Rubin at Bloomberg poses the following head scratcher:
What is known so far about the Internal Revenue Service's examination of political nonprofit groups doesn’t answer one main question -- whether the U.S. tax agency’s actions were malicious or just inept?
Last week, the Benghazi talking points took center stage in the ongoing investigation of the 9/11 anniversary attacks in Libya. Jay Carney came under intense questioning at Friday's White House press briefing as he struggled to justify a dozen iterations of talking points before Susan Rice used the final version for her now-infamous five Sunday talk show appearances on September 16, 2012. However, a background briefing by the State Department four days before Rice's appearances provides the earliest extended look at the information used to prepare those talking points.
On September 12, in the evening following the attacks, three unnamed State Department officials briefed journalists via teleconference on the rapidly developing story. Although President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton had already made some public statements, this briefing contained far more detail than any previous remarks. As the teleconference commenced, the most striking part about it is that "senior administration official one" (who has been widely reported as Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland) does not mention "protests" or "demonstrations":
So let me give you a little bit of the chronology to the best of our knowledge. Again, the times are likely to change as it becomes a little bit more precise, but this is how we’ve been able to reconstruct what we have from yesterday.
At approximately 4 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time yesterday, which was about 10 p.m. in Libya, the compound where our office is in Benghazi began taking fire from unidentified Libyan extremists. By about 4:15, the attackers gained access to the compound and began firing into the main building, setting it on fire...
Later in the briefing, a journalist asks a question about protests [emphasis added]:
QUESTION: ...[T]he larger question is, you didn’t talk at all about the protests. You started your timeline with that the firing began. Can you talk about the timeline of when the protests started, how that fit in with it, and your sense of whether or not the protestors and the assailants were the same?...
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: ...With regard to the protests – I assume you’re not talking about protests in Cairo, are you? You’re talking about protests in Benghazi? ... We frankly don’t have a full picture of what may have been going on outside of the compound walls before the firing began. So I really just don’t have any specifics on that at the moment. I apologize.
Seems K Street and Max Baucus were looking forward to a fun year of fixing up the tax code and making it stand up and salute. But now the IRS has gone and muddied the waters. As Erik Wasson and Peter Schroeder write at The Hill:
The uproar over the Internal Revenue Service targeting of Tea Party groups has stirred jitters on K Street over the prospects for getting tax reform done this Congress.
The uphill battle to simplify the complex tax code by winnowing tax breaks and lowering tax rates could take a step back if Democrats and Republican become consumed by the admitted IRS wrongdoing.
In a couple minutes, the top Republican in the Senate will say that "we’ve only started to scratch the surface of this scandal." Mitch McConnell will say those words in reference to the IRS-targeting-conservatives scandal, and will make those remarks on the Senate floor.
"Over the past few days we’ve heard many in the media talk about how this has been a “rough week” for the Administration. It’s been a worse week for the First Amendment," McConnell will say.
He'll ask the president to take action--and help get to the bottom of the scandal. "This morning, I’m calling on the president to make available, completely and without restriction, everyone who can answer the questions we have as to what was going on at the IRS, who knew about it, and how high it went. No stonewalling, no more incomplete answers, no more misleading responses, no holding back witnesses, no matter how senior their current or former positions — we need full transparency and cooperation. "
And McConnell will say that the scandal, he believes, runs deeper. "Clearly, we’ve only started to scratch the surface of this scandal. The American people are looking for answers, and I’m determined to help them get to the bottom of this."
"Over the weekend, we learned that the extent of it was even broader than we originally thought. Then this morning, we all learned that the targeting wasn’t limited to an IRS office out in Cincinnatti — as the Administration suggested last week — but that it reached all the way to IRS headquarters in Washington. What we don’t know at this point is whether it jumped the fence from the IRS to the White House. But we do know this: we can’t count on the administration to be forthcoming about the details of this scandal — because so far they’ve been anything but."
In a letter to a seven-year-old Wisconsin boy, Vice President Joe Biden considers the possibility of guns with chocolate bullets. Biden's letter reads:
I am sorry it took me so very long to respond to your letter. I really like your idea. If we had guns that shot chocolate, not only would our country be safer, it would be happier. People love chocolate.
You are a good boy,
The vice president was responding to Myles's suggestion that guns shoot chocolate bullets.
“He said if we have chocolate bullets, nobody would get hurt and nobody would be sad,” a teacher at the boy's school said. “I’m going to start crying again because he was so insightful.”
Ahead of his official nomination this week as the GOP's candidate for governor of Virginia, state attorney general Ken Cuccinelli has a new ad outlining part of the Republican's economic plan.
"I have a plan to make Virginia an engine for job growth," Cuccinelli says in the 30-second spot. "It starts with ending tax loopholes and putting an end to special interest giveaways." He touts his proposal to lower tax rates for small business owners and middle-class families.
"The powerful and well-connected already get their breaks," Cuccinelli concludes. "As governor, I'll be on your side." Watch the ad below:
National Democrats, meanwhile, have begun to link Cuccinelli's anti-abortion views with those of "radical Republicans" like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, two failed 2012 Senate candidates whose campaigns were sunk by innapropriate comments on rape and abortion. Watch the Democratic Governors Association web ad below:
Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, both Republicans, have written a letter President Obama saying the IRS scandal "is big brother come to life."
"We write to you today disturbed after learning that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has been unfairly targeting and applying added scrutiny to applicants for tax-exempt status based on their conservative beliefs. To be blunt, this is Big Brother come to life and a witch hunt to prevent Americans from exercising their First Amendment rights," the letter reads.
The First Amendment gives Americans the ability to freely express their opinions regardless of their political beliefs. The actions of the IRS are an attempt to gag the voices of Americans who may disagree with the policies and left-leaning ideology of your administration. Quite frankly, this is un-American.
This is a subversion of American liberty and a secret but direct attack against the U.S. Constitution. Immediate action must be taken to ensure this never happens again. Here are two steps that should be taken:
Fire any and all employees responsible for this situation.
Appoint a Special Prosecutor now to find out if laws were broken and if anyone committed crimes.
The bottom line is that regardless of one’s political beliefs, conservatives and liberals alike must be able to exercise their First Amendment rights without fear that the federal government will abuse them for having differing opinions.