NOW with Alex Wagner | May 17, 2013
>>> what a week for congressional republicans . as the administration puts out fires at the irs and the department of justice , republicans continue to pour lighter flute on the scandalous week by bringing in their all-time favorite bogey man -- obama care. last night not 37th time, the house voted to repeal obama care. an exercise in futility that, as one wonk explains, gop leadership feels is something every house member should get to do at least once. it was a rite of passage . obama care has long been the pinata that republicans continue to blindly whack away at. but this week's tie-in to the irs , it would seem as if the pinata had exploded and rained down republican candy.
>> many people have said that obama care is here to stay. we are here as the people's representatives, as real people from, across the united states to say -- this issue is now revived. it is back on the table.
>> standing aside a towering stack of dreaded obama care regulation, house speaker john boehner pummeled the president.
>> nothing dissolves the bonds between the people and their government like the arrogance of power here in washington. that's what the american people are seeing today from the obama administration . remarkable arrogance.
>> indeed, the american people are seeing remarkable arrogance, although whether the remarkable arrogance is coming from the white house or congress is up for debate. asked if the gop dpren city over the scandals were distracting from you know, actually governing, speaker boehner immediately put that issue to rest.
>> that's why -- i continue to talk about jobs. it's our number one focus.
>> just to clarify, jobs remain the republican party 's number one focus. and why would anybody think otherwise?
>> there isn't a weekend that hasn't gone by that someone says to me, michelle, what in the world are you all waiting for in congress? why aren't you impeaching the president?
>> it is a malignant tumor metastasizing on american liberty.
>> someone needs to be held responsible. someone needs to be imprisoned. someone needs to be prosecuted.
>> i rise with the chorus of others in -- this whole notion of, repealing obama care.
>> this is run-away government at its worst. who knows who they'll target next.
>> jobs is our primary focus. but while we're focused on that, we're also focused on holding this administration accountable. our committees are working overtime to uncover the truth about what happened in libya. and they're trying to get to the bottom of what happened in the irs scandal.
>> one person actually talking about jobs today is the president, who left for baltimore for the second stop on his middle class jobs and opportunity tour. taking a brief break from their unrelenting focus on job creation , members of the house ways and means committee took several hours to grill the soon-to-be departing acting irs commissioner , steven miller .
>> when asked the truth and you know the truth and you have a legal responsibility to inform others of the truth, but you don't share that truth, what is that called?
>> i always answer questions truthfully, mr. camp.
>> i would hope that you would be willing to submit your emails , phone records, any personal meetings that you had, in the last four years.
>> obviously we'll have to talk about that.
>> how can we conclude that you did not mislead this committee?
>> i did not mislead this committee. i stand by my answer.
>> what day did the conversation took place?
>> i've got to look back at my notes on that.
>> you've got notes?
>> i would have to try to find them.
>> why did you say you had notes, if you did not have notes?
>> sir, please.
>> please, indeed. white house correspondent for the the " huffington post " and msnbc contributor, sam stein.
>> i have notes.
>> i love it. staff writer and bloomberg "business week" host of her show on msnbc, melissa harris-perry. and editor in chief of buzzfeed, ben smith , who it must be noted, sam stein drew this to my attention yesterday, according to the " jerusalem post " ben smith is the 28th most important jew in the world.
>> thanks for mentioning that on air.
>> you're so welcome, it's a big title and congratulations.
>> sam was actually 51.
>> just saying.
>> we'll get into the actual rankings. melissa i want to go to you first on this. i feel like -- there are some things that we should be talking about. including 501(c)4s, our tax code , embassy security, what it means to be a diplomat. intelligence-gathering. but we're actually kind of not really talking about any of that during the scandal week and i read "the new york times" editorial board's assessment of the situation. scandal machine, whatever cranky point republicans had been making against president obama for the last five years, dishonesty, socialism, jack-booted tyranny. they somehow found these incidents were actually the proof they had been seeking, no matter how inflated or distorted. your thoughts?
>> so remember, what we are always heading up to is whatever the next election cycle is. so in a presidential election cycle, we need big ideas , an alternate plan, all of that. all you need to do in a mid-term election cycle if you're republicans to hold on and extend the lead in the house is to shrink and polarize the electorate. the only thing you have to do with that is just to make people disgusted by government. it doesn't matter the content of that disgust. it doesn't particularly matter if it's directed towards the white house or if it's directed at congress itself. if people feel like what is this, this is stupid, why is my government doing this? i hate government. then you have a smaller and smaller group who turn out for these mid terms and the smaller the group that turns out for mid terms, the better off it is for republicans . historically the smaller the electora electorate, the more republicans are elected to the house .
>> i thought it was amazing, cue the obama care legislation. why? because everybody needs to take part in this yearly rite or biannual rite of passage . whereby we do this thing and nothing actually happened.
>> it's like spring cleaning.
>> like switching out the sweat ars, time to put the tank tops in.
>> what was the question?
>> just to melissa 's point, this is all -- i think i don't want to undermine the fact that there are some issues, that we should be thinking and talking about. but we're not actually having that conversation.
>> sure, i actually think the irs issue, let's get rid of "scandal," it is an issue. they should not be providing filters to the groups. i think the subpoenaing of the a.p. records is a big issue and it gets to the culture of the obama administration , specifically the department of justice , over how they view the source reporter relationship. i think what the week is showing is that we've been too eager to jump before waiting for facts. i think that full disclosure, my wife works for the white house , the benghazi issue has been a case in point in which we all jumped at an email that we thought was real. it turned out not to be real. it behooves us on some occasions to step back and let the facts come out before we start making jumgts.
>> why was the email -- we're learning that republicans --
>> yesterday it was reported that the head of the obama care agency at the irs was a woman who was head of the tax-exempt group. it turns out it's more complex. she left in december 2010 . her supervisor, her subordinate only found out about the issue six months after she had left to take over obama care. maybe she should have known the entire time. but when the facts come out, they make the issues much more complicated at first blush. what we should learn is that we cannot just jump in instantly without getting all the facts out there.
>> i would also say i mean i think you are starting to see elizabeth, some of the more sage minds in the republican party , say we have got to make this less transparently partisan. less transparently political, especially on benghazi . charles krauthammer was saying this the other day and now has written it. notes to gop rebenghazi, stop calling it watergate, iran-contra, bigger than watergate, it will diminish the scandal if it doesn't meet the presidency-breaking stand rds. third focusing on the political effects plays into the hands of democrats desperately claiming that this is partisan politics .
>> we saw the rnc say we shouldn't impeach was too strong a word. people should be careful with using the term impeach. we've heard the term impeach by many members of congress. someone needs to go to jail. i get asked every week by michele bachmann , why aren't you impeaching the president. thank you, michele bachmann .
>> in terms of benghazi specifically, ben, it will be interesting to see how republicans and in specific, darrell issa plays this one. we know some of this as melissa points out, is about 2014 . and some of this is about 2016 . specifically on benghazi , the tentacle reach towards hillary would seem to be really driven by a desire to not quash her prospects in 2016 . but make them more complicated. and today politico weighs in, a democratic strategist knowledgeable about administration thinking maintains that calling clinton back to a hearing would be seen as extreme and unprecedented and quite a risky proposition for house republicans . congress had her an entire day in january and she kicked their a, letter, letter.
>> it's on the screen.
>> not to this important person. if she performed that well a second time. they could lose the issue permanently. do you think they're going to get her entangled in this?
>> i think it's one of the reasons they're so interested. in all of these cases we shouldn't underestimate how much this is the obama administration 's fault. jay carney said one word changed. a very narrow semantic claim. the irs , if we understood --
>> wait, let's stop with the benghazi thing. i think the editing of the emails -- it was undersold.
>> it was obviously a communication staffs were deeply involved in this conversation about how to play it it was not the thing that romney claimed, which was covering up terrorism. which was the initial claim. that was false, there with a a traditional, but real bureaucratic spat.
>> the turf war between the c.i.a. and the state department an important thing? do we need to be having hearings about it? do we need to have topical issues focused on this, when we should be asking bigger questions about benghazi ?
>> the state department is spending tons of time reviewing security. it seems that the centrality of the spokespeople --
>> when you read that 100-some odd pages of the emails , the main emotion i kept having was i've done this in committee work before, right? it feems like the email when is you're trying to plan some sort of event.
>> it's like sam stein, you've got to go through 100 emails .
>> it's the kind of thing that before email changes would have just happened in person and you would have worked it out. it does feel like yes, they are asking some substantive questions. but it feels like somehow this long chain of emails becomes representative of something that was being hidden by, and it just feelts like no, haven't you guys ever been part of --
>> this is the aftermath of a leng legitimately horrible disaster and these guys were pointing fingers at one another and trying to make sure that when the white house said something, it would point fingers at the other agency.
>> my point is not to say we shouldn't, we have to pause, because someone actually suffered because of this whole saga. that was susan rice , who seems like she had nothing to do with any of this. was handed talking points after they were fixed to everyone's delight. went out on the sunday shows. and for that, she did not get a promotion to the secretary of state job. and it's just like, if we had paused a little bit before we started the indignation over what we thought had happened.
>> or if the obama administration had released these emails .
>> and my wife will comment on me for saying this, but they should have been more transparent. there is a role for reporters and observers to say maybe we should wait and see before we jump to these conclusions.
>> what about the fundamental question, should the public have known there was potential involvement of al qaeda in this attack? should we have known that? at the very beginning?
>> a great question.
>> do you think we should have known?
>> but the emailing of the benghazi situation, i think you could say, a, they should have been transparent, there should have been a clearer explanation from the beginning. yesterday they released a memo on funding embassy security. there's no reason they couldn't have gone out immediately in the wake. i know there are diplomats who would say it's not about having more protection around our diplomatic corps . but these concrete actions or statements, you know, it's eight months later. the reason we're talking about this now is because republicans and darrell issa had been beating the drum on this relentlessly since it happened. there's a question as to why the white house wasn't more ahead of this eight months ago.
>> the only reason we know this happened is because darrell issa was beating the drum. otherwise, we wouldn't know.
>> there's a weird kind of thing that happens with the question of transparency with the obama administration . and i suppose what i would say is on the one hand, i think it's not a straightforward as it appears to be in the sense that i do think that they have been not particularly good communicators, they haven't done a very good job on everything from branding the affordable care act on forward, right? but there's also this way in which under constant attack, they then begin to behave like people who are under siege and they make bad choices because they seem to be behaving like people who are under siege. but they are after all under siege in the sort of partisan space where within three weeks of the president's initial inauguration, people were beginning to call in these tea party rally for his impeachment. three weeks into --
>> if a reporter had published those 100 pages of emails , the department of justice may have subpoenaed --
>> i think the doj thing is legitimate. but on the question of, i think this is a point where the irs thing has some pieces in it. the benghazi thing has pieces within it. but that's not what's being sold within the discourse of why americans should be mad with the obama administration .
>> i'll just say the fact that the house republicans have voted to repeal obama care for the 37th time at the same time they passed a budget that garners a huge amount of savings from obama care is an exercise in not only futility, but hypocrisy and someone needed to say that before we went to break and it fell