News Analysis: White House Plays Defense Amid Growing Controversies

The White House has its back against the wall amid myriad scandals, forcing the administration to go on the defensive, U.S. experts say.

The controversies are numerous, ranging from last year's snooping by the Justice Department on journalists to the powerful Internal Revenue Service (IRS) targeting conservative groups. The White House's perceived obfuscation after the terror attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi has also drawn controversy.

In recent weeks, the Veterans Affairs department has come under fire amid accusations that 40 veterans died while waiting for treatment at hospitals administered by the department.

That has left the White House reeling, scrambling to control the damage as it goes into defense mode.

When news of the veterans scandal broke last week, U.S. President Barack Obama held a quickly arranged press briefing to address the issue, telling reporters "people will be held accountable."

But the statements have not held back the tide of criticism, and analysts say the White House needs to re-assess its media strategy and work overtime to get its message out.

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said the White House's strategy would be to try to change the subject.

"We're seeing this with the foreign policy speech (Obama) is delivering on Wednesday. He's mired below the 40 percent mark. And when your approval rating is that low, you're going to do anything you can to try to change the subject or at least shift the spotlight on to the Republicans," O'Connell told Xinhua.

He said the typical way the White House handled scandals was to first declare outrage, then call for a study into the issue and six months later either declare the problem solved or blame the Republicans.

The myriad scandals have caused those Democrats in Congress who are facing re-election this year to distance themselves from the White House.

Read more from Matthew Rusling at GlobalPost

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Even Back Home In Virginia, Cantor Feels The Pressure On Immigration From Both Sides

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor took heat in his own backyard Wednesday from both sides of the immigration debate, trying to fend off a primary challenge from his right flank even as he faces scorching pressure from immigrant rights advocates to lead Republicans in passing legislation.

The pressure from both sides makes Mr. Cantor a microcosm of the dilemma Republicans face nationally.

Minutes after primary challenger Dave Brat held a press conference at the Virginia Capitol accusing Mr. Cantor of being “the number one cheerleader in Congress for amnesty,” immigration activists were rallying inside the building, demanding that the No. 2 House Republican bring a legalization bill to the House floor for a vote this year.

Trying to push back, Mr. Cantor’s campaign sent out a mailer this week arguing he’s been the chief obstacle to amnesty.

GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said that taking heat from both sides is the price Mr. Cantor is paying for having good intentions and trying to step out on the issue.

“Passing the Senate’s bill is not an option for Cantor or House Republicans,” he said, predicting the House would become more open to dealing with the issue if Republicans take back control of the U.S. Senate in the fall midterm elections.

Read more from David Sherfinski at The Washington Times

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Strategist Ford O'Connell: Republicans Must Woo Hispanics

Supporting in-state college tuition for Florida's undocumented immigrants is "politically smart" for Gov. Rick Scott as he tries to hang onto his job against challenger Charlie Crist, Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Newsmax TV on Wednesday. 

"He's got to tap into the 23 percent of Floridians who are Hispanic, and this is a way to open the door," O'Connell told "America's Forum" host John Bachman and Newsmax contributor Francesca Page.

"It is a little early to say" whether Scott's embrace of a position that plays well with Hispanic voters will, in turn, help Republican presidential candidates in 2016, O'Connell says. But he said that what is "a pragmatic policy" for one state could serve as a model for a GOP White House run.

"The only question is do you actually make the right outreach?" O'Connell said. "And at the end of the day, if Republicans want to win the White House in 2016, they're going to need Hispanics in the tent."

Read more from Sean Piccoli at Newsmax.com

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News Analysis: U.S. Media Turning Against Obama As Scandals Pile Up

While long perceived by critics to favor U.S. President Barack Obama, the U.S. media is now beginning to turn against him.

Critics have for the last several years blasted mainstream U.S. media for what they billed as favoritism toward Obama, the fist black president in the U.S. history, while seeming to sweep perceived White House missteps under the rug.

But now, as scandals pile up one after another, it has become increasingly difficult for media to ignore the controversy, the latest being accusations that U.S. veterans have died due to delays in treatment at veterans'hospitals.

Indeed, the scandals are numerous, ranging from last year's snooping by the Justice Department on journalists to the powerful Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups. The White House's perceived obfuscation after the terror attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, has also drawn controversy.

In recent weeks, the Veterans Affairs department has come under fire amid accusations that 40 veterans died while waiting for treatment at hospitals administered by the department.

The New York Times, long perceived by critics to favor Obama, recently ran a headline referring to Obama's "setbacks" in Japan and the Middle East. The Times'columnist Maureen Dowd also recently upbraided the administration over the 2012 Benghazi attacks that left four Americans dead, including U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.

Many other publications have run stories critical of Obama's landmark healthcare overhaul, also known as Obamacare.

"They're certainly not going to be coddling him," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said of media treatment of Obama in the lead up to the midterm elections.

"Unless the economy makes a dramatic improvement, and with the (veterans') scandal, it's hard to see how the media will take the spotlight off Obama, but then again all it really takes is some Republican gaffe somewhere" for the media to put its focus elsewhere, he said.

Read more from Matthew Rusling at GlobalPost

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News Analysis: Obama To Make Foreign Policy Speech Amid Charges Of Weakness

U.S. President Barack Obama is slated to make a speech on Wednesday outlining his foreign policy goals, as critics cast him as a foreign policy paper tiger.

Obama's foreign policy approval ratings stand at a mere 39 percent, and critics say the president's repeated "red line" remarks -- that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a line that could invite U.S. military intervention -- have caused countries worldwide to see him as a leader who fails to follow words with action.

Indeed, critics called his "red line" statements tantamount to giving Moscow a green light to deploy troops to the Crimea in recent months, although Russia said the move was intended simply to protect ethnic Russians there.

Some critics call the U.S. response to Russia almost comical. After Obama lambasted Moscow for what he said was acting contrary to international law, he merely slapped travel bans on a handful of Russians, which was viewed as a lackluster response by those who advocated much harsher sanctions. 

Moreover, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday publicly mocked Obama. In a move that made many Americans cringe, Putin asked why "doesn't (Obama) get a job in a court or something," in an interview with the CNBC in St. Petersburg.

Obama's speech, to be made at the West Point commencement ceremony, is expected to counter suggestions that the president lacks resolve in the foreign policy realm. U.S. media reported Tuesday that Obama will explain his brand of foreign policy is international, rather than isolationist.

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell told Xinhua that the main criticism of Obama's foreign policy "is his aversion to military action that makes it harder for the U.S. to levy credible threats that force international foes to change their behavior."

Read more from Matthew Rusling at Xinhua

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Hillary's Secret Weapon? Praise From Republican Lawmakers

Republican praise of the Clinton era over the last several years could reverberate in the 2016 presidential race, giving the Democratic front-runner a key talking point.

One of Hillary Clinton's biggest challengers in her likely White House bid is convincing voters that she can make Washington work. Critics have long called Clinton a polarizing figure, citing her effort to revamp the nation's healthcare system in the 1990s and more recently, her congressional testimony on the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya.

But Clinton can counter those salvoes by citing Republican compliments of her and a slew of GOP statements on how former President Clinton worked with the other side of the aisle to pass sweeping legislation.

Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), the 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate, last year said if Clinton had become president in 2009, “we’d have fixed this fiscal mess by now.” The Budget Committee chairman was drawing a comparison between Clinton and President Obama, who has struggled to strike deals with Republicans.

Should she become commander-in-chief, Clinton would not lead the nation exactly how her husband did. But she would likely adopt a similar leadership style, and Bill Clinton would be right at her side.

On many occasions, Republicans have touted Bill Clinton's reign as a way to bash Obama. They maintain the 42nd president negotiated in good faith and Obama doesn't.

Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who is chairman of the CivilForumPAC, said these GOP remarks will echo in 2016.

“If Hillary Clinton does indeed run in 2016, one of the most powerful weapons she will have in her campaign arsenal is ‘Republicans, in their own words.’ It’s a treasure trove of sound-bytes and footage that could leave Republicans kicking themselves when it is all said and done.”

O’Connell said, “Need to distance yourself from the albatross known as Obama? Roll the tape. Want to tout your bipartisan credentials to woo independents? Roll the tape. Have to show that you’re a pragmatic problem solver? Roll the tape.

Read more from Bob Cusack at The Hill

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United States To Try To Keep Small Force In Afghanistan

The US president Barack Obama has made only the fourth visit of his presidency to Afghanistan as the White House mulls a decision on how many troops to keep in the country beyond the end of the year. America wants to leave a small residual force, but that depends on Afghan president Hamid Karzai's successor agreeing to a security pact that he's refused to sign.

Republican political commentator Ford O'Connell.

FORD O'CONNELL: I tip my hat to the president; this is what you've got to on Memorial Day. But let's be honest, there is a little cynical politics at play here and this is about optics.

You know, his approval rating on foreign policy is 39 per cent; he's getting pounded in the media right now about the VA (Veteran's Affairs) scandal.

He is looking for anything to really change the narrative right now and I think that he's going to try and piggy back this trip into the West Point speech and try to really change basically the subject.

Read more at Radio Australia 

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The GOP Goes Pragmatic In 2014

Did Mitch McConnell keep his word and bury the tea party?

The overwhelming victory of McConnell himself — the embodiment of the Republican establishment — over tea party-aligned Matt Bevin in the Kentucky Republican Senate primary would suggest so. So, many would say, did the victory by Thom Tillis, North Carolina’s speaker of the House, in the Republican primary to take on incumbent Kay Hagan. Tea party Senate candidates in Georgia and Colorado have been vanquished as well.

But most expect Tillis will earn tea party support when the dust clears, and Georgians are expected to line up behind their eventual nominee as well. Chris McDaniel in Mississippi, a tea party challenger to Thad Cochran, who has been in the Senate since 1978, could well win. And David Dewhurst, an establishment Republican stalwart, could lose his job as lieutenant governor of Texas if present trends continue. 

This is disturbing not to Republicans but to Democratic operatives and their friends in the media. As Robert Costa and Phillip Rucker wrote in The Washington Post, “Democrats were left disappointed” with Tuesday’s primary results, as “GOP Senate candidates prone to making controversial statements lost to better-financed, more disciplined rivals with the potential to capi­tal­ize on Obama’s unpopularity and the troubles with his signature health-care law.”

That is, candidates who can win won, and candidates prone to blow it blew it.

Read more from Ford O'Connell at U.S. News & World Report

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Secretary In ‘No-Win Situation’ As He’s Called To Testify On Consulate Scandal

Secretary of State John F. Kerry will be on the hot seat next month — slated to be grilled by GOP congressional pit bull Darrell Issa on the alleged White House cover-up of the Benghazi terrorist attacks — in a high-profile hearing that threatens to embroil him in the growing scandal and distract him from his international agenda, critics said yesterday.

“He’s in a no-win situation,” said Erin O’Brien, a political science professor at University of Massachusetts Boston. “If he doesn’t testify, it just gives the story more legs and they say, ‘He’s in a cover-up.’ When he does arrive, it heightens the attention to the story.”

Kerry yesterday agreed to testify on June 12 after Issa’s House Oversight Committee recently released so-called “smoking gun” emails showing the White House misleading the American public on the nature of the Sept. 11, 2012, al-Qaeda-linked terrorist attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including the ambassador.

“As the head of the State Department, you might have an inkling as to where the bodies are buried,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell. “It will continue to grow because this is also going parallel to the VA scandal. You’re seeing a pattern by this administration of holding the ball and giving a song and dance over and over.”

A 12-member House Oversight select committee on the Benghazi scandal is being set up by U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who will chair the hearings.

Read more from Chris Cassidy at The Boston Herald

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Is 'Ageism' At Heart Of Shocking Video Against Mississippi Senator?

In two hotly contested primaries, age is creeping into the narrative and raising the specter of “ageism” as voters prepare to go to the polls.

In Texas, the oldest member of Congress – Rep. Ralph Hall (R) – faces a primary challenger 43 years his junior in a runoff next Tuesday, and the issue is starting to bite. Former US attorney John Ratcliffe said Thursday that he thinks age is fair game in the campaign to unseat Congressman Hall, who is in his early 90s.

In Mississippi, six-term Sen. Thad Cochran (R) is in his mid-70s – a spring chicken, by the Senate’s historical standards – but he’s still fighting his primary opponent’s story line that it’s time for new (read: younger) blood. Senator Cochran is also facing allegations he’s avoiding public appearances back home.

What’s more, Cochran’s opponent, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, is embroiled in a controversy over the actions of a supporter who allegedly photographed Cochran’s bedridden wife in her nursing home and posted a video online (since removed). The supporter has been arrested and faces felony charges. Senator McDaniel says he and his campaign had nothing to do with the actions of the supporter, a blogger named Clayton Kelly. The Cochran campaign is raising questions about the McDaniel camp’s denials.

Though the photos were of Cochran’s wife, the intent of the video was “clearly to make Cochran look like an old man,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

Read more from Linda Feldmann at The Christian Science Monitor

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