As the ousted chief becomes the face of the flap, keep these facts in mind.
(The Root) -- For the Obama administration's critics, Steven T. Miller, the ousted chief of the Internal Revenue Service, might now serve as the face of the overreaching, politically intimidating and criminal behavior of big government under this president.
That message is filtering from Republicans amid Miller's testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee Friday morning, in the first of several planned congressional hearings on the IRS's targeted scrutiny of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
Miller has become the fall guy in a growing scandal that has prompted an FBI investigation, a pledge by President Obama to enact reforms and accusations by conservative groups that the Obama administration used the IRS to punish political adversaries.
Several Republican lawmakers say that Miller did not tell them about the screening practices last year, despite their repeated inquires. The screening, which occurred between 2010 and 2012, singled out organizations with "tea party," "patriots" or other phrases in their names.
The IRS has acknowledged that Miller learned about the targeting in the spring of 2012. But in subsequent exchanges with Republican senators, Miller did not disclose the practice.
Any false statements would be investigated as potential crimes, Attorney General Eric Holder told lawmakers on Wednesday. "False-statement violations might have been made, given at least what I know at this point," he said.
Obama fired Miller after an inspector general's audit (pdf) released on Tuesday found that IRS employees used "inappropriate criteria" as a shortcut in evaluating political-advocacy groups that applied for a 501(c)(4) tax exemption.
For Republicans, this is the juiciest red meat. They have condemned the targeting policy as criminal. In addition, they want to determine if members of the Obama administration knew about and concealed the IRS's activities during the 2012 elections.
The inference, even if proved untrue, makes for good fodder in anti-Obama talking points that will be used to excite the conservative base for the 2014 midterm elections. As Republican strategist Todd Harris, an adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, told the Washington Post, "This will be the gift that keeps on giving. There won't be a GOP campaign in the country that doesn't use this to raise money."
Obama said on Thursday that he didn't know about the targeting until it was revealed in news reports. "Americans have a right to be angry about it, and I'm angry about it," Obama told reporters. "It should not matter what political stripe you're from. The fact of the matter is, the IRS has to operate with absolute integrity."
Setting aside the furor for a moment, here's a reality check:
* The audit blamed poor management, not partisan politics, for the "inappropriate" focus on conservative groups.
* None of the conservative organizations pulled for special review has been disqualified.
* The IRS has a long history of politically motivated tax enforcement at the orders of past presidents and the FBI.
* The IRS has reason to be skeptical. The Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling cleared the way for new organizations to obtain the 501(c)(4) (pdf) tax exemption, which requires them to be "primarily engaged" in promoting social welfare. Instead, many flout the law as purely political groups.
In remarks touting the health care legislation's benefits for women and families, the president warned against misinformation.
(The Root) -- In an event timed to coincide with this weekend's Mother's Day holiday, President Obama delivered remarks on Friday touting the benefits of the Affordable Care Act while joined onstage by women and families who had stories about how they'd benefited from the health care legislation, which was signed into law just over three years ago.
The president, speaking in the East Room, was introduced by Carol Metcalf, who said that her two sons had a rare disease. When they approached the age limit for the family's health care plan, they faced the possibility of not being able to get health coverage because of their disease. "We had a huge worry lifted" when the ACA was signed into law, she said.
The president's remarks aimed in part to clear up misconceptions about the implementation of the legislation and highlight the Oct. 1 availability of "an online marketplace," where, he said, uninsured Americans will be able to go to select insurance plans.
An excerpt from his speech:
Basically, there are two main things that the American people need to know about this law and what it means. First, if you're one of the nearly 85 percent of Americans who already have health insurance -- whether it's through your employer, or Medicare or Medicaid -- you don't have to do a thing. This law already provides you with a wide array of new benefits, tough new consumer protections, stronger cost-control measures, than existed before the law passed. And those things are already in place -- you're benefiting from, you just may not know it. Making sure that insurers can't take advantage of you. Making sure that your child can stay on your health insurance until they're 27 years old. So a lot of those provisions are already in place providing help and assistance to people all across the country.
Now, second, if you're one of the tens of millions who don't have health insurance, beginning this fall, you'll finally be able to compare and buy quality, affordable private plans that work for you. [Applause.] So that's what you need to know. If you've already got health insurance, this has just enhanced it. And if you don't, you're going to be able to get it.
For three years now, this law has provided real and tangible benefits to millions of Americans. Women in particular now have more control over their own care than ever before. And I'm pleased to be joined today by many women who wrote in to tell us what the Affordable Care Act means to them.
Pushing back on both legal and political opposition to the legislation, he declared the ACA "here to stay" and encouraged the audience to "get the right information" versus "commentary from some pundit that has a political agenda" about how it would affect them.
"Don't let people confuse you," he warned, to laughter from the audience. "Don't let them run the okey-doke on you. Don't be bamboozled."
How he handles the fallout from the Boston Marathon attacks will help shape his legacy.
(The Root) -- Wars and tragedies have a tendency to define a presidency, fairly or not. Lyndon B. Johnson's disastrous handling of the Vietnam War ultimately overshadowed his extraordinary advancement of civil rights. President Franklin Roosevelt's status as one of America's most beloved presidents was solidified with his leadership during World War II. President George W. Bush's response to the Sept. 11 attacks, including launching unpopular dual wars, made him one of the least popular presidents on record when he left office.
With this week's Boston terror attacks, Barack Obama now faces one of the greatest tests of his presidency. How he responds in the weeks and months to come will largely shape his long-term legacy. His presidency has already seen more tragedy than many others. Five of the worst gun massacres in U.S. history have taken place since President Obama took office.
But this week is different.
While the Newtown, Conn., massacre, in which schoolchildren and staff were murdered by a deranged gunman, united Americans in tragedy, it immediately divided us politically over the issue of gun control. That divide has become particularly pronounced in recent days, as the Senate voted down a measure to expand background checks (which nearly 90 percent of Americans support) and as a member of Congress faced death threats for her gun control advocacy.
But the Boston attacks have, for now, united us in more universal ways: in support of the victims and the city of Boston as a whole, and in support of being Americans -- regardless of our political parties and any of the other labels we usually use to divide one another.
Now that we are one for this brief moment, the question becomes how the president will leverage this unity in his leadership. President Bush leveraged it into two wars -- wars that even members of his own party denounced. With the investigation into the Boston culprits and their motives ongoing, it is far too early to predict what type of policy fallout there may be from this tragedy. But it is not too early to predict that whatever that fallout may be, it will have a lasting impact on America, much as 9/11 has.
But it will also largely define the legacy of the first black president.
After a first term spent being weighed down by the pettiness that has come to define Washington, including attacks on his character, his race and even his family, President Obama got a powerful reminder of what is really important this week. Here's hoping that he and his supporters, as well as his critics, don't forget that reminder anytime soon.
Here's hoping that President Obama, who has spent a week serving as our comforter in chief, effortlessly rises to the occasion and gives America the commander in chief it needs during this dark time and in the days ahead. We, as Americans, need him to. His speech in honor of the victims, in which he said with conviction, "We will finish the race," gives me hope that he will.
After a week filled with such terror and tumult, hope is all we can really hold on to.
He should get credit for returning part of his salary, but not much.
(The Root) -- On Wednesday, news broke that President Obama was doing something that a lot of Americans have done in recent years: preparing to watch his income shrink. Only, unlike most Americans, the president is doing so voluntarily. Because of the sequester, many government workers may be forced to take unpaid leave, known as furloughs, which could have a devastating financial impact on them and their families. In a show of solidarity and empathy, the president has decided to return 5 percent of his salary to the Treasury.
It is a touching and noteworthy gesture, even though there will be critics, likely conservative ones, who question his motivation and the possible political calculation behind it. After all, the president has recently taken heat from conservatives for canceling White House tours for budget reasons while his family has enjoyed what some consider overly luxurious vacations. This criticism is, of course, ridiculous, but his most recent gesture does raise an interesting question: Is the president's salary move really significant for a man who makes as much as he does?
The president's salary is $400,000. To be clear, I am someone who defended the president's tax compromise that resulted in taxes not being raised on those making less than $400,000, even though many progressives balked. As I reasoned at the time, as unpopular as it may be to say out loud, a few hundred thousand dollars is not a lot of money for a family living in a high-cost metropolitan area, particularly with a son or daughter in a $30,000- to $50,000-a-year college or private school.
But while the president has two daughters in private school, he has the luxury of not having to worry about a major mortgage on his primary residence for the next couple of years -- or his health insurance and a host of other expenses that those government employees worrying about being furloughed (and the rest of us) will. Furthermore, his presidential salary is not his only source of income. He made more than $1 million in 2010 from his book sales. So is $1,700 a month really that noteworthy a contribution? Yes, I know he didn't have to do anything. He should be applauded for the gesture.
But there is a part of me that looked at the $1,700-a-month figure and couldn't help thinking of celebrities who own cars that cost $100,000 or have a house so elaborate that they once showcased it on an episode of Cribs, but then are somehow supposed to be admired for donating $10,000 to a charity. It's nice, but it's certainly not extraordinary. Particularly when one considers that the first lady owns single garments that cost $6,000. (For the record, the jacket with that price tag is hands down one of the most beautiful pieces she has ever worn -- so it's worth every penny, as far as I'm concerned.)
It is possible that the president and his family are saving up to donate even more to charity this year. His 2010 tax returns show that he gave more than $200,000 of his $1.7 million income to charitable causes. Perhaps he will do the same again this year.
But if our government doesn't reach some sort of sequester resolution soon, someone will have to start a charity to benefit furloughed federal workers. Perhaps a better idea is to make it mandatory that members of Congress and the president be forced to return a percentage of their pay each week, with the designated percentage increasing weekly, until the sequester is resolved. I have a feeling that if the president and other leaders faced the prospect of relinquishing more than a token 5 percent of their salary for an extended period of time, they would be motivated to compromise and find a solution fairly quickly.
Here's who gave it to President Obama, and what he might do with it.
(The Root) -- Four years after making history by becoming the first black president elected in the United States, Barack Obama has been elected to a second term. Bolstered by wins in key swing states, among them Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania, the president was declared the winner by multiple news outlets just after 11 p.m. EST. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took the stage to concede the race shortly after midnight.
Some Obama supporters feared that newly enacted strict voter-identification laws, and the controversy surrounding them, might suppress key segments of the president's base of support -- namely young people and voters of color -- and tip a close race in the direction of Republican challenger Mitt Romney. That did not happen.
The Voters Who Made the Difference
In fact, the election's outcome has led some to speculate that voter-identification laws did affect turnout among minority voters -- just not in the way that proponents of such measures might have anticipated. John Avlon, a columnist for Newsweek and the Daily Beast, speculated on Daily Beast TV that such measures may have sparked a backlash among voters of color who felt targeted and turned out in record numbers in response. An analysis of exit polls by the Wall Street Journal found that with declining support among white voters, the president would need nearly record turnout among black voters to carry the state of Virginia again after doing so four years ago. He did.
Cornell Belcher, an Obama campaign pollster, told The Root that the president's win came down to three key components: minority voters, youth voters and the gender gap -- specifically, how well the president did with female voters. According to CNN, the president bested Romney among women voters nationally by a margin of 55 percent to 43 percent.
Echoing Belcher's analysis, David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, told The Root that Latino voters and younger voters were essential to delivering the president a second term. In an election night interview with The Root, Valeisha Butterfield-Jones, the Obama campaign's national youth-vote director, credited younger voters with making the difference in key swing states, including Virginia and Ohio.
"Tonight has been historic due in large part to youth turnout. Young people spoke loud and clear. Young people made a critical difference," she said. While Butterfield-Jones credited young voters for delivering at the polls, she noted that young Obama-campaign volunteers were crucial for delivering in the weeks, months and year leading up to Election Day. Celebrity surrogates like Kerry Washington certainly helped fire up crowds, supporters and young people on the trail, but Butterfield-Jones said that what ultimately won the election was "our grassroots operation, which made a critical difference and started with young volunteers a year ago. Our ground game got young people motivated again."
Seeing the fervor among these young volunteers convinced Butterfield-Jones that media speculation about an "enthusiasm gap" among young Obama supporters that was expected to cost him this election cycle was not accurate. The election results appear to vindicate her perspective.