Caution and Bombast: Two GOP Responses to Scandal

PHOTO: President Barack Obama rubs his face as Myanmars President Thein Sein speaks during their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, May 20, 2013.
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Things could hardly have broken better for Republicans these last few weeks -- a trio of scandals, all combining to embarrass the Obama administration at the same time.

But now, a growing number of Republicans are worried their party will screw it up. For every cry of "impeachment," there's a louder cry from the GOP establishment not to get too far ahead of themselves, at least not yet.

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus says he's not worried about a "political strategy," instead he's "concerned with" the same thing "the American people are concerned with," which is "just getting to the truth."

RELATED: Public Sharply Critical on IRS, Benghazi

"It's really important to focus on connecting the dots and finding the evidence and making sure each fact speaks for themselves," Priebus said in an interview with ABC News. "There are so many unanswered questions in these cases that ultimately we will get to the truth. I have a pretty good feeling the truth will not be good for Barack Obama."

While Priebus and others like him are stressing investigations over the politics of scandal, he of course acknowledges the obvious ... cautiously:

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know it won't play well for Democrats and the president, but I don't think it's the focus right now," Priebus said. "This is not a political issue. This is really a hunt for the truth."

Other Republicans are more willing to point out that going too far can hurt the GOP and their hopes of a successful 2014 midterm cycle or even a 2016 presidential campaign. Republican consultant Brian Donahue says being cautious is important, but so is making sure the scandals don't fade away.

"The one thing that Republicans are lacking is discipline and what I've advised many of my clients is to let the facts speak for themselves, but I've also said to make sure we are talking about these issues," said Donahue, a partner at GOP communications firm Craft Media Digital. "The moment that we take a bombastic approach we lose our audience, we lose influencers, we lose voters in America, but we should remain disciplined in talking about these issues. They are important issues."

Donahue admits he's concerned about Republican overreach and missing a political opportunity because other Republicans aren't afraid to push the envelope, especially discussing impeachment or comparing the scandals to Watergate.

"In politics, often people suffer from overplaying a situation, which audiences find too over the top and unbelievable," Donahue said. "In the instances of the scandals that are unraveling, it is important for the facts to speak for themselves. In the case of the IRS and Benghazi the facts are pretty damaging and just by presenting the facts as is, I believe this administration will have to answer a lot of very important questions, but if opportunists attempt to over play these (scandals) and attempt to paint the picture of Watergate and ... something beyond what's existing, then people might find these to be silly political attacks."

There have been comparisons to Watergate, even calls for impeachment, exactly what Donahue and others are cautioning against.

In an interview with National Review published Monday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said the impeachment of the president is a "possibility."

"This is an administration embroiled in a scandal that they created," Chaffetz said. "It's a cover-up. I'm not saying impeachment is the end game, but it's a possibility, especially if they keep doing little to help us learn more."

He first mentioned impeachment last week, when he said on CNN: "It's not the endgame. It's not what we're playing for. I was simply asked: 'is that within the realm of possibilities?' And I would say 'yes.' I'm not willing to take that off the table."

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., made a similar remark last week.

"As I have been home in my district, in the sixth district of Minnesota, 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? He's been making unconstitutional actions since he came into office,'" Bachmann said at a tea party rally last week.

Earlier this month, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., went further, saying in an interview with "The Rusty Humphries Show" that President Obama could be impeached over what he called the "cover-up" after the attack in Benghazi, Libya.

"People may be starting to use the I-word before too long," Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said to Humphries. "The I-word meaning impeachment?" Humphries asked, to which Inhofe answered, "Yeah."

"Of all the great cover-ups in history: the Pentagon papers, Iran-Contra, Watergate, all the rest of them, this ... is going to go down as most egregious cover-up in American history," Inhofe said.

And Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, compared what he called the "cover up" of the attack in Benghazi to Watergate.

"The Obama administration's cover-up of the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi terrorist attack surpasses Watergate," King wrote in an op-ed in U.S. News and World Report earlier this month. "When the President of the United States uses the full faith and credit of his office to misinform the American people, we demand the full truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

Despite the scandals, a new ABC News/Washington Post poll out Tuesday found Obama's approval rating holding steady, although at 51 percent.

The survey shows him being helped by accelerating economic optimism as well as by the comparison with the much less-popular Republicans in Congress.

The poll may show Obama is not taking on water, but it's clear Americans do care about these scandals and are critical of them, though.

According to the poll, 74 percent of Americans call the scrutiny of conservative groups by the IRS inappropriate, with 56 percent seeing it as "deliberate harassment," compared to 31 percent who believe it was an "administrative mistake."

With regard to the Benghazi attack, 55 percent of Americans suspect an administration cover-up, and Americans by 54-38 percent say they think the government is doing more to threaten the rights of average Americans than to protect those rights.

There are other Republicans, of course, joining the call to stress prudence. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., spoke to reporters ahead of a GOP fundraiser in New Hampshire with Priebus and said talk of impeachment over the IRS scandal is premature.

"We need to figure out the truth of what happened before we go anywhere else," Paul said, standing with Priebus, who called it "just the beginning."

"It's certainly not the end," Priebus said. "And I'm sure there's going to be a lot more to it. We'll see how far it goes. We'll see how high it goes, too."

George Will said on ABC's This Week Sunday that impeachment talk is "silly."

"That's silly," Will said. "And it is possible to go too far. But Republicans perhaps cannot be blamed for saying a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. And there's a crisis of confidence and they are the political party that exists to say that government is necessary but always is a danger."

Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who played a critical role during the Republican-led impeachment of President in Clinton in 1998, cautioned his GOP colleagues about going too far as they sort through these current scandals, calling on them in an interview with NPR last week to be "calm and factual."

"I think we overreached in '98. How's that for a quote you can use?" Gingrich said, adding that a House subcommittee "should invite every single tea party, conservative, patriot group that was messed over by the IRS -- every single one of them -- to come in and testify, so that they build this deadening record of how many different people were having their rights abused by this administration."

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has made a point of steering clear of overheated talk of impeachment or political point-scoring, even as he made clear to reporters that the IRS and Benghazi scandals are serious and his questions need to be answered by the Obama administration. He called for a special counsel to look into the unfair scrutiny the IRS has admitted giving to tea party groups.

"I also think a special counsel is going to end up being necessary here, because it has to be independent of the White House. What we do know is that politics was put ahead of the public interest," Portman said on "This Week."

"These aren't partisan fights," Portman spokesman Jeff Sadosky told ABC News. "These are problems that are concerning to Americans of all political parties and we need to get to the bottom of them not for partisan political reasons."

ABC News' Josh Margolin and Gary Langer contributed to this report.

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