By MICHAEL FALCONE (@michaelpfalcone)
- IN THE HOT SEAT: Lois Lerner, the top IRS official who is at the center of the controversy for the targeting of tea party and other conservative groups, will refuse to answer questions at a congressional hearing today and invoke her Fifth Amendment rights, ABC’s JEFF ZELENY reports. She is set to appear before the House Oversight Committee. Congressional aides said yesterday that they received a notice from Lerner’s lawyers that she would not answer their questions because it is now part of a criminal investigation. “She has not committed any crime or made any misrepresentation, but under the circumstances she has no choice but to take this course,” according to a letter that her lawyer, William Taylor, sent to Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the committee, which was first reported by the Los Angeles Times. A congressional aide told ABC News that she is still expected to appear at the hearing, which begins at 9:30 a.m. ET. http://abcn.ws/1a2qpzu
- WHY SHE MATTERS: Lerner’s testimony is key, members of Congress believe, because she found out in June 2011 that terms like “tea party” and “patriots” were being used to flag tax-exempt requests. Lerner is in charge of overseeing requests for tax-exempt status.
- GOP FILES FOIA REQUEST: Today the Republican National Committee sent a Freedom of Information Act request letter to the IRS in order to “make the facts available for the public” according to a statement from RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. “As each day passes, Americans find ourselves with more questions about the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups and donors — and what the White House and Treasury Department knew and when,” Priebus said. “The Obama administration may not be eager to address the important questions, but Americans deserve answers. What other words were used to target organizations? Were taxpayers audited as a result of their political donations? How involved were employees at IRS headquarters, and how much did White House and Treasury officials communicate with the IRS?” Read the RNC’s letter: http://bit.ly/ZcT4SY
- CONSERVATIVES GO TO COURT: The first groups that claim they were unfairly scrutinized by the IRS filed suit against the agency in federal courts, seeking damages and the granting of their long-delayed tax-exempt status application, ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE reports. True the Vote, a Houston-based voter watchdog group, filed a complaint in federal court in Washington, D.C., yesterday over what it is calling “unlawful actions by the IRS in the processing of its application for exempt status.” The group says it has been waiting three years for its tax exempt status to either be granted or denied, first applying in July of 2010. During that time, the group’s president Catherine Engelbrecht told ABC News she has been personally audited and even visited by agents from the Bureau of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. True the Vote is working with the ActRight Legal Foundation on the suit and the group says this is “just the first of several cases” they plan to file against the IRS. Another group, the American Center for Law and Justice, is planning on bringing a suit against the IRS as well. Theirs will be on behalf of at least 17 tea party groups, but possibly more. http://abcn.ws/12TiguV
ABC’s RICK KLEIN: Every once in a while — and it’s been a great, great while — the process works. Pause to admire the work of the Senate Judiciary Committee (as even opponents of the bill did by late yesterday) no matter where you stand on comprehensive immigration reform. The work was truly bipartisan; lawmakers cut deals and kept to them; both sides won some and lost some. By one definition, a “stronger” bill means a stronger vote, and it’s impossible to imagine the bill getting more yes votes in the committee than the 13 secured yesterday, against 5 nos. It may all have been an exercise to win Sen. Orrin Hatch’s vote, but that worked. The prospects for a strong Senate vote, which brightens chances in the House, look strong. The path gets harder from here, but at least other committees – and those pursuing other issues, too – have a model.
ABC’s DEVIN DWYER: The wife of disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner has broken her silence to let everyone know where she stands. Huma Abedin not only appears by her husband’s side in a new ad announcing his bid for mayor of New York City, she offers an unequivocal endorsement of his campaign. ”We love this city. And no one would work harder to make it better than Anthony,” she says direct to camera. Her words are no small thing in a race that will certainly involve discussion of marriage, infidelity and the role of women in politics. Abedin also puts to rest doubts about a high-profile role in her husband’s post-scandal career, despite the public embarrassment she endured when he was caught tweeting lewd pictures of himself to other women. http://abcn.ws/12TiguV
OKLAHOMA UPDATE: A White House official tells ABC’s ANN COMPTON: “Overnight, the President continued to receive updates from his team on the ongoing response in Oklahoma. Yesterday, following a morning call to the Mayor of Moore Oklahoma, Glenn Lewis, the President spoke again to Governor Fallin expressing his concern for those who had been impacted and to reiterate that he had directed his Administration to provide all available resources to support the response led by the Governor and her team. Last night, the President also spoke with Senator James Inhofe to make clear that FEMA stood ready to continue to support the people of Oklahoma through the immediate response phase as well as the recovery, and to let the Senator know that Oklahomans remained in his thoughts and prayers. … As of this morning, FEMA has more than 400 personnel already on the ground supporting the response, including three national Urban Search and Rescue Teams, an Incident Management Assistance Team, as well as personnel focused on helping survivors register for and receive the federal assistance made available by the major disaster declaration signed by the President on Monday night. As of 2 a.m. this morning, more than 1,000 individuals affected by the tornadoes and severe weather in Oklahoma had registered for assistance with FEMA.”
WHAT WE’RE READING
“HEADS WON’T ROLL AT THE IRS,” by Politico’s David Nather and Rachael Bade. “Lawmakers pressing for more heads to roll at the Internal Revenue Service are going to be disappointed. ‘Why weren’t more people fired?’ Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) demanded at a hearing Tuesday on the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups, channeling the frustration of his colleagues. Turns out it’s not so easy. In fact, it appears that no one has been formally reprimanded and a spokesperson for the union representing IRS workers said it hasn’t been called to help any employees yet. Most employees involved in the targeting program are covered by protections for federal workers that could drag out the termination process. … Here’s a quick guide to what it would take to show IRS officials the door.” http://politi.co/11aHrpJ
IMMIGRATION REFORM BILL HEADS TO THE FULL SENATE. The bipartisan Senate “Gang of Eight” held together despite an onslaught of amendments and some efforts to kill its comprehensive immigration reform bill, ABC’s JIM AVILA and SERENA MARSHALL report. Last night, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill 13-5, largely intact, to the full Senate for a vote. It is the first step in a series of hurdles for immigration reform that includes increased border security, a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants and reforms to legal immigration designed to streamline the process. The committee vote was met with cheers of, “Yes, we can,” by those in the room. It took the 18 senators five days for markups and they considered 300 amendments, with many of those that passed doing so in a bipartisan nature. Overall, 48 Republican amendments passed. “I don’t think there has been a markup on such a complex bill that has been this open,” Sen Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said during closing remarks. http://abcn.ws/192C7fM
NEXT STEPS: The bill will now head to the full Senate for more debate and a vote. “Now the real work begins to see if we can reform this bill before we send it to the House,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said during his remarks last night. The separate House “Gang of Eight” said last week it had agreed in principle on its own bill and expected to write its legislation and introduce it after the Memorial Day recess.
–LOS ANGELES WILL HAVE TO WAIT FOR ITS FIRST WOMAN MAYOR. Votes are still being counted, but with nearly eight points separating the candidates in the Los Angeles mayoral runoff, City Controller Wendy Greuel called City Councilman Eric Garcetti early this morning to concede the race, ABC’s RICK KLEIN reports. Garcetti tweeted a brief victory statement: “The hard work begins but I am honored to lead this city for the next four years. Let’s make this a great city again.” Garcetti, at 42, will be the city’s youngest mayor in more than a century, and becomes the first Jew elected mayor of Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest city. But Greuel’s loss is a disappointment to women’s political groups that saw the possibility of electing female mayors in both L.A. and New York this year, among other cities. More from the L.A. Times’ Seema Mehta and Laura J. Nelson: http://lat.ms/12LW3jz
–ANTHONY WEINER JUMPS INTO NEW YORK RACE. Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner officially entered the mayoral contest in New York City this morning with a campaign video touting his plan for middle class New Yorkers and taking, head on, the scandal that ended his Congressional career. “I’ve made some big mistakes and I know I’ve let a lot of people down,” Weiner said in the video, which features a cameo by his wife, Huma Abedin. “But I’ve also learned some tough lessons. I’m running for mayor because I’ve been fighting for the middle class and those struggling to make it for my entire life. And I hope I get a second chance to work for you.” However, a new Quinnipiac University poll out this morning shows voters are not particularly supportive of a Weiner run — they said 49 to 38 percent he should stay out of the race in the survey taken before his announcement. Nevertheless, Weiner is running second in a crowded Democratic primary field. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is the leader at 25 percent, with Weiner at 15 percent, and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and former Comptroller William Thompson tied for third place at 10. A candidate needs 40 percent of the vote to avoid a run-off. http://bit.ly/14Okywr
TOM COLE: OKLAHOMA NEEDS HELP, NOT A FUNDING BATTLE. Republican Rep. Tom Cole, whose district took a direct hit from a powerful tornado on Monday, said the residents of the tornado ravaged towns in Oklahoma need help, not a political battle over funding in Washington, ABC’s ABBY PHILLIP reports. “Once a disaster starts, to me that’s the end of a discussion. Now we need to focus on the Americans that are in a difficult spot,” Cole told ABC News in an interview. “They don’t need to be watching a big political battle, they need to be sure they’re getting help.” Cole is one of only two members of Oklahoma’s seven-person Congressional delegation that voted in favor of a bill funding disaster aid after Superstorm Sandy, raising questions about whether they would change their stance on emergency funding in light of a tragedy in their own state. Oklahoma’s Republican Sen. Tom Coburn on Monday reiterated his opposition to funding disaster relief without first identifying corresponding budget cuts, if Congress is forced to allocate additional funds. Cole said he believes that the $11 billion the Federal Emergency Management Fund has in its disaster relief fund should be enough to cover the rebuilding and relief efforts in Oklahoma. But he added that, like with Sandy, relief should come first. http://abcn.ws/ZbWYLS
IRS ‘BLEMISH’ PROMPTS SCORN FROM UNAPPEASED SENATORS. Douglas Shulman, the former commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, said yesterday he was “dismayed and saddened” that his agency had improperly targeting conservative groups, but declined to offer a direct apology and dismissed suggestions that he mislead Congress, ABC’s JEFF ZELENY notes. The testimony from Shulman, who was making his first public appearance since the IRS controversy broke into the open two weeks ago, did not satisfy members of the Senate Finance Committee. He faced more than three hours of stern questioning from Democrats and Republicans, but said “I don’t believe I was aware” when asked why he had not informed Congress about potential problems percolating at the IRS office in Cincinnati. “I agree that this is an issue that when someone spotted it, they should have brought it up the chain and they didn’t,” Shulman said. “Why they didn’t, I don’t know.” Shulman, who was first appointed by President George W. Bush, acknowledged that the scandal had placed a “blemish” on the IRS. But he said the task facing the IRS was “very, very, very, very difficult,” given the rapid rise of groups seeking tax-exempt status. http://abcn.ws/13IOTh3
NOT IMPRESSED: Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the committee, ordered a second round of questioning after he said Shulman’s answers had been unsatisfactory. “The American people have every right to be outraged,” the Democrat said. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was among the committee members who expressed outrage with Shulman. “The buck doesn’t stop with you?” asked Cornyn, who repeatedly pressed for an apology. “I certainly am not personally responsible for creating a list that had inappropriate criteria on it,” Shulman said. He added, “This happened on my watch. I very much regret that this happened on my watch.” With a stern tone, Cornyn replied, “I don’t think that qualifies as an apology.”
NOTED: TREASURY SECRETARY DEFENDS HANDLING OF IRS SCANDAL. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew called the unfair scrutiny the Internal Revenue Service gave some tea party groups “outrageous methods,” adding that while the “conduct was not politically motivated it was unacceptable and inexcusable.” “Administering the tax code without any hint of bias is a solemn obligation that must be carried out with the highest of standards,” Lew said in a Senate Banking Committee hearing yesterday, according to ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE. Lew said he has directed incoming Acting Commissioner Daniel Werfel, who begins Wednesday, to “carry out a thorough review,” including “making sure that those who acted inappropriately are held accountable for their actions,” as well as “examining and correcting any failures in the system that allowed this behavior to happen,” and “taking a forward-looking view in determining whether the IRS has systemic problems that need to be addressed.” http://abcn.ws/16L5VyP
DONALD TRUMP: ‘OUR COUNTRY’S GOING TO HELL’. In a speech at a Republican political event in Michigan last night, real estate mogul and reality television star Donald Trump told his audience, “our country’s going to hell.” Trump spoke at the Oakland County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner in Novi, Michigan. And in an interview with ABC News before the event, Trump said that of all the scandals plaguing the Obama administration, the unanswered questions about the terrorist attacks in Benghazi concerned him the most. “I think the worst is Benghazi because people have died — and really viciously died,” Trump said. The billionaire New Yorker spoke at last night’s gathering as did the state’s GOP Gov. Gov. Rick Snyder. Trump’s special counsel and chief political adviser, Michael Cohen, told ABC News that his boss has been a sought-after speaker at GOP events. “I suspect Mr. Trump will be doing many more of these over the years to come,” Cohen said. “His no nonsense straightforward and pragmatic approach resonates with Americans. His underlying theme is always about making America great again.” More coverage of Trump’s speech: http://bit.ly/16LUKWF
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
GAY RIGHTS ADVOCATE SEEKS TO OVERTURN BAN ON GAY BOY SCOUTS. As the Boy Scouts of America prepares to vote tomorrow on a proposal that would change its long-standing policy of excluding gay boys from Scout units, the executive director of Scouts for Equality, a gay rights advocacy group, is hopeful that the proposal will pass–but says this is just the first step. “This is a good step in the right direction, we want youth protection throughout the entire program, and it looks we’ll be able to see that on the 23rd,” executive director Zach Wahls told Top Line’s RICK KLEIN and OLIVIER KNOX. “But after that, we have to make sure that we are telling Scouts that when you turn 18 you are still welcome in the program.” The proposal up for vote will not change the BSA’s policy of banning gay adult leaders. To Wahls, changing that policy is not just political, it’s personal. “As the straight Eagle Scout son of a lesbian couple, I know exactly how important lifting the ban on adults is,” he says. http://yhoo.it/11aGSft
IN THE NOTES’ INBOX
BLOOMBERG, JEB BUSH, RAHM EMANUEL, CONDI RICE KICK OFF VIRTUAL IMMIGRATION REFORM PUSH. “The Partnership for a New American Economy, Organizing for Action (OFA), and Republicans for Immigration Reform today kicked off the March for Innovation (#iMarch), the largest-ever virtual march on Washington in support of bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform. … Beginning at 8:30 this morning with a Twitter Town Hall led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg that will include Jeb Bush, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Condoleezza Rice — just a day after the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” immigration bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee — top #iMarch supporters will take part in a pass-the-baton style event that will feature a number of online venues and digital tools including Huffington Post Live, Google Hangout, Thunderclap, Twitter Town Halls, Facebook, Reddit, Vine, and others. All of this activity will help drive thousands and thousands of supporters to www.MarchForInnovation.com where they will be able to use social media and digital call tools to urge their elected officials in Washington to pass comprehensive immigration reform.” Full list of events: http://www.marchforinnovation.com/event-schedule
@AlexConant: Grover Norquist writes that Senate immigration bill “is rooted in strong conservative principles.” Must read: http://dailycaller.com/2013/05/21/time-for-sensible-immigration-reform-is-now/ …
@politicoroger: Weiner promises wi-fi on NY subways? Maybe the whole wi-fi & sexting thing is something he should stay away from.