The Note: Obama Floats Above The Fray - For Now

Credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • STEADY AS HE GOES: Americans, in a new ABC News-Washington Post poll out today, sharply reject special scrutiny of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service, suspect an administration cover-up of the Benghazi incident and express substantial distrust of the federal government more generally, ABC News Pollster GARY LANGER notes. Yet the national survey also finds no backlash against Barack Obama, at least at this point. His job approval rating is stable at 51 percent. Moreover, the partisan gap in views of his performance is its smallest since December 2011, and Obama has majority approval among men for the first time since December 2010. Both may reflect the effects of an improving economy: 56 percent of Americans now say the economy is beginning to recover, up by a dramatic 20 percentage points in the past year and a half, to the most since ABC and the Post first asked the question in late 2009. Additionally, 53 percent now say they're optimistic about the economy's prospects in the year ahead - a majority for the first time in four years. See the full ABC News-Washington Post poll:
  • RISKS REMAIN: Longer-term impacts of contentious current issues remain to be seen, Langer writes, but there's potential for significant damage to the administration. Americans by a vast 74-20 percent see the IRS' behavior as inappropriate and 56 percent see it as a deliberate attempt to harass conservative organizations, not a mere administrative error. The public divides on whether or not the administration is honestly disclosing what it knows about the IRS' actions; 45 percent suspect a cover-up, 42 percent instead see full transparency. Further, on the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last fall, suspicions of a cover-up rise to a majority, 55 percent.
  • WEAK TEA: At a time when Tea Party groups have been in the spotlight, today's poll finds a continued roughly even split in views of the movement, with 40 percent of adults saying they support the Tea Party overall, 43 percent opposed. "Strong" support for the movement, at 10 percent, is numerically its lowest on record, and just about half the level of strong opposition, 22 percent.
  • POTUS VS. THE HILL: President Obama leads the GOP in trust to handle the economy by 46-37 percent. And he has a larger advantage on a more general question: 51 percent of Americans say he is "mainly concentrating on things that are important to you personally." That's 8 points more than say the same about the Democrats in Congress - and 18 points more than say so about the Republicans.


ABC's JONATHAN KARL: The White House's answer to "who knew what and when?" shifted again yesterday as White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and "other members of the senior staff" knew about the investigation into the IRS's targeting of conservative groups last month. While President Obama said he only learned about the IRS targeting after the story broke on May 10, several of his top advisors knew about it more than two weeks earlier. Carney said yesterday that White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler was told on April 24 that the IRS Inspector General "was finishing a report" about "IRS employees improperly scrutinizing" organizations applying for tax exempt status by using words like "tea party and "patriot." Ruemmler then informed McDonough and other members of the president's senior staff, Carney said. That seems to contradict what Carney said last week both about who was informed of the investigation and what they were told. "My understanding is that the White House Counsel's Office was alerted in the week of April 22nd of this year, only about the fact that the IG was finishing a review about matters involving the office in Cincinnati," Carney said on May 13. "But that's all they were informed as a normal sort of heads up."

ABC's RICK KLEIN: Yes, people are paying attention. No, they're not blaming the president - at least not yet. Strong majorities are condemning the Obama administration's handling of the IRS scandal, and the response to the attack in Benghazi; 55 percent say they suspect a cover-up after the tragedy in Libya, in the new ABC News-Washington Post poll. But voters are filtering out much of the politics, with the president's approval rating basically holding steady, at 51 percent. It may be that congressional Republicans learn the same lesson Mitt Romney did, that a little economic boost makes everything about the incumbent less sticky. Yet the results are also likely to be read by Republicans as a series of good reasons to stay on their investigative paths, and maybe even turning up the heat so the president himself starts to feel it.

ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: What year is it again? Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul made another stop in an early voting state last night, speaking at a GOP fundraiser in Concord, N.H. It's been just ten days since he was in Iowa speaking at the Iowa Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner in Cedar Rapids. In his speech he continued his call for the GOP to broaden its outreach, saying Mitt Romney is an "upstanding" person, "but as a party we need to grow bigger." "If you want to be the party of white people, we're winning all the white vote," Paul said. "But we are a diverse nation. We are going to win when we look like America, we need to be white, we need to be brown, we need to be black, we need to be with tattoos, without tattoos, with ponytails, without ponytails, with beards, without beards. We need to look like the rest of America." And it's not just Paul who is getting an early start on the early states. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker heads to Iowa Thursday. He will speak at the Polk County GOP Dinner in West Des Moines and Rick Santorum, the belated winner of the 2012 Iowa caucuses, heads back to that state in August.

ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE: Will Los Angeles elect its first female mayor? Long-time city official Wendy Greuel is hoping that by the time all the votes are counted in today's mayoral run-off in the nation's second largest city, she will have done what no other woman has done before. But heading into Election Day, Greuel, the city controller, appears to be locked in a tight race with City Councilman Eric Garcetti. And no matter who wins, only a small fraction of Angelenos are expected to cast ballots in the contest. The March mayoral primary drew just 21 percent of registered voters to the polls and today's run-off - as close as it looks - is expected to be a low-turnout event. Dan Schnur, the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, lamented to The New York Times' Jennifer Medina today: "Voters just don't seem to think that the outcome will make much of a difference."

OKLAHOMA TORNADO DEATHS REVISED DOWN TO 24, INCLUDING 9 CHILDREN. ABC's LAUREN EFFRON, DEAN SCHABNER and ANTHONY CASTELLANO report: First responders are in a race against time in the search for any survivors of a devastating tornado that ripped through Moore, Okla., while the medical examiner's office has revised the death toll from 51 to 24, including nine children.Oklahoma medical examiner spokeswoman Amy Elliot said this morning that she believes some victims were counted twice in the early chaos of the storm. The original death toll included 20 children. Two elementary schools were in the path of Monday's tornado, which the National Weather Service gave a preliminary rating of at least EF-4, meaning churning wind speeds of up to 200 mph.

TODAY AT THE WHITE HOUSE: President Obama continued to receive updates on the storm damage and response throughout the night. This morning, according to ABC's MARY BRUCE, he will be briefed in the Oval Office by Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Lisa Monaco, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco and other senior members of the President's response team. At 10 a.m. ET the president plans to deliver a statement on the storm and the federal response in the State Dining Room.


APPLE 'TRANSFERRED THE GOLDEN GOOSE OFFSHORE,' SENATOR SAYS. Apple has avoided paying tens of billions of dollars in U.S. taxes by creating a complex web of subsidiary companies, particularly three in Ireland, a new Senate investigation has found, according to ABC's JEFF ZELENY. The company is not accused of breaking the law, but senators said Apple seemed to use as much creativity in developing its tax practices as in developing the technology that has turned it into America's most profitable technology business. "It technically may be in compliance with the law, but it violates the spirit of the law," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. "It's like saying you haven't shifted the golden eggs offshore after you transferred the golden goose offshore." The Senate committee found that Apple kept at least $74 billion from the Internal Revenue Service from 2009 to 2012. The accounting practices were so unusual, investigators said, that one likened it to "playing Whac-A-Mole," with a series of loopholes so complicated that even seasoned tax experts struggled to sort through it. After investigating Apple for 18 months, Senate investigators said one of the Ireland subsidiaries was only discovered Sunday evening.

HAPPENING TODAY: Apple officials, including chief executive Tim Cook, are scheduled to testify today before the Senate committee. They will respond to the findings contained in the 40-page investigation, aides said, and defend the company over the last year for being the "largest corporate income tax payer in the U.S., having paid nearly $6 billion in taxes." According to a copy of his testimony released by Apple, Cook will say: "Apple does not use tax gimmicks. Apple does not move its intellectual property into offshore tax havens and use it to sell products back into the U.S. in order to avoid U.S. tax." He is also planning to propose a "dramatic simplification" of American corporate tax laws that are intended to encourage businesses to return foreign earnings to the United States.

RAND PAUL CALLS IRS SCANDAL UN-AMERICAN. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul made a stop in the early primary state of New Hampshire on Monday evening, continuing to feed the speculation that he will possibly run for president in 2016. Addressing a GOP fundraiser in Concord, Paul said the targeting of tea party groups by the IRS was "un-American," reports ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE. "Any person who would use the power or abuse the power of government to go after their political opponents, I don't care if you are a Republican or a Democrat or an independent, to take that brute force, that bullying force of government and to use it against your opponents, there is something distinctly and profoundly un-American about that," Paul said at a fundraiser for the state Republican Party. The Republican senator joked that the scandals facing the Obama administration all reminded him of a children's song. "Old MacDonald's Farm of Scandals: here's a scandal, there's a scandal, everywhere a scandal," Paul said. "So it's hard to know which scandal we want to talk about, but I think they all sort of stem from one problem and that's the government has accumulated too much power, the president has accumulated too much power. Not just this president, but maybe the last 10 presidents, because we allowed that power to go from Congress to the presidency. We've allowed the presidency to become too strong."

HER HONOR? WOMEN COULD BECOME MAYORS OF LOS ANGELES, NEW YORK. Neither of the nation's two largest cities, New York and Los Angeles, have ever had female mayors, but that could change big time this year, as both cities have strong female candidates with a chance of becoming mayor, in races where the incumbents are term-limited, reports ABC's RICK KLEIN. 2013 could be a "year of the woman" in major city halls, in what women's political groups are hoping will build momentum toward an even bigger win in 2016. If that happens, it could start this week, with developments in both of the high-profile races. Los Angeles' mayoral runoff election is today, with a tight contest pitting Councilman Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Greuel. Recent polling by the Los Angeles Times gives Garcetti a narrow lead, though with a sizeable chunk of undecided voters still in play. The race has shattered city spending records, with Greuel's financial disadvantage made up by for by a pro-Greuel Super PAC backed by public-employee unions. New York City will elect a new mayor Nov. 5. City Council President Christine Quinn is the frontrunner in a crowded field to replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But that race could get a whole lot more interesting this week, with former Rep. Anthony Weiner widely expected to declare his candidacy.

CAUTION AND BOMBAST: TWO GOP RESPONSES TO SCANDAL. 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, ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE notes, 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. 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." 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 in an interview. "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."


-CONSERVATIVE LEADERS, ACTIVISTS ANNOUNCE OPPOSITION TO IMMIGRATION BILL. More than 100 conservative and Tea Party groups as well as high-profile leaders and grassroots activists are taking a stand against the immigration reform bill now making its way through Congress. The opponents have penned an open letter to the Senate: "We write to express our serious concerns regarding the Gang of Eight's immigration bill, S. 744. We oppose this bill and urge you to vote against it when it comes to the Senate floor. No matter how well intentioned, the Schumer-Rubio bill suffers from fundamental design flaws that make it unsalvageable. Many of us support various parts of the legislation, but the overall package is so unsatisfactory that the Senate would do better to start over from scratch." Signers include: Gary Bauer, Campaign for Working Families; Erick Erickson, Editor of RedState; David Frum, Frum Forum; Laura Ingraham, Nationally Syndicated Radio Host; Mark Levin, Author and Radio Host; Jenny Beth Martin, Co-Founder and National Coordinator, Tea Party Patriots; Phyllis Schlafly, President and Founder Eagle Forum; Richard Viguerie; and former Congressman Allen West, among others. Read the letter:

-HOUSE PAC SAYS MICHELE BACHMANN IS 'RUNNING SCARED.' The pro-Democratic House Majority PAC released a video today highlighting Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.'s, recent troubles. According to a release from the group announcing the video, "Bachmann is not only facing investigations by the Office of Congressional Ethics, the Federal Election Commission and an Iowa Senate Ethics Committee, but now the Federal Bureau of Investigation is involved, too. Plus, Bachmann awoke Monday morning to the news that she is losing to her Democratic opponent, confirming she's in real political trouble." WATCH:

-PROGRESSIVE GROUPS TAKE ON ANTI-ABORTION RIGHTS FOE. The abortion rights group, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and the Bridge Project, an offshoot of the Democratic super PAC, American Bridge 21st Century, have come together to release a new report detailing what the two organizations say is the "truth behind the deceptively named Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List in order to reveal the group's extreme agenda and political efforts ahead of the 2014 election cycle." The Susan B. Anthony List is a conservative group dedicated to electing anti-abortion rights women to Congress. "This report is intended to expose their true agenda to do away with abortion, contraception, and even sex outside of reproduction," Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement. Read the report:


"A DOSE OF REALITY ABOUT IG AUDITS," an Op-Ed in The Hill by Michael R. Bromwich, who served as the Inspector General at the Department of Justice from 1994-1999. "The May 14 audit report of the Treasury Inspector General (IG) for Tax Administration has created quite a stir. … Unfortunately, many people, including politicians in both parties, are not prepared to wait for the orderly development of the facts. They want swift and dramatic action, and explanations as to why such actions against those responsible have not already been taken. Already, condemnation by politicians has extended beyond IRS personnel to include high-level officials in the Treasury Department and the White House for their failure to intervene more quickly, and take summary disciplinary action against the IRS personnel involved. This suggestion ignores many important considerations. It ignores the independence of inspectors general; it ignores the limited information that is generally provided to political officials by IGs while their audits or investigations are in progress; it ignores the risk that summary disciplinary actions could obstruct the IG's activities; and it ignores the strong likelihood that summary disciplinary actions would not stand up to subsequent administrative and legal challenges."


MaryFallin: RT @theoklahoman: Ways to help tornado victims Please keep them in your prayers.

@katiecouric: My heart is with Oklahoma today. Devastating scenes on the news… praying for families & loved ones to reunite and help to arrive swiftly

@TomCoburn: My thoughts and prayers are with those in Oklahoma affected by the tragic tornado outbreak.

@guycecil: Today is a reminder that perspective is important. Prayers are with Oklahoma

@nycjim: "God answered one prayer." Okla. #tornado survivor finds her dog buried alive under rubble. Amazing video …

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