Scandal City Undercuts Trust in Washington, Threatens President Obama's Agenda

President Barack Obama speaks under an umbrella held by a Marine as a light rain falls during a news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, May 16, 2013, in the Rose Garden of the White House. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo)


If you thought it was tough to get a Republican to play nice with President Obama before, good luck in Scandal City.

As the president seeks to move beyond the three-headed beast of Washington scandals - flawed Benghazi talking points, rogue IRS agents on political witch hunts, an unprecedented Justice Department sweep of reporters' personal communications - there's some damage he won't be able to control.

Critical to the president's broad agenda is a trust in government. That's been directly undermined by the flurry of revelations, with more almost certain to come.

Just as important to his legislative efforts is getting the public to pressure Republicans to support him on items such as immigration reform, gun control, taxes and spending.

Related: How Scandals Fuel Washington Trust Divide

Both ends of that equation appear likely to have been impacted, perhaps permanently. The public has new reasons to be skeptical of Washington. Republicans have new reasons not to cooperate with the president; if anything, the Tea Party will feel vindicated and re-energized by the events of the past few days.

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Whether or not there's ultimately, to borrow the president's words, " 'there' there" inside the various scandals, this week's swirl has broad implications for the president's second-term agenda. By one estimate, a third of committees in the GOP-controlled House are currently investigating at least one aspect of the Obama administration.

"I don't envy my colleagues sitting in that building right now," former White House senior adviser David Axelrod said on MSNBC yesterday.

Axelrod lived and thrived through trying times in the president's first term. This set of challenges is different, though, only in part because of the storied and frustrating history of presidents' second terms.

In short, the legislative sweet spot is souring in ways dinner out with rivals can't fix. One Democratic member of Congress on Wednesday expressed concern that the multiple investigations fed this week in Washington would cost the White House and its allies a genuine opportunity to make progress on agenda items.

"That would be the biggest crime of all, if it took away from all the things we need to do," the member of Congress said.

The president has been pursuing a business-as-usual public schedule. Over the past week, he's held an economy event in Texas, sought to build support for his Obamacare with an event at the White House, and honored law enforcement at the National Peace Officers Memorial Service.

While taking his first substantive action on the scandals yesterday, he's also made a little time for politics, in case he needed a reminder about 2014's approach. At a Democratic National Committee fundraiser Monday he talked, as he often does, about reaching out to Republicans.

Related: Fired IRS Commissioner Planned to Leave Post in June

"I genuinely believe that there are actually Republicans out there who would like to work with us but they're fearful of their base and they're concerned about what Rush Limbaugh might say about them," Obama said. "And as a consequence, we get the kind of gridlock that makes people cynical about government and inhibits our progress."

It may not have been the best time to reference Limbaugh, who's in a victorious mood given the scandals and accusations leveled at the White House.

But as for gridlock and cynicism, the president was right on. This dizzying week appeared very unlikely to advance his cause to break through any of it.