Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), on the floor of the upper chamber today, carefully tread the administration strategy of distancing the scandal from Washington when he said “the alleged actions of IRS employees in the Cincinnati field office are a terrible breach of the public’s trust.”
“Targeting any group based on its political stance is completely inappropriate. We need to get to the bottom of what happened here,” Reid said. “In the meantime, no one should jump to conclusions. But rest assured, as soon as we have the Inspector General’s report, the Senate will quickly take appropriate action.”
Gaggling with reporters aboard Air Force One en route to a string of New York fundraisers today, White House press secretary Jay Carney said “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.”
Appearing at a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron this morning, President Obama said he “first learned about it from the same news reports that I think most people learned about this, I think it was on Friday.”
“So we’ll wait and see what exactly all the details and the facts are. But, I’ve got not patience with it. I will not tolerate it, and we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this,” the president said.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) vowed to hold hearings into the IRS actions, and Reid said he has “full confidence in the abilities of Senator Baucus and the Finance Committee to get to the bottom of this matter and recommend appropriate action.”
But the House Ways and Means Committee beat other committees to the punch, with a Friday morning hearing scheduled on “the Internal Revenue Service’s practice of discriminating against applicants for tax-exempt status based on the political leanings of the applicants.” Acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller is on the witness list.
Obama hasn’t filled the post since his first-term IRS commissioner, Douglas Shulman, left three days after his re-election.
J. Russell George, the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration who led the report against the IRS due out this week, will also appear before Chairman Dave Camp’s (R-Mich.) panel.
Camp jointly announced the hearing with the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.).
“The American people must have the fullest confidence that organizations requesting tax exemption receive completely unbiased treatment from the Internal Revenue Service and are never singled out by name or political views,” Rep. Levin said. “The nation deserves a complete understanding of this matter, and as Chairman Camp and I discussed this morning, it is essential that there be a thorough and bipartisan investigation and effective remedial action.”
Other Democrats on the House side joined in the condemnation, with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) telling MSNBC that “heads need to roll” if the IRS was singling certain political groups.
“If was targeting conservative groups for selective enforcement, that ought to be concerning to all Democrats and Republicans alike,” Schiff said, though adding that Republicans ignored his call for a similar probe after a liberal church in his district was audited “in what looked like a very selective way.”
“But I’m glad now that the GOP has found interest in this issue and it ought to be a bipartisan concern,” Schiff continued. “The IRS absolutely should not be picking winners and losers or picking political ideologies. It ought to neutrally enforce its regulations regardless of the political point of view of an organization.”