Alex Witt   |  May 18, 2013

Takeaways from the IRS hearings

White House Correspondent for The Hill, Amie Parnes, and Washington Post Reporter, Ed O’Keefe, join MSNBC’s Alex Witt to discuss yesterday’s heated IRS hearings and the role, if any, partisanship played in the investigation.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> first in front page politics, a new fallout just a day after the irs commissioner faced fierce questioning from a house panel. steve miller was force the to resign his post as acting director this week. on friday he faced republicans and democrats who demanded answers about why the irs targeted tea party groups seeking tax exempt status.

>> as acting commissioner, i want to apologize on behalf of the internal revenue service for the mistakes that we made and the poor service we provided. i think that what happened here was that foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient in their workload. the listing, as described in the report, while intolerable, was a mistake and not an act of partisanship. good morning. thanks for joining me. bombshells. did you hear any at this hearing? and i'm also curious about the impact on president obama . when they say it was a mistake, steve miller say it was a mistake and not an act of partisanship, are people buying it?

>> not necessarily. while the watchdog who testified alongside him made it clear he didn't think there was any bit of partisanship in all this and that it was perhaps just a mistake in that they focused too closely on these groups, we did learn during this hearing that the treasury watchdog who had prepared the report began briefing members of the treasury department last june, basically. so you had the deputy secretary of the treasury department, the general counsel there, aware that this investigation was going on. does it mean the watchdog had given him all the information or that they needed to know every detail? what it does suggest is that there were senior people in the obama administration, at least over at the treasury department , who were aware of this just a few months before the erection, and that brings pause to republicans and democrats who say, look, is there a possibility now that people at the irs knew about this and were trying to keep it under the rug through november?

>> well, okay. let's listen to more of the hearing with you. here, in fact, republican congressman kevin brady questioning steve miller . here it is.

>> who in the irs is responsible for target can conservative organizations? is the question remains, who is responsible for targeting the conservative organizations? who is responsible for targeting these individuals?

>> i don't have names for you, mr. brady, and i'm willing to try to find that out.

>> you think you might have had some names coming into that hearing, wouldn't you? as the hearing drew to a close, republican congressman dave kamp said the investigation had, quote, just begun. i want to get perspective from you, amy, how big is this irs controversy right now and how big might it get?

>> one thing is clear, alex, it doesn't appear to be going away. it has legs, whereas these other controversies like benghazi might have been fading away in the background, this one has come to the forefront. it's a problem for the white house , and i think you know that. that's why you saw the president this week take steps to stop the bleeding and cut it off. he assigned danny wuerffel to report to secretary jack lou and see where this is going. you're seeing the white house take action on this. i think they're a little scared of what's happening.

>> nbc news received a letter from the lobbying arm of the heritage foundation , addressed to speaker john boehner and house majority leader eric cantor . it urges republicans not to bring forth any new legislation, rather just focus on the controversies. if they take that advice, do the republicans risk overplaying their hand?

>> that's why you've seen republican leadership tell the rank and file , look, we understand there are a few different issues we need to be looking into. let's not jump to conclusions . let's not run out there and say and do things that would smack of partisanship in a way that might turn off voters that might be generally concerned about this and interested in supporting us come 2014 . the biggest comparison is what happened during the lewinsky scandal , the republicans focused too much on it. things were a little different there, and it was only one situation. here you have several. and the fact that you have bipartisan concern about this also suggests that, if republicans try to get ahead of it, democrats are just going to react very angrily and say you're now just trying to turn this into a partisan situation. there are two more hearings this week, one of them in the senate, one of them in the house. the other thing to keep in mind to talk to lawmakers this week, we can do more than one thing at once. we can legislate. we can work on immigration. we can work on a budget deal while also doing our constitutional obligation to oversee what's going on in the executive branch . it looks like there's an eagerness to do both.

>> congress' approval, their ratings in the basement. they have the nickname do nothing. one-third of republican controlled committees in the house are spending their time investigating some facet of the obama administration. what is the potential risk? is there reward for republicans here?

>> there is a little bit of reward for them, alex. i think what they want to do is throw the president off his game. he has a lot to do in the second term. he hasn't been able to do it. the boston bombings kind of took him off message. now he has this to deal with. they have to be kind of high fiving in a way because he isn't really able to focus on what he's trying to do. he was out there yesterday trying to push the budget. he's trying to make a turn to shift the dialogue, but that's been really difficult for him lately.

>> is amieparnes, ed o'keefe, thank