Alex Witt | May 18, 2013
>> in today's "strategy talk," agenda killer? the associated press phone tapping and the irs targeting have put the white house on the defensive and mired congress in hearings. so what does it mean for president obama 's second term agenda? joining me now karen finney, msnbc host and former communications director and former press secretary under george w. bush . hello, you two, i'm glad to see you both.
>> karen , i'll begin with you here. so the impact on all of this on the president's goals for the second term, how do you see it? a long-term impact or just short term.
>> i think it's a mix. one of the things about each of these incidences, that we know a difference of the facts, than the beginning of the week particularly with regard to benghazi, so it is unclear what kind of long-term traction these things will have and look, what i think you will see the president continue to do and what he has to do is push forward with the agenda. the question becomes at some point americans are going to tire of the scandals. you have a third of congress now having investigations, and they're going to say, okay, but what have you done for me? how does it affect my life and that's the balance and that's what the president is driving towards. tony, what about democrats who had designs on retaking the house on 2014 . how does all of this affect that?
>> well, look, i think the chances of the democrats retaking the house are pretty remote and we'll see some republicans be very competitive and maybe pick up seats. in the senate they're looking at picking up seats. i think what this does is give democrats that we'll have a tough time in the midterms and it gives them an excuse for why things didn't go well and things were not going to go well for them in 2014 , anyway.
>> i think that is too early to predict that. i'm going to disagree with tony. there's so much that can happen and it was interesting to listen to newt gingrich , and i remember it well talking about how he overreached with regard to clinton and that actually, you would have thought republicans would have done well. so a lot of it depends on how the republicans in congress play out these various issues and how the white house responds and are they able to continue to push forward on the president's agenda.
>> i don't put it past anybody to overreach and you're right about that andes of on the hill in the '90s and witnessed it first hand, but as i remieshd people, think about the worst debacle the republicans did, shutting down government in 1995 and all they did was go on and hold both houses of congress for decades after that. even though it's seen as a debacle and it didn't go well, it didn't necessarily translate into wins at the congressional level.
>> so, karen , you're a communications expert. i'm durious, can you give the white house a grade in terms of the way they've been publicly handling these controversies.
>> i would give them a b, and i'll tell you why. my inclination generally is to get out a little bit faster at the same time and tony and i were just talking about this. when you are in government and you are in charge of a lot of bureaucrats and you don't know what you don't know, it's hard to versus a campaign where you know what you know and you control the people underneath you in a much better way. i think what you saw the white house trying to do which was smart was to try to make sure that they had as much of the facts as possible when they pushed it out, releasing the emails on benghazi shifted the nature of the conversation and i think with regard to the irs and that's a little bit trickier simply because it plays into all of our own biases and fears about the irs and similarly with the a.p. investigation over those phone records. so i think they did a good job of trying to push out as much of the facts as they can to push back and try to change the nature of the conversation when they felt like they really had the information to do that.
>> you know, tony, the tapping of the a.p. reporters and the last thing the camera was mentioning there.
>> that has really angled a lot of journalists. what does it mean for the agency if the press can quasi turn on them.
>> it makes the press room pretty difficult for jay carney on the daily briefings and communications for the press, but karen is right. the irs thing really does go to, you know, confirms a lot of fears that a lot of americans had about the way the bureaucracy works. it is going to be hard to deal with. the press are going to ask extra questions just to make sure they're understanding what they think they're hearing from the administration on a lot of things and the biggest problem for the white house is just the amount of time it takes to deal with these kinds of issues on a daily basis when they otherwise would be doing other things. i know they'll try to do that, but it's hard when you've lost control of the news cycle.
>> that's exactly what david axelrod was saying, too. it's the time allotted for all of that? what i think they'll do is try to cauterize the 10% and try to have as minimal amount of their time on it as possible, but have a set group of people working on that so that the rest and the majority of the white house can continue to focus on again, trying to move the president's agenda forward. i think you will see more of that as we go forward.
>> hey, tony, can i ask you about the open letter that the heritage foundation sent to cantor. they're asking republican leadership, hey, don't bring any legislation to the floor so the focus can stay on president obama and the trifecta storm he's dealing with. weren't these people sent to washington to lead? come on.
>> i want to make a distinction between heritage and the republican party . obviously, as i've said here, and i think everybody knows i'm a very, very strong proponent of immigration reform . i think heritage in recent months is proving itself to be largely irrelevant in this debate and in questioning its abilities to be a thought leader in this really important topic, and i think they're going to lose people, and i think they probably are losing people. this is an issue that is going to move forward and i think that's where republican leaders are going to end up.
>> it does play into the idea of the overreach may be coming. i do think there is a real danger for republicans on that and that letter plays right into it.
>> we'll see if that happens and we'll chat about it if and when it does.