With five months before voters go to the polls, little actual
governing is getting done and much of Washington is all about
political posturing ahead of elections that may well determine
Obama's ability to govern in his last two years in office.
Obama, whose tepid public approval rating threatens to sag
Democratic attempts to maintain control of the Senate in November,
appeared with low-wage workers in the White House East Room to press
his case for reducing income inequality.
He zeroed in on what Democrats consider a major issue for them
heading into the campaign season — raising the minimum wage paid to
millions of Americans.
A Senate vote on the minimum wage fell short of the 60 votes needed
for passing the first increase in the threshold since 2009.
Most Republicans voted against it, giving Obama an easy target to
press the Democratic mantra that Republicans are trying to hold back
the middle class.
"Change is happening, whether Republicans in Congress like it or
not," Obama said. "And so my message to the American people is this:
Do not get discouraged by a vote like the one we saw this morning.
Get fired up. Get organized. Make your voices heard."
Republicans returned to a topic that the White House considered a
settled issue — the controversy surrounding the killing of the U.S.
ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, in a militant attack on an
American facility in Benghazi, Libya.
Obama's critics pounced on emails from U.S. officials released by
the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch on Tuesday. The group
said the emails showed the White House was concerned primarily with
protecting Obama's image after the Benghazi violence.
The attack by militants on September 11, 2012, killed four Americans
at the U.S. mission in Benghazi, including Stevens. The issue is
politically salient because Hillary Clinton was secretary of state
at the time and Republicans will likely try to use Benghazi against
her should she run for president in 2016.
In the emails, obtained
by Judicial Watchdog via the Freedom of Information Act, Ben Rhodes,
Obama's deputy national security adviser for strategic
communications, discussed what should be stressed when top U.S.
official Susan Rice appeared on Sunday television news shows days
after the Benghazi attack.
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The Rhodes email lists one goal for Rice as being "to underscore
that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a
broader failure of policy."
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said the Rhodes
email "shows that Benghazi in the eyes of the White House was a
political problem" for Obama ahead of the 2012 presidential
election, which he won.
"I think he understood very quickly this was a chink in the
president's political armor in terms of his narrative about his
foreign policy successes. And the document that is now released as
the result of a lawsuit, nothing else, clearly shows that Ben Rhodes
was trying to be a political operative, rather than a national
security spokesman," Graham said.
Republican Senator John McCain also leaped into the fray.
"This is ample evidence of the politicization of this whole tragedy
of the loss of four brave Americans," he said.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney was peppered with questions
about Benghazi. He said the email was not specifically about
Benghazi, that the CIA had produced "talking points" about the Libya
"The email and the talking points were not about Benghazi," Carney
said. "They were about the general situation in the Muslim world."
(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Jeff Mason and Roberta
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