Now that everyone is paying attention to the scandal stories Republicans have been pushing for months against President Obama, they have a bit of stage fright. They're trying really, really hard to be cool and not let the trio of scandals slip away like they did during Bill Clinton's second term, when a congressman shot a melon to prove the death of a White House lawyer was murder, not suicide. "I’m being very cautious not to overplay my hand," Louisiana Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. told The New York Times' Jonathan Weisman. "It's not like we’re trying to hurry or trying to slow it down. We're just trying to proceed at the speed that gets to the truth," Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan said. "Top GOP leaders are privately warning members to put a sock in it when it comes to silly calls for impeachment or over-the-top comparisons to Watergate," Politico's Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei report. Spiking the talk of Watergate now is a tacit admission that so many controversies that have come earlier in the Obama years were not such a big deal after all, but just a way to excite Republican voters while most of the public wasn't paying attention. With general public scrutiny, apparently, comes general responsibility.
An example of the delicacy required is the case of John Boehner. The House Speaker, who has struggled to maintain the loyalty of the most conservative Republicans, has kept Benghazi at arm's length for months. Then a report from ABC News on Friday seemed to quote Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes interfering with the talking points to play down the role of terrorism in the Benghazi attack. The Benghazi story had suddenly gotten much more substantial. On Monday, Boehner had "become obsessed with Benghazi," Politico reported. "This is all Boehner," a Republican aide said. But then the real email was released, and they showed Rhodes' email had been misquoted, and it was the CIA which took terrorism out of the talking points. Now Boehner is back to officially being the cool-headed voice of reason. "Our job is to legislate, and we’re trying to legislate things that will help create jobs in our country," Boehner said Thursday. "But we also have a responsibility, under the Constitution, to provide oversight of the executive branch of government."
This caution is a new thing for House Republicans, particularly House Oversight Committee Chair Darrell Issa, who will oversee lots of investigating. In January 2011, Issa said Obama was "one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times." Issa said Fast and Furious was "like Watergate"; when the Department of Homeland Security researched who was making Freedom of Information Act requests, Issa said it "reeks of a Nixonian enemies list." In 2010, Issa said if a special prosecutor wasn't appointed to investigate whether Rep. Joe Sestack got an appointment in exchange for dropping out of a Senate primary, "the White House will be falling back on a concerted scheme and cover-up strategy not seen in Washington since the days of Watergate." Now that there are scandals of substance to talk about, Issa is being more chill. He promised to work with Obama on Wednesday to investigate the IRS's targeting of conservative groups.
Even those who endorse Boehner's call to be cool are having trouble sticking by it. "More and more, I’m appreciating the wisdom of Boehner," Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, one of the Republicans most interested in Benghazi, told Politico Monday. But on Thursday, when asked about possibly impeaching Obama, Chaffetz said, "Look, it's not something I'm seeking. It's not the endgame. It's not what we're playing for. I was simply asked, is that within the realm of possibilities? And I would say, yes. I'm not willing to take that off the table."