WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, seeking to regain his footing amid controversies hammering the White House, named a temporary chief for the scandal-marred Internal Revenue Service Thursday and pressed Congress to approve new security money to prevent another Benghazi-style terrorist attack.
The efforts did little to satisfy Republicans, who see the controversies as an opportunity to derail Obama's second-term agenda. House Speaker John Boehner suggested the White House had violated the public's trust, and he promised to "stop at nothing" to hold the administration accountable.
The targeting of conservative political groups by the IRS and new questions about the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, last year — along with the Justice Department's seizure of journalists' phone records — have consumed the White House for nearly a week. The president's advisers see the IRS matter as the most likely to linger. At least three congressional committees are planning investigations into the agency that touches the lives of nearly every American.
Obama, who was criticized by both opponents and allies for his measured initial response to the IRS targeting, vowed to ensure the agency acts "scrupulously and without even a hint of bias."
"I think we're going to be able to fix it," he declared during a joint news conference at the White House with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Soon afterward, Obama appointed senior budget official Danny Werfel to temporarily run the IRS, one day after Acting Commissioner Steven Miller's forced resignation. Joseph Grant, one of Miller's top deputies, announced plans Thursday to retire June 3, according to an internal IRS memo.
However, the president knocked down the prospect of appointing a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS, saying the congressional investigations and a separate Justice Department investigation should be enough to nail down who was responsible for improperly targeting tea party groups when they applied for tax-exempt status.
The news conference marked Obama's first comments on the government's widely criticized seizure of telephone records of reporters and editors of the Associated Press in an investigation of news leaks. The president spoke of the importance of striking a balance between "secrecy and the right to know" but said he would make no apologies for trying to protect classified information that could put Americans at risk.
The IRS and Justice Department controversies have coincided with a revival in the GOP-led investigations into the September attacks in Benghazi, which claimed the lives of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.
Obama, who angrily cast the investigations as a "sideshow" earlier this week, tried to turn the focus Thursday to Congress. He urged lawmakers to provide more money to strengthen security at U.S. diplomatic missions around the world.