Though the first day of Loretta Lynch's AG hearings went as well as Democrats might have wanted, Senator Ted Cruz managed to steal the spotlight on an issue near and dear to the hearts of many conservatives: reforming the Internal Revenue Service.
Lynch's most viral answer (in a bad way) during her questioning was her defense of the laws against marijuana use; that irritated the left, whose votes she's not in danger of losing. The questions about whether Lynch would defend the administration's executive actions on illegal immigration, which the right had telegraphed for months, were dodged without incident. But then Cruz asked Lynch if she'd appoint an attorney to independently investigate whether the IRS had targeted Americans over their political beliefs.
"Is it consistent with fairly and impartially enforcing the law to have an investigation into abuse of power at the IRS headed by a major Democratic donor?" asked Cruz.
"My view is that the department has career prosecutors who are devoted to the Constitution," said Lynch, otherwise ignoring the implication of the question.
"Would you commit to this committee to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS abuse of power, who at the very least is not a major Obama donor?" asked Cruz.
Lynch, who according to biographical material submitted to the committee was not born yesterday, declined to take the bait. "My understanding is that the matter has been considered and the matter has been resolved," she said.
For her, maybe. Cruz, though, was adding some audio-visual flavor to the IRS bills he was already introducing. The day before the hearing, Cruz announced that he'd file two bills to prevent any further IRS "targeting" of Americans. The first would threaten IRS employees with up to 10 years in jail if they scrutinized Americans "based solely or primarily on the political, economic, or social positions" of their groups. The second would change the code governing groups to allow charitable organizations more freedom to get political.
Specifically, it would amend section 501(4)(A) of the code so that "social welfare" meant "any political activity in furtherance of 12 American democracy, provided that such activities do not exceed 50 percent of the organization’s total activities (not including activities performed on a volunteer basis)" and "any activities for the purpose of educating individuals on issues of public importance and on the behavior of public officials, including participation in ballot initiatives and referenda."
As Cruz said, that applied FEC guidelines -- guidelines developed by a government body designed to be deadlocked between the parties -- to the IRS. It jibed with a bill introduced 24 hours later, by a group of Republicans led by Rep. Paul Ryan, titled the Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act. That bill would block any effort by the IRS to define what refine what "social welfare" meant. It was not subtle: It singled out "the proposed regulations published at 78 Fed. Reg. 71535 (November 29, 2013)," which conservatives mobilized against, arguing that any attempt to tighten the definition was going to lead to attacks on free speech.
To the bystander, the "IRS scandal" might have burned out in 2014 when no investigations revealed a White House plot to silence conservatives. The bystander was wrong; Republicans would never let him be right.