Obama weaves Fast and Furious fight into his re-election narrative

President Obama escalated a battle between his administration and the Republican House over Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday in ways that could benefit his reelection campaign.

By asserting executive privilege over “Fast and Furious” documents sought by the House GOP, Obama inserted himself directly into the fight between Holder and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman. He also made it easier to run against not only Mitt Romney, but a Republican House he hopes to portray as divisive and overly extreme. 

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The move enabled the White House to shift the story surrounding the controversial gun-tracking operation and to scold Republicans — under an increasingly bright public spotlight — for focusing on what the administration dubs a political witch hunt instead of passing federal transportation funding and extending low interest rates on federally backed student loans. 

“If you had to find one person who is the most over-the-top in terms of partisanship, you would select Darrell Issa,” said Lanny Davis, who served as a special counsel to President Clinton (and who writes a column for The Hill). 

He predicted that the fight against Issa will be “quite helpful” to Obama, who is expected to deliver remarks on Thursday urging Congress to pass legislation that would prevent student loan interest rates from doubling.

“I think Democrats are joyful that he is the face of the party they’re running against,” he said.

Yet the assertion of executive privilege by the White House is also a risk for Obama. 

It brings the president closer to the Fast and Furious scandal and directly connects Obama to Holder, seen by some as a controversial figure in the administration. It also allowed Republicans on Wednesday to suggest a deeper cover-up.

“It’s a terrible error,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican consultant. “It now links Obama directly to Holder in a way that hasn’t been done so far. The White House up until this point had done a pretty good job of staying away from the Justice Department on this issue.”

Obama is ratcheting the matter up “to a whole new level,” Mackowiak said.

“It’s moving away from just a Washington story to one that will be on the front pages and the network evening newscasts,” he said. “The White House has basically put all their chips on the table and have said, ‘Come and get it.’ ”

Republican strategists and consultants say the move to help Holder is part of a larger plan by Team Obama to move off the message of the struggling economy. They point to Wednesday’s decision and Obama’s aggressive order late last week — to halt deportation of young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally — as proof.

“It really seems as if the Obama campaign and the Obama administration have been flailing for the past three or four weeks, going in multiple directions off message, and they have allowed these issues to mushroom to the point where the public will have to take notice,” said Republican strategist Keith Appell. “People still like President Obama, but if he starts invoking Watergate-era policies that fly in the face [of] his commitment to transparency, and if he starts rewiring the laws on issues like immigration, then that starts to make him look like he’s desperate and in way over his head.”

Running against Congress, Appell continued, is “a severely flawed strategy, because Democrats control half of Congress.”

As the fight between Holder and Issa escalated in recent months, the White House maintained it had done everything possible to accommodate congressional investigators, producing more than 7,600 pages of documents and testifying at 11 hearings on Capitol Hill. The administration argues that Republicans have pursued a fight that is “purely political.”

White House aides, who carefully weighed the risk of injecting Obama into the debate, said Congress should be focused on improving a down economy.

“With millions of Americans still struggling to pay the bills, Republicans announced at the beginning of this year that one of their top priorities was to investigate the administration and damage the president politically,” White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said in an email Wednesday. 

“Instead of creating jobs or strengthening the middle class, congressional Republicans are spending time on a politically motivated, taxpayer-funded election-year fishing expedition,” he said.