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Rep. Michele Bachmann speaks at a Tea Party rally on Capitol Hill Thursday, as Sen. Ted Cruz (left) looks on.
Associated Press/Photo by Molly Riley
Rep. Michele Bachmann speaks at a Tea Party rally on Capitol Hill Thursday, as Sen. Ted Cruz (left) looks on.

Tea Party revival

IRS Scandal | The IRS scandal puts the spotlight back on a political movement many had written off

WASHINGTON—Tea Party activists and congressional lawmakers joined forces outside the U.S. Capitol Thursday to condemn the growing list of controversies rocking the Obama administration.

The simmering IRS scandal in particular has thrown the national spotlight back on the Tea Party network, energizing a group that some tried to dismiss after last November’s elections.

“The IRS’s veneer of impartiality is shattered,” said Jenny Beth Martin, a co-founder of Tea Party Patriots. “Tea Party groups have been waiting for years for the IRS to treat us fairly and equally.”

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The biggest sign at Thursday’s event that the Tea Party was back on center stage was Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s presence at the press conference. It is unlikely the Tea Party could have commanded the participation of Senate leadership just one week ago. But McConnell stood Thursday on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol alongside grassroots activists and Tea Party favorites such as Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as well as Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.

The lawmakers and activists demanded answers and investigations over the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups. They called for an independent audit of the IRS and then getting rid of it and replacing the current tax code with a flat tax. The group said the forced resignation of the IRS acting commissioner Steve Miller on Wednesday was not enough, and they echoed the Watergate scandal in demanding to know what the White House knew about the extra IRS scrutiny of conservative groups and when they knew it. (President Barack Obama announced Thursday that Danny Werfel, controller of the Office of Management and Budget and the point man on the “sequestration,” will take over as the new acting IRS commissioner on May 22.)

“Someone needs to be in prison,” said Paul, a potential presidential candidate in 2016.

Both Paul and Bachmann said the controversy raises concerns about the IRS’s large role in the implementation of Obamacare.

“Could there potentially be political implications regarding healthcare, access to healthcare, denial of healthcare?” Bachmann asked. “Will that happen based upon a person’s political beliefs or their religiously held beliefs?”

Jordan Sekulow, the executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, announced that lawsuits against the IRS by targeted groups could come as soon as next week.

The Treasury Department’s inspector general released findings this week that showed the IRS has spent several years singling out groups with conservative connections. The lawmakers at Thursday’s rally said the IRS used information about people’s religious or political beliefs to deny or delay a request for a certain tax status. The Tea Party leaders at the Capitol claimed that their efforts to gain tax-exempt status faced IRS roadblocks in the form of cumbersome requests such as documentation of recent books read and Facebook postings.

Later Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner, in possibly the strongest comments this week by a lawmaker, said the Obama administration has shown “remarkable arrogance” with the current trio of scandals plaguing the White House: the IRS developments, the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks, and the Justice Department’s monitoring of Associated Press reporters.

“Our system requires the bonds of trust between the American people and their government,” Boehner said. “Nothing dissolves the bonds between the people and their government like the arrogance of power here in Washington. And that’s what the American people are seeing today from the Obama administration.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaking Thursday on MSNBC, said the IRS tactics reflect a “culture of intimidation” fostered by the White House.

While the IRS controversy has centered on the Tea Party, reports of religious groups facing undue IRS scrutiny are beginning to surface. Evangelist Franklin Graham wrote a letter this week to Obama claiming, “Someone in the administration was targeting and attempting to intimidate us.” The IRS, Graham said, had been going after the two ministries he leads, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse. Since Graham took action, other faith-based and social conservative groups have come forward.

The National Organization for Marriage said the IRS leaked its tax return documents and confidential donor information to its rival organization, the Human Rights Campaign. The Catholic League argued it was targeted by the IRS while the Leadership Institute, which cultivates conservative leaders, claimed it spent more than $50,000 in legal fees answering an IRS audit that took more than a year and amounted to more than 23,430 pages.

“Fortunately my Leadership Institute had the resources to stand up to the government’s bullying and intimidation,” said Morton Blackwell, president of that organization. “Other groups, including grassroots and Tea Party groups we’ve helped train, did not.”

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