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Trio of troubles threatening Obama's second term

Published: Wednesday, July 29 2015 6:55 p.m. MDT

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney is seen on a television monitor during his daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, May, 14, 2013. Carney touched on various topics including the Justice Department's secretly obtaining two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press and IRS.  (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (Associated Press) White House Press Secretary Jay Carney is seen on a television monitor during his daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, May, 14, 2013. Carney touched on various topics including the Justice Department's secretly obtaining two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press and IRS. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama seemed to lose control of his second-term agenda even before he was sworn in, when a school massacre led him to lift gun control to the fore. Now, as he tries to pivot from a stinging defeat on that issue and push forward on others, the president finds himself rocked by multiple controversies that are demoralizing his allies, emboldening his political foes and posing huge distractions for all.

It's unclear how long he will be dogged by inquiries into last year's deadly attack in Libya, the IRS targeting of tea party groups and now the seizure of Associated Press phone records in a leak investigation. But if nothing else, these episodes give new confidence and swagger to Republicans who were discouraged by Obama's re-election and their inability to block tax hikes as part of the Jan. 1 "fiscal cliff" deal.

Taken together, these matters will make it harder for the administration to focus on its priorities — racking up a few more accomplishments before next year's national elections.

FILE - This May 9, 2013 file photo shows President Barack Obama walking from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington to board Marine One. President Barack Obama seemed to lose control of his second-term agenda even before he was sworn in, when a school massacre led him to catapult gun control to the fore. Now, as he tries to pivot from a stinging defeat on that issue and push forward on others, the president finds himself rocked by multiple controversies that are demoralizing his allies, emboldening his political foes -- and posing huge distractions.  (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) (Associated Press) FILE - This May 9, 2013 file photo shows President Barack Obama walking from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington to board Marine One. President Barack Obama seemed to lose control of his second-term agenda even before he was sworn in, when a school massacre led him to catapult gun control to the fore. Now, as he tries to pivot from a stinging defeat on that issue and push forward on others, the president finds himself rocked by multiple controversies that are demoralizing his allies, emboldening his political foes -- and posing huge distractions. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) (Associated Press)

"It's a torrential downpour, and it's happening at the worst possible time, because the window is closing" on opportunities to accomplish things before the 2014 campaigns, said Matt Bennett, who worked in the Clinton White House. From here on, he said, "it's going to be very, very difficult."

So far, there's no evidence that Obama knew about — let alone was involved in — the government actions in question. But a president usually is held accountable for his administration's actions, and Republicans now have material to fuel accusations and congressional hearings that they hope will embarrass him, erode his credibility and bolster their argument that his government is overreaching. Even some of his Democratic allies are publicly expressing dismay at the AP phone records seizure.

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