Amid Scandals, White House Sends Out New Message Point Man

White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer did the "Full Ginsberg" on Sunday as he embraces his role as protector of the Obama brand.

  • Share
  • Read Later
Chris Usher / CBS News via Getty Images

From left: White House Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer appears on Face The Nation in Washington, D.C., on May 19, 2013.

White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer never stopped smiling at the end of his CBS News interview Sunday, even when the host, Bob Schieffer, suggested that he was suffering in the spotlight. “I know this is not an easy job,” Schieffer told his guest. “I mean, do you kind of feel like someone who drew the black bean here? You’re the one who has to go out and try to explain?”

“Oh no,” responded the cheerful Pfeiffer, who appeared on five network news shows Sunday to spin back the trifecta of scandal storylines—IRS, Benghazi, Associated Press subpoena—that threatened last week to engulf the White House. “It’s a privilege to be here with you, Bob.”

If his words seemed sincere, there was probably good reason. More combative than charming, Pfeiffer, 37, has spent the last six years working behind the scenes to protect and promote Barack Obama in the press. Now the protégé turned senior advisor is running the White House storytelling and spin operation—and getting a new turn in the spotlight—having been promoted early this year from his role as communications director to senior advisor in charge of message. He follows in the footsteps of Obama’s two closest aides and strategists, David Axelrod and David Plouffe, who directed the Obama brand through two presidential campaigns and the first term in office.

In the tradition of his predecessors, Pfeiffer swatted away at the array of scandals on all five of the Sunday shows in the most Washingtonian of ways—dismissing the notion that they were even scandals at all or attributing the wrongdoing far afield of the White House. “What would be an actual real scandal in Washington would be if the president had been involved or had interfered in an IRS investigation,” he told Schieffer on “Face the Nation.”

“I think we’ve seen this playbook from the Republicans before,” he said on NBC’s Meet The Press. “What they want to do in they are lacking of positive agenda is try to drag Washington into a swamp of partisan fishing expeditions, trumped up hearings and false allegations, we`re not going to let that happen. The President has got business to do for the American people.”

On “Fox News Sunday,” Pfeiffer lashed out at congressional Republicans questioning Obama’s actions and whereabouts on the night of the Benghazi consulate attack. “The assertions from Republicans here that somehow the president allowed this to happen and didn’t take action is offensive,” he said. “There’s no evidence to support it.”

For the last several months, Pfeiffer has been operating from an office just feet from the Oval Office, far from his first-term perch, which offered easier access to the press corps than the President. Former Obama aide Tommy Vietor said Pfeiffer’s role in the White House—like Axelrod and Plouffe before—is to serve as a “gut check” for staff. “I can’t tell you how important it is to have someone like that who you can go to at any time on any subject for a final decision or judgment call,” he told TIME. “It’s rare.”

Like his predecessors, Pfeiffer brings to bear a close relationship with the president and in-the-room credibility that sets him apart from other public faces in the administration. Press Secretary Jay Carney found himself under fire this week when White House emails revealed that the administration was more involved in editing the Benghazi talking points than he let on in November. Senior administration officials explained that Carney had not reviewed the full emails about the revisions before addressing them from the podium. Asked about the discrepancy on ABC’s “This Week,” Pfeiffer pivoted to dismissing Republican allegations of political tampering in the wake of the attack and called on the GOP to apologize to UN Ambassador Susan Rice for criticism that now appears misguided.

A former spokesman for several Democratic Senators, including Evan Bayh, Tim Johnson and Tom Daschle, Pfeiffer was recruited to the Obama team as traveling press secretary in 2007 by Obama confidant Pete Rouse. Before the 2008 Democratic National Convention he moved to the Chicago headquarters as communications director for the campaign, a position he also held for Obama’s transition office. He entered the White House as a front-line communications strategist. In November of 2009, Pfeiffer was named Obama’s third communications director, charged with bringing order to a confused messaging operation. (He declined to comment for this story.)

On the Sunday shows, Pfeiffer put another face to the arguments that the White House has been making in public and private for a week. Over and again, he dismissed the lingering questions over Benghazi as base politics by Republicans. He expressed outrage over the mishandling of IRS applications, but said President Obama was not a cause of the problems, but rather the man determined to find a solution. “Everyone needs to take a deep breath and we should work out and resolve the problem, not try to score political points,” he said at one point, one of many variations of the same theme.

When Obama picked Chief of Staff Denis McDonough early this year, one concern was that the national security aide had little experience handling political messaging. Pfeiffer’s elevation helped solve that problem, advisors believed. Schieffer, however, still spoke to Pfeiffer like a deputy. “I mean this as no disrespect to you, why are you here today,” the CBS host asked. “Why isn’t the White House chief of staff here to tell us what happened?”

Pfeiffer didn’t take the bait, choosing instead to deliver the message he had come to deliver. “What’s important here is that when problems happen, is that the president takes responsibility for them and tries to fix them,” he said.

With reporting by Michael Scherer/Washington

52 comments
politics2013
politics2013

When Dan Ffeiffer doesn't admit to the obvious wrongdoings it undermines the credibility of the white house. Here's a novel idea, tell the truth. The evidence is there so when you lie it's obvious to everyone.

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

LEST WE FORGET:

   #1.    SODOMIZED AMERICAN AMBSSADOR DEAD......NAVY SEALS AND OTHER US PERSONNEL DEAD IN  BENGHAZI , LIBYA........NO US RESPONSE.......

     #2.   IRS ABUSING AND TYRRANYZING TEA PARTY AND OTHER REAL PATRIOTIC AMERICANS .....OF COURSE....ON THE BEHEST/ APPROVAL/CONNIVANCE.....OF OBAMA AND HISCREW......OBAMA THEN PROMOTES THE WOMAN HE ADMONISHES WITH A $100,000 BONUS.....

OBAMA IS P(R)ISSING TO YOUR FACES AND TELLING YOU......IT'S....RAINING !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

CITIZENS SHOULD START ORGANIZING THEMSELVES IN TO AMERICAN CITIZENS GROUPS......IN EVERY CITY.....AND MAKE IT KNOWN......THAT TYRANTS WILL BE HELD PERSONALY RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS.

NIXON WAS KICKED OUT OF OFFICE FOR  3D RATE BURGLRY......THIS IS DEAD AMERICANS AND A TYRRANICAL IRS!!!

valentine, comedian

ahandout
ahandout

I don't know why the White House sent this liar out there; after all, they have the liberal media already on the job.

maxmason
maxmason

Wow epluribus, thank you so much for letting us know that the government is completely trustworthy, and would never do anything controversial or unethical to the American people I feel so much better about institutions with little or no accountability controlling our lives. You're right, they would never do anything that wasn't in our best interest.......hmmmmm....wait, what was that experiment in tuskegee again?

epluribus2013
epluribus2013

Dan Pfeiffer is telling the absolute truth!  All you teagaggers who want to know what the IRS was doing need to shut up!  We can trust the government to do what is right.  As the president said of you paranoid freaks who "hear voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s the root of all our problems, even as they do their best to gum up the works; or that tyranny always lurks just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, creative, unique experiment in self-rule is just a sham with which we can’t be trusted."

I am proud the IRS is going to oversee Obamacare -- the only people who should be afraid are you wingnuts who clearly desere it. 

reallife
reallife

"If his words seemed sincere, there was probably good reason."

He's a better liar than poor Jay


JakobStagg
JakobStagg

We should start killing messengers. Eventually we will get to the perpetrators.

RonHolliday
RonHolliday

I guess if they can get enough people to lie for them, the sheep start thinking its true.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

I'm just curious will this GOP congress actually do anything to help improve our economy? I mean how many hearings and repeals of Obamacare can you have, before any legitimate point you may actually have gets lost in all the background noise?

Todd_Evans
Todd_Evans

wow, I feel so much better, the WH has a new person to lie, to replace the previous person that spun their lies

BorisIII
BorisIII

People can only cry wolf so many times until people stop listening.  And the Republicans will never get enough votes to impeach him.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ahandout Probably to counter all the liars sent out by the GOP and the right wing propaganda network that is Fox News.

roknsteve
roknsteve

@reallife Aww, did the Big bad Govt. make the poor little Teaheads pay their taxes?

barneydidit
barneydidit

@reallife Did you skip the part where the debate centered around whether Obama should have been told about the possible problem at the time reallife? Or are you just going to blame Obama for not knowing everything that goes on in every governmental office in the country?

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@reallife And Darrel Issa was told about it last July. An even bigger surprise, surprise. So why didn't he bring it up then?

ahandout
ahandout

@epluribus2013"We can trust the government to do what is right."

Words cannot begin.  Let's see the Germans and Russian once trusted their government to "do what is right."  How'd that work out for them?  Ever hear that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  

You are a fool.



maxmason
maxmason

Wow epluribus, thank you so much for letting us know that the government is completely trustworthy, and would never do anything controversial or unethical to the American people. I feel so much better about institutions with little or no accountability controlling our lives. Thank you for the insight, you're the best. I agree, they would never do anything that wasn't in our best interest.......hmmmmm....wait, what was that experiment in tuskegee again? I guess the government was just doing the "right thing", as you would say, and purposely let a few hundred poor sharecroppers die of syphlis when the cure was right there in front of them. All so we could study the long term effects of the disease. You're argument is absolutely laughable

BobHoutlook
BobHoutlook

@epluribus2013  "We can trust the government to do whats right" Quite a statement ye who worships Oblama. I guess the founding fathers were idiots then and the Constitution is meaningless.

What was I thinking of course we can trust the government that's why there are no lawyers.

RonHolliday
RonHolliday

@mantisdragon91 I understand that as part of the handout crowd, its your job to condemn the GOP but in reality, this bloated government and obama's crony capitalism does more to hurt the economy than the GOP's inability to get common sense cuts passed. Additionally, obamacare is going to cost you your health insurance unless you're on the dole for that too. Actual employed people are going to lose THEIR healthcare.

Throckmorton09
Throckmorton09

@BorisIII which is why they sent this clown out - people now understand how full of crap Carney is...Impeachment is not the goal, regardless of your uber-partisan outlook.  The goal is to find the truth - where ever it leads.

TroyOwen
TroyOwen

@Throckmorton09 @BorisIII Really? You do remember all the TP'ers saying how they would reject everything Obama came with and make him a one term President?

I think it is about trying to Impeach him are just make him look as bad as they can.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ahandout @mantisdragon91 @BobHoutlook @epluribus2013 So we should have no one in office? Is that your claim? Go after the guys that gave him these extraordinary powers that you GOP lemmings are no crying about. John Yoo and Cheney who have done more to harm the US Constitution than anyone in the last 100 years.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@BobHoutlook @mantisdragon91 @epluribus2013 So then shouldn't we go after the guys that oversaw the greatest expansion of presidential power since Nixon? An expansion that included torture, signing statements, wiretapping and greater powers during war time(real or declared)?

BobHoutlook
BobHoutlook

@mantisdragon91 @BobHoutlook @epluribus2013 I guess you missed my 1st response about trusting the government? Did I go back 6 years, 15 years, 40 years to compare what's happening today, no just you, barn and pluributt do that. My statement of what we can trust in government starts with the founding fathers and the Constitution, not Bush, not FDR, not Nixon, not Carter, not Reagan..... They put that stuff in for a reason.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@BobHoutlook @mantisdragon91 @epluribus2013 Blaming no one. Just asking you a simple question. Did you trust the last administration when they were politicizing the Justice Department, having the FBI, NSA and IRS target peace activists and hiding the 9/11 commission reports till after the 2004 election?

mhoover
mhoover

@mantisdragon91 @ahandout @reallife 

I can see why history tells you not to trust the GOP... a party that was instrumental in roles such as ending slavery.  Tell me, where was the democratic party post civil war?  Personally, I'm not a democrat or republican.  You make a fool out of yourself by overlooking the government's latest overstep in authority... and you defend it just because you're loyal to the democratic party and refuse acknowledge that this administration could possibly do wrong.  Your political leaning shouldn't impair you from denying the facts.  Wake up.  Whether you love or hate the tea party, or other conservative groups, the Federal Government has no right to target or discriminate.  If the IRS had pulled the same stunt with the NAACP, would you still defend their actions?  If it were your father killed by terrorist in Benghazi, would you be amused that it was blamed on an silly video?  Instead of the terrorist taking the rightful blame?  Do you truly believe the government has the right to basically ignore Freedom of Press?  That amendment was put in place solely to keep the government in check.  It is the job of the people, and the states, to hold the Federal Government accountable for their actions.  Stop thinking down party lines.  The GOP is not an evil organization, they just hold different beliefs than yourself.  Our differences are what make America great... because we're allowed a voice.  Start thinking outside your party.  It comes down to:  Was the governments latest actions right or wrong per the Constitution of the United States.  If you can read the Bill of Rights and still defend their actions, then all of the power to you.  Keep spouting nonsense.... it's one of those rights given to you in the above mentioned document.  It protects even a fools point of view.  But while you ignore them targeting those whose opinions/beliefs differ from yours....who is going to stop them when it's YOU they come after next.  Slippery slope.

epluribus2013
epluribus2013

@mantisdragon91 @RonHolliday Absolutely.  The president is not at fault for the high unemployment rate at all, it was Congress and Bush's fault.  he inherited this mess.  Now that the stock market is doing awesome, wealthy stockholders are getting record profits, and big business is booming, so the GOP should just keep quiet and out of the way.  

barneydidit
barneydidit

@mantisdragon91 @BobHoutlook @PaulDirks @RonHolliday I just love it when Conservatives accuse Liberals of "blaming" Bush for his scandals, or his economic collapse, or Reagan for Iran-Contra, or the failure of trickle down, rather than simply hold those two accountable for their shortcomings, and thus actually establish some credibility toward their condemnation of Obama for what they perceive his shortcomings to be. 

BobHoutlook
BobHoutlook

@PaulDirks @mantisdragon91 @RonHolliday Exactly, blame the GOP for the economy not improving and Obama for the economy improving. What kind of lib-spin is that? And don't forget "It's Bushes fault". Let's spend-spend-spend.

DarleneRitterGoodfellow
DarleneRitterGoodfellow

Let the Teafapper's head explosions commence! Thanks for the link, I'm already putting it to good use.