TODAY   |  May 27, 2013

Obama gets brief Memorial Day break from scandals

In the wake of several controversies surrounding the White House, the president will see a pause in political action Monday as traditional Memorial Day ceremonies get underway. NBC’s Kristen Welker reports.

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>>> in washington today, politics likely will be set aside as the nation and the president pause to mark memorial day . but some recent controversies will continue to roil the obama administration in the coming days. nbc's white house correspondent kristen welker has the latest. kristen , good morning.

>> reporter: willie , good morning to you. president obama has tried to divert the conversation away from those thorny issues. memorial day will do that temporarily as the president prepares to honor those who have served and made the ultimate sacrifice. and it comes on the heels of an emotional visit to oklahoma on sunday. with a trifecta of controversies hovering over his administration, president obama visited tornado-ravaged moore, oklahoma , on sunday, comforting those who lost everything and delivering a message of hope.

>> we know moore is going to come back stronger from this tragedy.

>> reporter: back in washington, fresh criticism of the president on the sunday talk shows over benghazi, the irs and justice departments.

>> i think he's really losing the moral authority to lead this nation.

>> reporter: with the doj under fire for seizing journalists' phone records as a part of a leak investigation, the president has ordered attorney general eric holder to review his own policies, not good enough, said republicans.

>> this is a good time to have a special council come forward or some independent group to look at it.

>> reporter: democratic senator chuck schumer said he plans to introduce a bipartisan-backed bill that would require the government to get approval from a judge before pursuing journalists' records.

>> you always need set rules and an independent arbiter. we have neither now.

>> reporter: republicans also took aim at the president's revamped counterterrorism policy. in which he called for a limited use of drones and closing guantanamo bay , arguing the war on terror is winding down.

>> at a time we need resolve the most, we're sounding retreat.

>> reporter: in defense mode, democrats insisted the president wouldn't let up his fight against al qaeda and said it is time to change course.

>> if we are constantly thinking of this in the context of war, we stand the very real risk of doing things which compromise our values and freedoms.

>> reporter: now, the president will start the day by hosting a breakfast here at the white house for families who have lost loved ones in combat. he will then lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknowns and deliver a memorial day address. congress is on recess but has vowed to keep up its investigation into the irs and doj controversies. willie ?

>> kristen welker beginning her memorial day at the white house . kristen , thanks so much.

>>> mark halperin is senior political analyst for "time" and msnbc. mark, good to see you.

>> hi, willie .

>> obviously oklahoma last week took the country's attention, but there are three controversies that involve the white house , that certainly has the white house 's attention, the irs , the justice department and benghazi. a quick update on all three.

>> they're all going to be go a little below the radar. congress is now going to investigate these. in two of the three, the president agrees, there needs to be more investigation. look into wiretap reporters, looking at their phone records and e-mails, and the irs , even the president says those need to be investigated, benghazial. all subject of republicans taking a look quietly behind the scenes and most republicans are i sag the smart strategy and the right thing to do, don't call for impeachment or try to shout from the rooftops every day but investigate the facted. that's good for the country because we do need to know in each case what exactly happened.

>> a lot of the congresspeople looking into these. a lot of americans want to know if any of these three lead back to the white house . that would cause these scandals to explode. is there any evidence at this point that any are connected to the white house ?

>> there's no indication. but there is a lot of question about other people around the president, what they did as well as the question of responsibility. if the president didn't know in these cases, do we need to change the system so that the president himself has more oversight over some of these areas. and as i say, these are going to be investigated. there's still questions.

>> do any of these, mark, begin to derail president obama 's second-term agenda? he'd love to get a budget deal, he'd like to get one on immigration, perhaps go back to the issue of guns. what do all these ongoing controversies mean to what he wants to do?

>> it makes it a lot harder. it's tough for a president when one party is investigating him in the morning and then in the afternoon try to figure out a way to make deals. making deals with republicans was hard before. it's harder now. the president is going to have to say in the next few weeks if he's going to salvage this term, get things done on immigration and maybe guns and certainly on the budget, can he work with republicans even though a lot of them are spending a lot of their time investigating him and raising questions about his administration?

>> the president made a big speech on thursday which may trump all of this in the long term when history looks back on it where he said he wanted to take america off its perpetual war footing. that was his line. what does that mean practically? what's his vision for the country?

>> look, on memorial day , we all want to pay tribute to and thank the families of those and those who gave their lives. it's a big issue, national security is something a president has first and foremost, you're right. that speech probably one of the biggest speeches he'll give as president to change the way the united states thinks about our security at home and abroad. tons of issues raised in the speech i think we're going to debate that speech and the issues the president raised not just during his term but into the next presidency.

>> there are some people who were confused by the speech, given this is a president who added troops in afghanistan, a president who has used drones more liberally than the previous president, that he is the one saying let's step back from all this. is this a return to candidate barack obama in 2008 ?

>> in a lot of ways it is. i think part of what the president wanted to do was say, in effect, i inherited a lot of policies from george bush . i inherited wars and a situation i couldn't change right away. now he's thinking about his legacy, about how he turns as he thinks about leaving office, handing things off to his successor, how does he want to leave those policies? again, i think more than settling a lot of these big issues, afghanistan, war on terror , drone policy, it's opening up a debate that he'll engage in and we'll have the next presidential campaign a lot of these issues will be engaged for the post-obama era.

>> mark halperin joining us on