Democratic Wave Builds For Shinseki’s Removal

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Six Democratic Senators and two Democratic Senate candidates want a resignation note from the Veterans Affairs secretary, stat.

Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, N.C. Sen. Kay Hagan, Montana Sen. John Walsh, and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, and New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, have called for his resignation on Wednesday.  Virginia Sen. Mark Warner joined the group on Thursday morning.

They’ve been joined by the Democratic Senate hopefuls from Kentucky and Georgia — Allison Grimes and Michelle Nunn.

Several more Democratic Senators from GOP-leaning states — Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oregon — may join the resignation caucus on Thursday and Friday.

All face tough or competitive elections this fall. The scandal gives them good political reasons to support angry veterans and their families in their states — and President Barack Obama’s low poll ratings ensure there’s little advantage in publicly supporting him.

That creates a strategic dilemma for Obama.

He wants to keep the Senate under Democratic control, but also to shield himself from the scandal in his own administration.

He has not taken the painful step of firing his own appointee, which would publicly put him at the center of the non-partisan scandal, and further damage his poll ratings.

So he’s trying to put a lot distance between himself and Eric Shinseki before the end of June. That’s when a complete report on cover-ups and hidden waiting lists at the VA is slated to be dropped onto Obama’s Oval Office desk, and when Shinseki’s days in the cabinet likely will come to an end.

Obama is already walking away from Shinseki and hinting at his departure. “I know that Ric’s attitude is if he does not think he can do a good job on this and if he thinks he has let our veterans down, then I’m sure that he is not going to be interested in continuing to serve,” Obama said March 21 at a brief press conference in the White House. But, Obama said, “at this stage, Ric is committed to solving the problem and working with us to do it.”

Shinseki didn’t appear at the press conference, so the media didn’t get a picture of Obama standing alongside his apparently doomed appointee. On Memorial Day, Shinseki got the cold shoulder from his boss.

That’s a sharply different message from May 19, when press secretary Jay Carney declared that “the President has confidence in Secretary Shinseki.”

Administration officials likely want to repeat their choreographed resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who walked out of the cabinet in April with the blame for Obamacare’s disastrous October rollout pinned on her back — but not on Obama’s chest.

The strategy was highlighted by an official White House leak to Politico, in which Obama’s deputies portray the president as eager to see if Shinseki can reverse the damage. The subtext of that targeted leak is that the problem belongs to Shinseki, not to the president who appointed him.

The Sebelius blame-shifting took a few months, and was eased by an apparently successful resuscitation of the Obamacare website at the end of March.

But there’s no chance that the VA’s systemic problems — and past misdeeds — can be repaired before the final report arrives at the end of June, less than five months before the midterm election.

When the final report arrives, administration officials likely want Shinseki already out the door and carrying all the blame for the VA scandal far, far, far away from the Oval Office.

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Neil Munro