May 30th, 2014
03:24 PM ET
7 months ago

VA scandal: GOP pivots from Shinseki to Obama

Washington (CNN) - Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki is gone, but the VA scandal isn't going anywhere.

The big political question now is whether the controversy will continue to have an impact on this year's midterm elections as it has the past few weeks.

"Secretary Shinseki offered me his own resignation. With considerable regret, I accepted it," President Barack Obama said Friday.

Will Shinseki departure improve things at VA hospitals?

The announcement came one day after a bunch of high profile lawmakers from Obama's own party broke with the White House over Shinseki.

Many of the Democrats who called for him to step down face difficult re-elections in November.

Minutes after Obama delivered the news, Republicans made it clear that Shinseki's departure doesn't bring an end to this controversy, and shifted their attention from the outgoing VA secretary to the President.

"His resignation, though, does not absolve the President of his responsibility to step in and make things right for our veterans,” said House Speaker John Boehner. "Business as usual cannot continue."

"The President campaigned in 2008 and 2012 on the promise of improving care for our veterans, but it is now obvious that his stewardship of the VA has been a failure," said Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Obama's GOP opponent in the 2008 election and himself an esteemed veteran.

"New leadership at the VA is just the first step in what must be a significant, sustained effort by President Obama to fix its systemic problems," McCain said.

Republicans have been framing this year's midterm elections as a referendum on Obama and his policies. CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley said the GOP pivot to the President on the VA controversy accentuates the Republican playbook.

"Politically, the VA horror story now becomes another verse in the Republican refrain about the President's leadership style - that the President is disengaged, doesn't know what's going on in his administration, and leads from behind," said Crowley, anchor of CNN's "State of Union."

Story first reported by CNN makes political impact

The Veterans Affairs controversy has mushroomed since CNN first reported last November on allegations of alarming shortcomings within the VA medical care system that potentially have had deadly consequences in dozens of cases.

The most disturbing and striking problems emerged in Arizona last month, with sources revealing to CNN details of a secret waiting list for treatment. According to the sources, at least 40 veterans died while waiting for care at Phoenix, Arizona, VA medical center.

Over the past couple of weeks, Shinseki has been under pressure from many Republican lawmakers and candidates. And Democratic Senate candidates in three red states - Alison Lundergan Grimes of Kentucky, Michelle Nunn of Georgia, and Natalie Tennant of West Virginia - recently joined the chorus.

But Democratic incumbents held out until Thursday, one day after a preliminary report from the VA's inspector general’s office noted systemic problems and said at least 1,700 veterans waiting to see a doctor in Phoenix were never scheduled for an appointment and were never placed on a waiting list.

The scandal comes with Democrats trying to hold onto their 55-45 majority in the Senate (53 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the party). The party is defending 21 of the 36 seats up in November, with half of those Democratic-held seats in red or purple states.

The smaller midterm electorate traditionally tends to favor the GOP. Adding to that a sluggish economy, Obama’s low approval ratings, continued strong conservative opposition to Obamacare, and the so-called "six-year-itch," which traditionally plagues the party controlling the White House during a president's second term.

So the last thing Democrats running for their political lives need is another controversy.

Will the issue last on the trail?

"The resignation doesn't solve the issue. The issue is the problems plaguing the VA," said Democratic strategist Bill Burton, a top adviser on the 2008 Obama presidential campaign and in the White House who co-steered the leading pro-Obama outside group, Priorities USA, during the 2012 campaign.

The "news cycle moves so fast in Washington that media will be on to something else in a few weeks. This is unlikely to be part of the issues landscape in November," Burton said.

Complete Coverage: 2014 Midterm Elections

But Republican strategist Kevin Madden thinks the damage has already been done.

"This isn't a personnel issue, so making a personnel change at the VA won't necessarily solve the problem. This is a competence crisis for President Obama. Increasingly, President Obama's incompetence and his failure of leadership on issues like the VA scandal and the Obamacare debacle will be front and center in voters' minds from here through November 2014," said Madden, a CNN contributor who was a top adviser in Mitt Romney's 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.

The Veterans Affairs scandal has been a major issue on the campaign trail the past couple of weeks. Wednesday it also became front and center in the campaign ad wars.

As first reported by CNN, Crossroads GPS, the non-profit sister organization to American Crossroads, a leading pro-GOP outside group co-founded and steered by Karl Rove, went up with a television commercial in Alaska that was critical of Sen. Mark Begich’s reaction to the growing controversy. Begich is considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators running for re-election this year

The same day, the VA scandal also appeared in a new online ad attacking another vulnerable Democrat, Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas. The spot by Rep. Tom Cotton, the GOP challenger in the race, hits Pryor for what it says is his inaction in dealing with the controversy.

Neither Begich nor Pryor called for Shinseki's resignation before Obama's announcement.

Friday, minutes after Obama said the VA secretary was stepping down, Cotton, who trails Pryor in the polls, quickly put out a statement.

“I'm disappointed that, as usual, Senator Pryor stuck with President Obama until the very end, but even the President realized Secretary Shinseki needed to resign. Our veterans and all Arkansans need a senator who will lead, not one who will defer to Barack Obama," Cotton said.

Expect to hear similar language on the campaign trail the next couple of days. But will it last?

CNN's Crowley says the scandal will "continue to play out on the campaign trail though not at the defcon levels it has been."

 


Filed under: 2014 • President Obama • Veterans Affairs
soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. Sniffit

    ""New leadership at the VA is just the first step in what must be a significant, sustained effort by President Obama to fix its systemic problems," McCain said."

    Blah blah blah. Translation: "It's not my fault!!!! I wasn't here for the past several decades!!!! This is not Congress's responsibility in any way and I wasn't negligent in my failure to propose any legislation or hearings or funding or improvements to address the widespread general systemic problems with the VA!!!! DON'T BLAME ME/US!!!!!! It's all Obama's responsibility and he needs to make proposals so we can throw feces at them!!!!! Have you not noticed it's a mid-term election year!?!?!?!?!?!????"

    DECADES. Let that sink in for a freekin second. DECADES of these types of problems. 2 unfunded wars voted for. No funding or improvements to the VA voted for to cover the predicted and foreseeable increase in need for VA services to cover the predicted and foreseeable increases in troops needing medical care. No effective response to Walter Reed. Votes AGAINST funding for the VA. Looking the other way and pretending the problems don't exist until there is an acute flare-up for DECADES. And these jackholes want to pretend it's all Obama's fault and all Obama's sole responsibility? NO. Do NOT let the House and Senate...BOTH PARTIES...get away with trying to wash their hands of their own responsibility in this. Do NOT. McCain and the GOP/Teatrolls are full of crap on this...as is any Dem who joins them.

    May 30, 2014 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  2. Sniffit

    " said Madden, a CNN contributor who was a top adviser in Mitt Romney's 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns."

    Oh, you mean "Landslide" Madden, who glorious runaway victories on behalf of President Mittens make him super credible and a voice to be listened to in all things? What a joke.

    May 30, 2014 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  3. Rick McDaniel

    The replacement has to be named, approved, and then immediately start making the necessary changes to improve the operations of the VA.

    That's a very tall order, not to be impacted significantly in the mid term elections. I think it will absolutely play a role in this year's election........and it will hurt Dems who are marginal, in their support.

    May 30, 2014 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  4. Sniffit

    Deflection deflection deflection deflection DEFLECTION. CONGRESS and every single one of them in it should have been addressing these problems years and years ago and they should be doing so now instead of trying to play hot potato with it. THEY are to blame. THEY failed in their duties. THEY failed to govern. THEY failed to fund and make improvements. THEY failed to properly anticipate and prepare for predictable increases in the need for medical services and the numbers of troops needing them. THEY need to be held accountable.

    This is nothing more than the GOP/Teatrolls trying to get ahead of the MSM and take control of the narrative to make it all about Obama...so that nobody, particularly the MSM, which will no doubt just bottom-feed off the nontroversy the GOP/Teatrolls are stirring, bothers to take a careful look at who is REALLY to blame for all of this, who should REALLY be held accountable and who REALLY owes Amurika's veterans a sincere apology.

    May 30, 2014 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  5. Charles

    Where has John McCain been since 2005? Did he vote to expand the needed services to our Veterans? Congress, particularly the Republicans have failed to act. They just say cut, cut, cut.

    May 30, 2014 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  6. Sniffit

    "Expect to hear similar language on the campaign trail the next couple of days. But will it last?"

    It will last as long as CNN refuses to do any real journalism and treats these deflection attempts by GOP/Teatroll senators and congresscritters as legitimate arguments even though they come from people who have been in a position for years and years where it was not only within their power, but also their DUTY, to have done something about these VA system problems.

    May 30, 2014 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  7. Tommy G

    Sniffit
    Deflection deflection deflection deflection DEFLECTION. CONGRESS and every single one of them in it should have been addressing these problems years and years ago
    ---

    But they have, numerous times. And it is the job of OBAMA to FAITHFULLY EXECUTE, which he is totally incapable of doing after 5.5 years after he knew all of the problems and ranted about them frequently. And I agree, ALL of your posts should carry that deflection warning as it seems to be all you have these days.

    May 30, 2014 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  8. PaulCat

    dam if he do / dam if he don't !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 30, 2014 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  9. Tom l

    Sniffit,

    Wow are you blabbering a lot and one thing is missing from your rants. Not once to lay any blame with the president even though you say everyone is to blame. Why are you so passionately defending the top guy if everyone is culpable? Does Obama bear any responsibility for this disaster?

    May 30, 2014 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  10. otlset

    "The President campaigned in 2008 and 2012 on the promise of improving care for our veterans"

    Yes he did. But as usual, his promises were empty. The worrying thing is that he fooled so many people into electing...then RE-ELECTING him a second time, which doesn't speak well of the public's judgement these days.

    May 30, 2014 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  11. Sniffit

    "White House press secretary Jay Carney leaving"

    Good luck to him...I think he did a great job. Had it been me, I'd have pimpslapped Ed Henry with a white, powdered glove on my first day and gotten myself fired.

    May 30, 2014 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  12. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA - Take Back the House

    If you voted for that God forsaken Iraq war, YOU ARE TO BLAME TOO!!!

    May 30, 2014 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  13. jboh

    If the TEA/GOP is so concerned about our vets, why did they filibuster a Democratic bill to add 27 new VA med facilities? TEA/GOP is still a bunch of chickenhawk who can, and won't do anything but gripe. For the good of USA, send then all packing before they turn us into a talibangelical, third world plutocracy.

    May 30, 2014 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  14. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA - Take Back the House

    Between Boehner and McCain, they've been in Congress more than a combined 30 years. How did they vote on appropriation bills for the VA? How dare they point the finger at anyone & politicize the issue when they're just as much to blame.

    May 30, 2014 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  15. ThinkAgain: Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.

    How can gop/tea bags EVER claim to love this country when all they do with their TAXPAYER SALARIES is try to find ways to blame President Obama for everything?

    The VA's problems go back years – but only now the repub/tea bags care ... because it's a midterm election year. Every member of Congress who sat on their hands about this shares responsibility – and only those who actually DO something about it (they control the funding and create legislation, dontcha know) are worth anything. Those members who instead play games with this issue instead of HELPING OUR VETS deserve to go down in flames at the polls.

    repub/tea bags have no shame ...

    May 30, 2014 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  16. Daddywarbuks

    McCain has been going home regularly to supposedly meet with constituents. Just what has he been doing the last 13 years. Seems this would have been put to rest a long time ago if the Maverick Warrior had been a warrior instead of a showboating, reckless, egomaniac.

    May 30, 2014 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  17. Sniffit

    "But they have, numerous times."

    No, they haven't and hat's a totally ridiculous lie on your part. There have even been some of these jackholes calling for resignations and blaming Obama who voted against raising funding. You're totally full of crap and just pulling things out of your rear in an effort to fluff the GOP/Teatrolls' attempt to shift blame away from themselves. The only person reacting to this in a responsible manner so far appears to be Bernie Sanders with the hearings he's scheduled and the legislation he's proposing. And no, 3 page bandaid legislation is just another attempt at deflection, so don't even bother trying to argue the House's BS bill that was designed to create the false appearance that they're doing something to fix this.

    May 30, 2014 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  18. Rudy NYC

    "The President campaigned in 2008 and 2012 on the promise of improving care for our veterans, but it is now obvious that his stewardship of the VA has been a failure," said Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Obama's GOP opponent in the 2008 election and himself an esteemed veteran.
    ---------------------------------
    Take a look at the facts, Senator. Back in 2005, Republicans tried to privatize Walter Reed or shut it down. The Tea Party tried to do it again earlier this year. Speaking of the Tea Party, haven't you noticed the budget cuts to the V.A. since the Tea Party took control of spending in the House? I'm pretty sure that you have noticed the cuts to the facilities and staffing. I'm sure that you have noticed the shortage of doctors in the facilities, too.

    May 30, 2014 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  19. 2_indy1600

    The head of Disabled American Vets, told Mr. Blitzer at noon today that the veteran's health administration's appointment problem was laid on the desk of Bill Clinton in 2003. At that point, only 230,000 were waiting. Clinton tried to reorganize the administration and failed.

    May 30, 2014 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  20. Sniffit

    "Not once to lay any blame with the president even though you say everyone is to blame. "

    Is Obama not part of "everyone"? IS he not one of the people who would have to answer my questions with "yes I voted for unfunded wars and no I didn't propose or vote for legislation that would have funded and improved the VA system to handle the expected increase in necessary medical services"? When I say EVERYONE, I mean EVERYONE. Your pathological need to hear Obama specifically named for blame is juvenile and evidence of mental problems.

    May 30, 2014 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  21. NC

    What does anyone expect with 2 wars at the same time. Send our kids to war and no plans on how to take care of them.

    May 30, 2014 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  22. ThinkAgain: Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.

    As recently as January 2014, 67 repubs in the House voted against a spending bill that would have set aside $100 million for overtime and additional training for claims processors to reduce the growing backlog of veterans waiting for care.

    The complete bill included funding for Obamacare. Party uber alles!!!

    May 30, 2014 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  23. Rudy NYC

    Rick McDaniel

    The replacement has to be named, approved, and then immediately start making the necessary changes to improve the operations of the VA.
    -------------------------–
    That means upgrades to the facilities, which means spending some money, which the Republicans rejected a couple of months ago.

    May 30, 2014 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  24. Bill from GA

    Sniffit – "... DON'T BLAME ME/US......DEFLECTION..."

    I hope you realize that you are doing exactly what you say the repubs are doing.

    At some point dems are going to have to accept responsibility for their failures, and fix them. Obama did it with the healthcare web site; he will have to do it with the VA.

    We all know the repubs are going to use anything lacking that the dems do, much more so than the dems to to the repubs.

    Dems basically let all the Bush failures go without fanfare. No Congressional hearings on Iraq, the banking collapse, etc. But the repubs play differently. Accept it.

    What Obama now needs to do is to have every VA administrator replaced who has any involvement in wrong-doing, coverups, etc. Then tell Congress what it will cost to move forward and make sure the public knows it if Congress doesn't act quickly. Some problems will improve with new personnel, if they are held accountable. But the solution starts with Obama.

    Sometimes, Sniffit, you have to acknowledge that your party, and our President, are NOT PERFECT.

    May 30, 2014 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  25. Rudy NYC

    2_indy1600 confabulated:

    The head of Disabled American Vets, told Mr. Blitzer at noon today that the veteran's health administration's appointment problem was laid on the desk of Bill Clinton in 2003. At that point, only 230,000 were waiting. Clinton tried to reorganize the administration and failed.
    ------------------------
    2003? Don't you mean the desk of George W. Bush?
    Are you really that desperate to blame a Democrat for everything that comes along?

    May 30, 2014 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
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