May 30th, 2014
03:24 PM ET
9 years 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.

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"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. lovinthatsomanyhateonnd

    Repubs get to give Obama as much grief over this as they gave Bush over Walter reed. thats it. (and if i recall, it wasnt much) sick of the double standards

    May 30, 2014 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  2. ThinkAgain: Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.

    @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."

    12/04 news conference with then-Sec of Def Rumsfeld:

    Army Spc. Thomas Wilson: Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles? And why don;t we have those resources readily available to us?

    Rumsfeld: It isn't a matter of money. It isn't a matter on the part of the army of desire. It's a matter of production and capability of doing it. As you know, ah, you go to war with the army you have-not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.-You can have all the armor in the world on a tank and it can (still) be blown up...

    the gop has always been absolutely CLUELESS. The only thing they're good at is manipulating their dim base into voting against their own self-interest.

    May 30, 2014 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  3. ThinkAgain: Don't like Congress? Get rid of the repub/tea bag majority.

    One headline you'll never read:

    VA Scandal: GOP Actually Does Something to Fix It

    May 30, 2014 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  4. 2_indy1600

    Sorry, make that Bill Clinton's desk in 1993. Time flies.

    May 30, 2014 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
  5. Bill from GA

    boh – " If the TEA/GOP is so concerned about our vets, why did they filibuster a Democratic bill to add 27 new VA med facilities? "

    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? "

    The problems I hear so much about are largely the result of incompetent and corrupt personnel at the VA facilities. I also heard one figure that the VA had more workers than patients. I don't know what is standard for the medical field, but it sounds like a lot of waste going on. And no one seems to be held accountable.

    I know the repubs aren't trying to fix the problem. They only want to blame Obama. But Obama is the one who can get it fixed. This is not an issue for either side to play politics with. I know the repubs will continue to do so, because that is what they do. Obama's team needs to get the problems solved. NOW!

    May 30, 2014 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  6. A Kickin` Donkey

    How many members of Congress ARE VETERANS? Shouldn`t some of them know from personal experience of the DEcADES long shortcomings in VA healthcare?
    Even if THEY didn`t serve [and I KNOW that MOST of them DoDGED & DEFERED their way out of going into dangerous war/ conflict situations wearing the combat uniform of the United States of America] don`t they have buddies high school / college era friends that they should have been able to get some feedback from?
    Why doesn`t CNN have the professionalism to ask these types of questions of members of Congress IN ADVANCE of a story like this? Why doesn`t CNN ask members of the House and Senate Vet Admin OVERSIGHT committees what THEIR vision is? Certainly, they should have one, shouldn`t they? And if CNN asks, will it accept a "word salad" response that is light on specifics OR will the reported have done his homework and be ready to ask follow-up questions that require the politician to be knowledgible on details instead of just throwing rocks at the next hot story. I can`t imagine, Cronkite, Wallace, Max Robinson, Peter Jennings, Bryant Gumbel, etc., allowing politicians to spew their "talking point" sound bites without challenging them. Where is you honor, you so-called journalism ehhem . . . professionals?

    May 30, 2014 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  7. Tom l

    Wow are Rudy and Sniffit working overtime today!!

    May 30, 2014 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  8. MaryM

    Sorry GOPers, the Majority of Americans know the problems with the VA go back DECADES and Decades. You got nothing repubs

    May 30, 2014 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  9. Joan

    It is a shame that an honourable and sincere man like Gen. Shinseki felt he had to resign. Hope the MSN and Republicans are happy now. You could tell how deeply he cared about his job and he tried to improve the state the VA was in from when he took over. It was a mess. For goodness sake, they were still using paper reporting! Right now the journalists who started all this better start reporting the whole truth, not just cherry picking criticisms. I hope they are proud of themselves. I hardly ever hear a reporter or anchor answer these questions. How many vets were being served when Bush went into office? How many vets needed help when he left? How many more have been added due to his two decade long wars? How many vets died when Bush was in office? How many other people died in the US died because they didn't have any kind of insurance? Who controls the budgets for the VA department? What have the House and Senate oversight committees been doing all this time? Isn't that their job? How many homeless vets have been helped significantly under Gen. Shinseki's capable hands? What are some of the other positive ways that he has helped improve the VA t (such as electronic reporting, etc.)? How have the wait times decreased since he took over? You see there's a lot that hasn't been reported and it seems to have been very partisan. They make it sound like these problems just happened now under this administration. That is far from the truth. I hope that President Obama can find a really good place for the General to use his many talents and expertise. You can tell that Pres. Obama respects and likes him and hated accepting his resignation. He has taken the fall because administrators at the local level were duping the system. It is clear that Gen. Shinseki felt terrible about all of the negative criticisms and didn't want to be a distraction. He is definitely an honourable man. He is much more honourable than the people who have been attacking him.

    May 30, 2014 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  10. MaryM

    So the same republicans calling for resignations are the same ones that have voted against funding the VA and voted against bills to HELP Americas Veterans. Hypocrites every last freaking one of you

    May 30, 2014 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  11. smith

    @Kickin` Donkey-You asked how many members of congress are veterans? 29% of the GOP and less than 1% of Dems.

    May 30, 2014 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |

    0bama has been at war sense day 1 with the freedoms we hold dear to our hearts . Well atleast half of us feel that way and we have to beat his and the dems candyman land trix and stand up for truth and justice and just keep telling the truth and drive it home .

    May 30, 2014 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  13. smith

    @MaryM-I agree with you, the problems at the VA are decades old. However, take a look at some of the comments on here saying the problems started because of the Iraq War. Absolute fodder.

    May 30, 2014 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  14. REGinAZ

    Politics wins ... and when playing politics wins, the people don't. The person that was most capable of resolving the VA problems, even with having to take the blame, was just ousted and all that was served was politics, with those making all of the noise, aiming simply to gain political advantage, now having their way without doing anything to solve the problems. This is what they want – make noise, excite people, have negative reaction and gain political momentum, without any concern for anything else. Those doing all of the screaming never have any real answers as they are totally focused on serving only their political ambitions and, in that regard, serving "the money" for their strong support. Hopefully the people, the voters can come to see reality, to understand that the “puppets'" goal is always just to con the people, to manipulate public opinion and to serve their own interests without ever having any concern for anything else, especially not really for the people's interests – references: the manipulation of the "conservative" Christian (2000); the Swift-boat propaganda (2004); the Tea Party movement (2010) and now the Obamacare, Benghazi and VA issues – all aimed to excite and sway voters in the same single direction, to insultingly just dupe, use and abuse the people as "pawns". The people, the voters need to take offense, reject constantly being conned, reject the propaganda and get rid of the "puppets" who serve only themselves and "the money".

    May 30, 2014 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  15. len

    Problem at the VA has occurred for decades. GOP, remember Walter Reed, Bush Administration. GOP had a brain freeze on that one. Bunch of hypocrits. America please wake up!

    May 30, 2014 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  16. Sniffit

    "Wow are Rudy and Sniffit working overtime today!!"'

    Yawn. The GOP/Teatroll spin, deflection and self-serving blame-game machine is what is working overtime. That it outrages some of us in this context in light of just how culpable EVERYONE is for these failures should be of no surprise. They are nothing but mid-term maggots trying to spin this into political leverage while CONTINUING to fabricate excuses for their past AND their future inaction on this issue.

    And no, a 3 page bandaid bill doesn't count whatsoever. It was nothing but knee-jerk slop thrown at the problem so hey could continue to make excuses and pretend to have done something.

    May 30, 2014 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  17. don in albuquerque

    A ridiculous, and second grade level comment.

    May 30, 2014 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  18. Sniffit

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

    No I AM NOT. I blame ALL OF THEM. Just because I argue against the GOP/Teatrolsl trying to lay ALL Of this at Obama's feet, both in terms of who they blame and who they claim is responsible for fixing it all, does NOT mean I don't believe that everyone from Obama to Pelosi to Reid to McCain to Graham...ALL OF THEM...are to blame and responsible for fixing it. It's like you deliberately ignore what I'm saying. And it's particularly abhorrent that the GOP/Teatrolls are doing this blame game crap here, because many many of them were there, sitting in congress, voting for unfunded wars, failing to vote for anything to prepare the VA for increased needs and an influx of veterans. They are doing nothing but trying to avoid their own accountability. Not one of them has acknowledged their own part, their own failures, their own inaction. Instead, they stay strictly in mid-term mode and sanctimoniously spout complete nonsense that pretends they have no fault and no responsibility for this mess. It's disgusting and it's a freekin travesty that nobody in the MSM has the balls to stand up and question them on it.

    May 30, 2014 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  19. Dean

    Is the VA problem really a surprise to anyone? You have a government agency in control of medical care, an agency that concentrates its energies more on fulfilling EEOC policies than it does on providing medical care.
    I have received treatment from several different VA centers and in Wyoming that treatment was better, quicker and friendlier than any medical facility I have ever been in while in Birmingham I could not even get a prescription filled correctly. Instead of the best person for the job, the government promotes affirmative action incompetency.
    This is even true at the line to get your driver's license or license plate.

    May 30, 2014 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
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