POLITICS

Dems demand Shinseki scapegoat, but will Obama oblige?

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Politics,Chris Stirewalt,Power Play

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DEMS DEMAND SHINSEKI SCAPEGOAT, BUT WILL OBAMA OBLIGE?
Remember why President Obama chose Eric Shinseki as his secretary of Veterans Affairs, way back on Dec. 7, 2008? Obama’s fellow Hawaiian is a decorated, combat-wounded Vietnam veteran, a former Army chief of staff and certainly qualified for the post. But at the time, Shinseki was also a symbol of the movement that brought Obama to power and made the retired general a hero to Democrats everywhere. Shinseki rose to fame in the weeks prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq for publicly disputing the Bush administration’s estimates for the cost of the invasion and the number of troops that would be required. Shinseki’s testimony provoked a backlash from civilian leaders at the Pentagon, and, Democrats alleged, Shinseki being forced from his position sooner than scheduled. But Shinseki’s public contradiction of official policy would later be a central part of the calls to oust then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2006 when the war effort was failing. President George W. Bush didn’t oblige the bipartisan demands for Rumsfeld’s resignation in the midst of a difficult midterm election cycle for Republicans – even though it would have helped their party. Eight years later, it is Shinseki who is the scapegoat and Democrats who are baying for blood. Will Obama oblige them?

[The first report from the Veterans Affairs inspector general investigating the abuses inside the agency, particularly the practice of using secret waiting lists to hide the rationing of health care to veterans, describes the problem as “systemic.”]

Divided loyalties - Shinseki certainly doesn’t sound like he’s ready to be a martyr to the Democratic midterm cause, penning an OpEd for USA Today that vigorously defends his tenure and argues that he is best suited to remedy the problems: “The findings … are reprehensible to me and to this department, and we are not waiting to set things straight.” It would be more than a little unseemly for Obama to dump the man he praised, whose selection was heralded as “karmic justice” and provoked “wonderment at the Obama team’s deftness in the symbolism and substance of this choice.” After all, Obama abided with former Secretary of Health Kathleen Sebelius for more than half a year after she failed spectacularly in the rollout of Obama’s most important initiative. It made political sense, too. By stonewalling and waiting for Democrats to get in line, Obama prevented the perception of continuing chaos and was able to eventually claim some version of success for his troubled initiative before giving Sebelius the boot. But endangered Senate Democrats need a quicker resolution this time. Election Day is just 22 weeks away. They need a symbolic firing, the appointment of a blue ribbon commission and a quick pivot away from an issue that could cost additional seats. Obama needs the perception of calm to prevent this from engulfing his administration. Senate Democrats need to show they can get results in response to public outrage. So what to do?

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