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POLITICS: PennAve

Veterans Affairs scandal explodes into political sphere

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Politics,Veterans Affairs,2014 Elections,Campaigns,PennAve,Rebecca Berg,Veterans,Eric Shinseki,Mark Begich,Phoenix

As the controversy over mismanagement and negligence at health care facilities run by the Department of Veterans Affairs exploded Wednesday with new findings by an inspector general, the issue also came to a head politically, with Democratic candidates fighting to withstand fresh Republican attacks.

A roster of vulnerable Democratic incumbents called for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign in light of the inspector general's report, which blamed "inappropriate scheduling practices" for leaving thousands of veterans waiting months or to receive care, or not receiving care at all, in Phoenix. Sens. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., John Walsh, D-Mont., and Mark Udall, D-Colo., were among those who demanded Shinseki step down.

Meanwhile, a wave of new Republican ads released Wednesday attacked Democrats and President Obama for being slow to act on the scandal, which has gained steam during the past few weeks.

The ads are pieces of a deliberate strategy by Republicans to frame the VA scandal as "part of a larger, ongoing credibility problem that Democrats have, from these VA issues to ObamaCare, Benghazi, IRS targeting reporters and conservatives," one party strategist explained.

"This is part of a larger narrative that we will continuously remind voters of throughout the summer and fall," the strategist added.

Among the attacks were robocalls paid for by the Republican National Committee in ten states with key Senate races; a television ad paid for by the Karl Rove-backed group Crossroads GPS; and another by Concerned Veterans for America, a group affiliated with the billionaire Koch brothers.

In Alaska, the ad released by Crossroads GPS, attacked Sen. Mark Begich, the Democratic incumbent, for saying earlier this month of the VA scandal, "... If there's a problem, they need to fix it."

"If there's a problem?" a narrator asks, seemingly with incredulity.

But Democrats are hinting that Republicans risk overstepping into dicey political territory with such attacks.

Susanne Fleek-Green, Begich's campaign manager, called the politicization of the VA's problems "appalling and disgraceful."

"Caring for our nation's veterans and fighting to make sure our veterans receive the care they deserve isn't about politics," Fleek-Green added.

And some Republicans echoed that sentiment, urging their party to avoid using the issue for political gain. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., who chairs the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, told CNN's Jake Tapper that the Crossroads ad in particular was not appropriate, and that he "wouldn't use anything like that politically.”

“This is a bipartisan issue,” Miller said. “We're talking about Americans, people that have worn the uniform. It should not be a political football. And we on the House side have not done that.”

This story was first published at 09:19 p.m. on May 28.

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