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Floodgates open as Democrats join Republicans in calls for Shinseki’s resignation

BY Terence Burlij, Domenico Montanaro and Rachel Wellford  May 29, 2014 at 9:20 AM EDT
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • IG report opens floodgates with calls for Shinseki to resign
  • Push from Democrats, Republicans, ups pressure on Obama
  • The choice facing Mississippi Republicans
  • 2014 watch: Health care fight in Kentucky, Kingston picks up Herschel Walker’s endorsement & the Chamber backs Ernst in Iowa

Demands for Shinseki to resign reach fever pitch: Calls for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to step down grew louder on Capitol Hill Wednesday following the release of an inspector general report that determined agency officials at a facility in Phoenix had manipulated scheduling records to hide long wait times for former service members. The investigation found that the average wait time for a veteran seeking an initial appointment at the Phoenix VA hospital was 115 days, while the average wait time reported to the department was 24 days. The interim report also determined that the scheduling practices at the Phoenix facility “are a systemic problem nationwide.” The findings opened the floodgates on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers in both parties issued statements calling for Shinseki’s ouster. The Democrats pushing for Shinseki’s dismissal included Sens. Mark Udall of Colorado, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, John Walsh of Montana, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Al Franken of Minnesota. All five are running for re-election this fall, with Udall, Hagan and Walsh facing tough contests. Democratic Reps. Bruce Braley of Iowa, Scott Peters of California and Ron Barber of Arizona also called on Shinseki to resign. Braley is running for the Senate, while Peters and Barber have difficult re-election races on their hands.

Republicans pile on: Leading Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, Rep. Jeff Miller, the chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Rep. Buck McKeon, the head of the House Armed Services Committee, also called for Shinseki’s resignation. McCain praised Shinseki’s career of service as a combat veteran, but said, “It is clear to me that new leadership is needed at the VA” to implement reforms and restore the trust of veterans. For his part, Shinseki gave no indication he planned to step down, releasing a statement that said, “I have reviewed the interim report, and the findings are reprehensible to me, to this Department, and to Veterans.” President Obama stood by Shinseki during his press conference last week, saying he would work with the secretary to fix the problems, but also left the door open for a possible change once he got all the facts. On Wednesday, however, the White House stopped short of giving Shinseki its full support. Press secretary Jay Carney said the president “found the findings extremely troubling” and agrees with Shinseki’s decision to implement the recommendations made by the inspector general. The president is still waiting for deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors to conclude his investigation of the scheduling practices at the VA, which is due next month. But given the rapid erosion of support for Shinseki among Democrats on the Hill, the question is whether the president will see enough to make a move sooner.

The Mississippi Poison Pill – Do Republicans avoid another Akin? Mississippi political columnist Charlie Mitchell summed up his state’s Republican Senate primary this way: “Not to be melodramatic, but Mississippi voters — bizarre campaign antics of the past few weeks notwithstanding — face a soul-trying choice Tuesday.” The antics he writes of are the revelations that four supporters of tea party challenger Chris McDaniel were arrested for taking photos of incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran’s bed-ridden wife in her nursing home. McDaniel denies any connection, but it has shaken up a race in which McDaniel was gaining steam and looked poised to possibly pull off an upset. It’s also possible that, like in the past two election cycles, Democrats would have a chance to win the state if McDaniel was nominated. But this election is far more important to this cycle than just whether Democrats put another seat in play. Establishment Republicans view McDaniel as poisonous — someone who could stand between them and the Senate majority. They see him as another Todd Akin, the 2012 Missouri Republican Senate nominee who cost Republicans that seat because of his “legitimate rape” comments. If McDaniel wins, they argue, like Akin, every other Republican Senate candidate would have to answer for his past controversial comments from his days as a radio host. That’s why the establishment has taken nothing for granted, dumping opposition research on McDaniel. Cochran even capitalized on the arrests by cutting an ad highlighting them, showing mugshots of the arrested. “Rise up and say no to dirty politics,” an announcer says, “and yes to our strong conservative leader.” And a closing ad for a pro-Cochran Super PAC accuses McDaniel of being a liar.

Obama West Point reaction: The New York Times’ Peter Baker sums up the rationale for President Obama’s West Point speech, noting that the president is “deeply frustrated” by assessments of his foreign policy. The president “has become increasingly convinced that while the United States must play a vital role beyond its borders, it should avoid getting dragged into the quicksand of international crises that have trapped some of his predecessors. … To his critics, mainly on the right but also some on the left, this is a prescription for passivity, an abrogation of decades of bipartisan leadership on the world stage. Stung and irritated, Mr. Obama used his commencement address to West Point cadets on Wednesday to mount a sustained rebuttal and to define an approach to foreign policy that he believes is suited to a new era and that he hopes will outlast his presidency.”

2014 wrap – Grimes hits McConnell on health care, Kingston with some momentum in Ga., the Chamber takes sides in Iowa: In Kentucky, Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes hits Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell on for his stance on health care, trying to draw a distinction between Kentucky’s popular exchange and the federal law, which Grimes says needs fixing. The Lexington Herald-Leader also goes after McConnell for his claims that his support for getting rid of the health care law is “‘unconnected’ to the future of Kynect, Kentucky’s health insurance exchange?” Asks the paper, “Huh? Nothing could be more connected.” … In Georgia, Jack Kingston may be picking up some momentum. He got former rival Karen Handel’s endorsement, the Chamber of Commerce is already on board and now former NFL running back Herschel Walker, a star at the University of Georgia, has endorsed him. … Speaking of the Chamber of Commerce, it signaled who it thinks will win the Iowa Republican Senate primary Tuesday. It’s now backing state Sen. Joni Ernst, whom Democrats deride as “The Sarah Palin of Iowa.”

Begich keeps on swinging: We’ve noted that even Republicans see Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich as running a strong campaign. In part, that’s because of ads like this one that went up Wednesday that highlight what he’s done for the state while hitting Republican challenger Dan Sullivan. “Dan Sullivan shot this TV ad here at the Dena’ina Center, saying I don’t get results. Well,” Begich says with a laugh, “I got the Dena’ina Center built that Dan was standing on.” He adds, “I approve this message because here are some more nice places Dan could use in his next ad.” He goes on to rattle off other places for which he’s gotten funding or loosened regulations. Ouch. It’s a strong response ad, and it’s the work of Democratic ad-maker Mark Putnam, who the New York Times profiled earlier this week. If Republicans can’t pick off Begich, running in a state Mitt Romney won by double-digits in 2012, their path to a majority becomes much more difficult.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1917, future American president John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born. Where was Kennedy born? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Jennifer (@Jennesber) for guessing Wednesday’s trivia: FDR pushed a button in Washington, DC, signaling that vehicular traffic could cross the Golden Gate Bridge in California. How many vehicles crossed the bridge the first day? The answer was: 32,300.

LINE ITEMS

  • A new Washington Post-ABC News poll says that two-thirds of Americans disapprove of Karl Rove’s political tactic of questioning Hillary Clinton’s health and age, whereas Republicans are split evenly — 45 percent approve, 46 percent disapprove. In comparison to 2008, two-thirds of Democrats said they were uncomfortable with Sen. John McCain taking office at 72. Clinton would be 69 if she won the presidency in 2016.

  • Allies of John Boehner are doing everything they can to keep the speaker in his position, including taking away committee assignments for those who don’t support the Ohio congressman.

  • Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La, has come up with an alternative to Obamacare, and now he wants the GOP establishment to back the plan.

  • The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker caught up with California Gov. Jerry Brown, who said the Democratic Party’s 2016 nomination is Hillary Clinton’s “if she wants.” The three-time presidential candidate also said it would be “silly” for him to rule out a bid “if no one runs.”

  • During an immigration rally in Richmond on Wednesday, immigration advocates chided Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va, for standing in the way of immigration reform. Just before the rally, Cantor’s primary challenger Dave Brat accused the Majority Leader of the opposite, telling a crowd at the state Capitol: “Eric Cantor saying he opposes amnesty is like Barack Obama saying he opposes Obamacare.”

  • President Obama plans to announce an executive order on Monday that would cut carbon emissions at coal-fired power plants.

  • Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced an ordinance at a city council meeting Wednesday that would outlaw gun shops in 99.5% of the city and would force all gun transactions to be recorded on video, among other restrictions.

  • Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation that increases Michigan’s minimum wage from $7.40 an hour to $9.25 an hour over the next four years.

  • Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told a radio show in Utah that although he does not agree with gay marriage, eventually it will become the law of the land.

  • Republican Tom Cotton is up with a new television ad touting his “deep roots” in Arkansas.

  • Democrat Jeanne Shaheen is up with a TV ad highlighting what she’s done for New Hampshire.

  • Iowa Republican Mark Jacobs is also on air, blasting “Washington politicians” and touting that he would fight to balance the budget.

  • The House is scheduled to vote Thursday to help fund background checks for guns.

  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., stumped for Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., at two campaign fundraisers Wednesday.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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