Democrats who believe they have emerged unscathed from the Republican focus on Benghazi and the IRS — which President Obama has described as a “sideshow” — are not quite as confident about the burgeoning scandal at the Veterans Administration. As Congress opens hearings on allegations of secret “waiting lists” and veterans dying because of treatment delays, the political threat is considered very real.
“The one that I think hurts the Democrats the most is not Benghazi, is not IRS, is not Obamacare,” said veteran Ohio Democratic strategist Jerry Austin. “It is the Veterans Administration. The idea of having wounded warriors dying and all these terrible stories here, that is something that no one can defend.”
He added, “It looks like that is one that has legs.”
Longtime Republican strategist Rich Galen sees the same thing. “Benghazi and IRS, those are things that have the coastal press rolling their eyes,” he said. “But this VA thing is huge. If I were the Republican Conference, I would give up everything else and just throw both feet into the VA.”
As Austin suggested, Democrats are not rushing onto television to defend either the VA or the administration’s handling of veteran claims. One of the few senators willing to do so has been Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent. And it didn’t go particularly well for him when he was interviewed Thursday morning on CNN’s New Day.
When he suggested that some of the veterans who died waiting for treatment at an Arizona facility may have died from causes unrelated to the delay in their treatment, he was immediately attacked. CNN’s Chris Cuomo, in a withering response, told Sanders: “You sound like a lawyer defending the hospital, as opposed to a senator trying to make sure the right thing is done.” Thrown on the defensive, Sanders never recovered, rather meekly suggesting, “We know that people die every day. We don’t know why they die.”
Not many Democrats are going to make that kind of defense of the VA. Instead, the White House is braced for bipartisan criticism even as it cautions patience while the allegations are investigated. To show his commitment to fixing the system, the president has already dispatched one of his most trusted advisers, Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors, to oversee the VA investigation.
But Republicans are not satisfied with the administration response. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has demanded an independent investigation. “Our veterans are our heroes and they deserve better than a White House insider-led investigation,” Priebus said in a statement. “They deserve an independent investigation. Yet again the White House is trying to pass off a scandal as an isolated incident when in fact it continues to grow every day.”
Press secretary Jay Carney, who fielded some tough questions on the topic Wednesday, on Thursday cast the president as outraged by the stories of VA delays. “He certainly is concerned and angry about the allegations we’ve seen” in the Phoenix office, Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One on the return flight from New York. If they are true, he added, “that would be outrageous.”
The political peril for the president comes from more than just the absence of Democratic defenders, the bipartisan nature of the outrage, and the widespread anger at mistreatment of veterans. It also threatens to once again raise questions about the competence of the administration to run the government after the botched rollout of the Obamacare website, questions the administration believes it has finally quieted.
The VA issue is also likely to revive accusations that Obama does not demand accountability in his government. As he did when there were demands that he fire Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius over the Obamacare website issues, the president is now resisting calls to fire VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
Both issues contribute to the president’s overall approval ratings, which have recently shown signs of inching above the low 40s. Democrats do not expect them to rise as high as 50 percent before the November election, but believe if they can hit 46 percent it can make a difference in several races.
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Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.
Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”
The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."