Democrats on the Trail Want Shinseki Fired

Congressional candidates call on Obama to dump the Veterans Affairs chief as they try hard to distance themselves from the scandal.

U.S. President Barack Obama arrives for the beginning of the Wounded Warrior Project's Soldier Ride with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki at the White House April 17, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Wounded Warrior Soldier Ride is an event designed to assist wounded U.S. veterans in using cycling to overcome physical, mental, or emotional wounds.
National Journal
Adam Wollner and Andrea Drusch and Jack Fitzpatrick
May 22, 2014, 2:34 p.m.

The Vet­er­ans Af­fairs scan­dal isn’t bad just for Pres­id­ent Obama. Wit­ness the grow­ing chor­us of Demo­crat­ic con­gres­sion­al can­did­ates des­per­ate to get some dis­tance from the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

This week, would-be Demo­crat­ic of­fice­hold­ers from mod­er­ate- and con­ser­vat­ive-lean­ing dis­tricts star­ted to call on Obama to fire VA Sec­ret­ary Eric Shin­seki after ac­cus­a­tions that the de­part­ment covered up long waits that led to the deaths of former ser­vice mem­bers.

“Those re­spons­ible must be held ac­count­able, in­clud­ing Sec­ret­ary Shin­seki,” said Aimee Bel­gard, the Demo­crat run­ning for the swing-dis­trict seat held by re­tir­ing Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Jon Run­yan of New Jer­sey.

“Un­for­tu­nately, this ad­min­is­tra­tion has fallen short in provid­ing the kind of care that our vet­er­ans have earned,” said Demo­crat­ic Rep. John Bar­row, whose con­ser­vat­ive Geor­gia dis­trict has an above-av­er­age num­ber of vet­er­ans and is a per­en­ni­al GOP tar­get.

And in Flor­ida, Demo­crat­ic at­tor­ney Gwen Gra­ham, run­ning against Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Steve South­er­land in an­oth­er vet­er­an-heavy dis­trict, said, “If the people in Wash­ing­ton can’t show real lead­er­ship on this now, then they need to be re­placed.”

And that’s just the start. Al­leg­a­tions that the White House re­acted slowly to the de­part­ment’s prob­lems has been the top story in Wash­ing­ton all week, and the at­ten­tion and an­ger it has gen­er­ated na­tion­wide shows no sign of dis­sip­at­ing.

So far, the pres­id­ent ap­pears com­mit­ted to keep­ing Shin­seki in place. He told re­port­ers Wed­nes­day that he still had faith that the former Army chief of staff and Vi­et­nam vet­er­an could fix the VA’s prob­lems. But most Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates who have called for Shin­seki’s resig­na­tion face dif­fi­cult races in the fall, a sign of the is­sue’s rising po­tency less than six months be­fore Elec­tion Day.

Rep. Scott Peters, fa­cing a for­mid­able reelec­tion chal­lenge from Re­pub­lic­an Carl De­Maio in his San Diego-based dis­trict, said he would wel­come a change at the top of the VA, even as Obama con­tin­ues to voice con­fid­ence in Shin­seki. “I’m not sure that con­fid­ence ex­tends to the vet­er­ans com­munity,” Peters told Na­tion­al Journ­al.

Patrick Henry Hays, a Demo­crat vy­ing for out­go­ing GOP Rep. Tim Griffin’s seat in Arkan­sas, con­curred in a Face­book post on Wed­nes­day, writ­ing that the “deaths of vet­er­ans wait­ing for care is a na­tion­al tragedy, made even worse be­cause it did not have to hap­pen.”

On the Sen­ate side, Ken­tucky Sec­ret­ary of State Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes, whose first TV ad this year touted her work pro­mot­ing mil­it­ary vot­ing, was the first Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate to ask for Shin­seki’s resig­na­tion. She faces Sen­ate GOP Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell (who has not called for Shin­seki’s ouster) in what is ex­pec­ted to be one of the most com­pet­it­ive races of 2014.

“I don’t see how that breach of trust with our vet­er­ans can be re­paired if the cur­rent lead­er­ship stays in place,” Grimes said.

Sev­er­al vul­ner­able Demo­crat­ic in­cum­bents ex­pressed in­tense dis­ap­prov­al for the delays in ser­vice but de­clined to call for Shin­seki’s fir­ing un­til the in­vest­ig­a­tion was com­plete. Demo­crat­ic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hamp­shire and Mary Landrieu of Louisi­ana were both quick to point to their per­son­al out­reach to loc­al VAs in re­cent days.

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