VA Scandal Could Be Worse for Democrats Than Benghazi

President Barack Obama, flanked by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, right, and Vice President Joe Biden, welcome the Wounded Warrior Project’s Soldier Ride to the South Lawn of the White House on April 17, 2014.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

AA Font size + Print

President Barack Obama, flanked by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, right, and Vice President Joe Biden, welcome the Wounded Warrior Project’s Soldier Ride to the South Lawn of the White House on April 17, 2014.

Anger over VA wait lists could revive accusations that Obama does not demand accountability in his government. By George E. Condon, Jr.

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.

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from DefenseOne.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: Supply Chain Insecurity

    Federal organizations rely on state-of-the-art IT tools and systems to deliver services efficiently and effectively, and it takes a vast ecosystem of organizations, individuals, information, and resources to successfully deliver these products. This issue brief discusses the current threats to the vulnerable supply chain - and how agencies can prevent these threats to produce a more secure IT supply chain process.

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Information Operations: Retaking the High Ground

    Today's threats are fluent in rapidly evolving areas of the Internet, especially social media. Learn how military organizations can secure an advantage in this developing arena.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.