By MICHAEL FALCONE (@michaelpfalcone)
- DEMOCRATS JOIN THE CHORUS: Pressure on Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign are increasing after an inspector general’s interim report found that inappropriate scheduling practices have been “systemic” throughout the VA. For the first time, Democrats in the House and Senate joined Republicans in issuing new calls for Shinseki to step down from his post leading the VA after the release of the report, ABC’s ARLETTE SAENZreports. Those Democrats included Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., Sen. Kay Hagen, D-N.C., Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., as well as more than a dozen House Democrats. “The inspector general’s preliminary report makes it clear that the systemic problems at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are so entrenched that they require new leadership to be fixed. Secretary Shinseki must step down,” Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said in a statement. http://abcn.ws/1ov4QDq
- MCCAIN SPEAKS: “It’s time for Secretary Shinseki to step down,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said during a news conference in Phoenix yesterday. “If Secretary Shinseki does not step down voluntarily, then I call the President of the United States to relieve him of his duties and fire him.”
- WHAT’S HAPPENING: There are three active investigations underway, according to ABC’s DEVIN DWYER. IG REVIEW: The internal inspector general’s investigation (interim report released yesterday) was triggered April 9. It’s expected to be completed in August. ROB NABORS REVIEW: This review was mandated by President Obama; an internal administration triage of the problems. VA INTERNAL AUDIT: This was ordered by Secretary Shinseki in “mid-April” according to a VA official – a comprehensive nationwide review of access to care, policy compliance, etc. And yesterday lawmakers asked for the Department of Justice and FBI to conduct a criminal investigation into the allegations that delayed care may be responsible for the deaths of veterans.
ABC’s JONATHAN KARL: White House officials are doing nothing to tamp down speculation that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki will soon be out the door. Now that the VA’s inspector general has confirmed wrong-doing in Phoenix and expanded the investigation to 42 VA facilities across the country, the scandal has moved beyond the “allegations” stage. The President promised accountability and officials acknowledge could come at the top. There is a clear sense at the White House that Secretary Shinseki is on thin ice. WATCH Karl’s “Good Morning America” report: http://abcn.ws/1oNk5p0
ABC’s RICK KLEIN: The calls for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation are following a predictable pattern that threatens to mask a sad reality. Let’s say Shinseki steps down by the end of the week, which seems increasingly likely. What gets fixed exactly? That’s surely the question President Obama is asking himself, in keeping with a leadership style that seems to assume that those in charge when a problem developed are best equipped with trying to fix it. Yet the political potency of this scandal has begun to sunk in for Democrats – and that may be the president’s biggest argument for ousting his Cabinet secretary. The president’s allies are clamoring for action, even though they know that won’t be the same as resolution.
14 FOR 14: THE MIDTERM MINUTE
“HOUSE DEMOCRATS’ CAMPAIGN ARM RESERVES $44M IN ADS,” by the Associated Press’ Philip Elliot. “House Democrats are ready to empty their deep pockets for television ads as they continue an uphill climb to oust Republicans from their majority. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Thursday began asking television stations in 36 key districts to set aside broadcast and cable advertising time for the fall’s campaign blitz. The almost $44 million in advertising requests — or $1.2 million per race — is the largest ever from the committee and the biggest so far this election year from a party-run campaign committee. The Associated Press obtained race-by-race budgets from party officials who insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss spending plans by name.” http://bit.ly/1gDqmDl
with ABC’s ALINA KLEINEIDAM
VA OFFICIAL DENIES DESTROYED WAIT LISTS WERE SECRET. A senior official at the center of the Department of Veterans Affairs wait list scandal told Congress that he does not believe the documents, which are all believed to have been destroyed, were secret, according to ABC’s JOHN PARKINSON. The House Veterans Affairs Committee held an uncommon primetime hearing Wednesday evening that extended late into the night to examine the VA’s lack of compliance with a May 8 congressional subpoena for documents that lawmakers hope could shine light on a hidden wait list that schedulers allegedly used to manipulate a backlog of veterans waiting for health care. Dr. Thomas Lynch, M.D., a senior VA official tasked to lead an internal investigation into the accusations, said that the lists, which included about 1,700 veterans, were destroyed in late 2012 through mid-2013 once the patients were rescheduled because they contained confidential “patient identifiable information.” http://abcn.ws/1riEaYx
JOHN KERRY ACCUSES EDWARD SNOWDEN OF HELPING TERRORISTS, ENDANGERING LIVES. Secretary of State John Kerry accused former NSA-contractor Edward Snowden of helping terrorists, telling George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” yesterday that people have been placed in danger because of Snowden’s revelations, according to ABC’s DANA HUGHES. “We have evidence that people are in additional danger because operational security has been breached, because terrorists have learned firsthand about methods and mechanisms by which the United States collects intelligence,” he said, never clarifying who specifically is at risk. Snowden is responsible for the largest security breach in U.S. history, leaking thousands of classified documents to the public. He now lives in exile in Russia and told NBC News he was trained as a spy. Kerry said Snowden’s actions have damaged U.S. intelligence gathering. “Our operations have been compromised,” he said. Kerry also vigorously defended President Obama’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by 2016, calling Republican opposition to the plan part of “an industry of automatic opposition to anything.” http://abcn.ws/1nudwuj
FIVE WAYS OBAMA WANTS TO CHANGE FOREIGN POLICY. In a speech to West Point graduates yesterday, President Obama laid out his foreign policy vision for the final two years of his presidency as the country emerges from what he described as a “long season of war,” ABC’s ARLETTE SAENZ reports. “The United States is and remains the one indispensable nation. That has been true for the century passed, and it will be true for the century to come,” the president told over 1,000 graduating cadets at West Point. Here’s a look at five ways President Obama plans on approaching foreign policy as he rounds out his final years in the White House. Obama made clear that full-scale military operations aren’t the only means of combating terrorism or maintaining an international presence. “America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is, and always will be, the backbone of that leadership,” the president said. http://abcn.ws/1nCbuG9
RAND PAUL PERFORMS FREE EYE SURGERY FOR UNINSURED PATIENTS. Sen. Rand Paul was a doctor before he was a politician and he spent part of his spring recess in the operating room, keeping in practice for what he says is the day he returns to medicine. Paul, a Republican from Kentucky who is believed to also have his eye on the White House, performed pro-bono cataract surgeries on Tuesday for four patients who do not have insurance at an eye-surgery clinic in Paducah, Ky., during Congress’ current spring recess, according to ABC’s ALINA KLEINEIDAM. It’s “an amazing thing to see someone sit up and be able to see better,” Paul, an opthamologist, told CNN. The pro bono work helps the senator keep his surgical skills sharp so he can eventually return to the medical field, he said. The procedure, Paul said, can normally range from $5,000 to $8,000. Paul is a graduate of Duke University School of Medicine. Before entering Congress, he practiced as an ophthalmologist for 17 years in Bowling Green, Ky.
A MONUMENTAL TASK: HONORING DESERT STORM. Yesterday, the U.S. House will consider a bill that would create a national monument honoring the more than half a million Americans who served in operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield, ABC’s ERIN DOOLEY reports. Despite code names dramatic enough to inspire a video game, the first Gulf War is a relatively obscure conflict. Most people – if they think of it at all – remember Desert Storm as a brief, 100-hour struggle. But from 1990 to 1991, the war claimed the lives of almost 400 Americans fighting to protect Kuwait from an Iraqi invasion led by then-president Saddam Hussein. Now, Gulf War veterans are concerned that the conflict has been overshadowed by the more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “People forget what a big deal it was,” Desert Storm veteran Lt. Col. Scott Stump told ABC News. “Kuwait] was tormented, pillaged … We liberated the country, and that’s a big deal.” http://abcn.ws/1it38Lz
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
CHECK OUT BILL CLINTON’S EYE-CATCHING NEW SHOES. Bill Clinton is known for a lot of things — but fashion hasn’t particularly been one of them. Until now, ABC’s LIZ KREUTZ notes. While in Europe the past few days, the former president has been spotted — now twice — wearing some pretty fantastic new kicks. Clinton, 67, was first seen walking around Stockholm, Sweden, on Monday wearing lime green sneakers, according to an Instagram user who posted a photo online. And in London yesterday, Clinton sported a blindingly bright blue pair of a similar style. http://abcn.ws/1ms1ooz
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
MIXED EMOTIONS: ADRENALINE AND FEAR AT A REMOTE OUTPOST IN AFGHANISTAN. The psychological experience of combat is so unique that it can only be fully understood by those who have endured it. But a new documentary offers its audience a more intimate understanding of the complicated mix of emotions – ranging from fear to an adrenaline rush – that soldiers face on the front lines. In the new documentary “Korengal,” a sequel to the Oscar-nominated film “Restrepo,” former soldier-turned-filmmaker Sebastian Junger takes his audience to the front lines of the war in Afghanistan as seen through the eyes of a platoon of U.S. infantry soldiers in the Korengal Valley. In his exploration into the psychological impact of deployment, Junger finds that fear is the most pervasive emotion the soldiers confront. “They’re all scared in combat. I was, everyone was,” Junger told ABC’s MARTHA RADDATZ. “The question is: Can you overcome that fear and function?” WATCH: http://yhoo.it/1kq3FTk
@hillhulse: With coal in news McConnell goes after Grimes for donations from NRDC exec. McConnell trying to make sure coal is king in his race.
@michael_steel: It drives me bonkers that the WH stole the phrase “All-Of-The Above” to *inaccurately* describe its energy policy.