President Barack Obama speaks at the White House following a meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki on May 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. President Obama has accepted Secretary Shinseki's resignation as Veterans Affairs Secretary. / Mandel Ngan, AFP/Getty Images
For once, a Washington scandal hasn't split along partisan lines.
And that is President Obama's dilemma.
Reports that veterans had to wait for months to see a primary-care doctor -- and that some VA facilities covered up those delays -- prompted outrage and demands for the resignation of Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki by both congressional Republicans and some Democrats, especially those in tough re-election battles in November.
Shinseki, bowing to what seemed increasingly inevitable, offered to step aside in a face-to-face meeting with Obama at the White House on Friday.
"We don't have time for distractions," Obama then told reporters in the briefing room, saying he had accepted with 'considerable regret' the resignation by the retired four-star Army general. "We need to fix the problem."
For the White House, however, Shinseki's departure doesn't solve what threatens to become a major issue in the midterm elections and a serious stain on Obama's tenure. That's in contrast to the continuing congressional investigation into the 2012 Benghazi attacks -- which Democrats dismiss as a partisan witch hunt -- and even to controversy over the Affordable Care Act. While Republicans hammer the health law, Democrats generally support it and the administration argues that time (and fixing the botched healthcare.gov website) ultimately will prove its value.
The VA controversy fuels some of the same criticisms made in those other cases, and without a partisan overlay: That Obama has failed to manage the government competently, sometimes to disastrous effect, and that political calculations have trumped the administration's commitment to transparency. To some, it reinforces the case that state governments or the private sector can be more trusted than the federal government to manage major enterprises.
That is a perception that Obama's supporters in particular and liberals in general don't want to take hold, and one that complicates efforts by Democrats to avoid sweeping losses this November that could cost them control of the Senate.
After all, there is no political division when it comes to the nation's promise to care for the aging veterans who served in Vietnam and the younger ones returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The strength of that commitment is reflected even in the department's geography: The massive VA building sits just across Lafayette Square from the White House, a quote from Abraham Lincoln displayed on its facade.
Little surprise, then, that within 48 hours after the VA's independent inspector general issued a stinging report Wednesday more than 100 members of Congress had called for Shinseki's resignation. They included New York Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the half-dozen Democratic senators most endangered on November's ballots.
To be sure, Shinseki's departure won't solve the problem or settle the issue. The task of addressing the VA's far-reaching and systemic dysfunction will take time and money. And the flood of veterans who have returned from two long wars is a challenge this president and future ones will be facing for decades ahead.
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Read the original story: First Take: Obama's problem? VA outrage is bipartisan