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Opinion Obama’s inexplicable news conference

President Obama discussed the ongoing investigations into allegations against the Department of Veterans Affairs at a news conference on Wednesday, following his meeting with Sec. Eric Shinseki and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors. (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)

As infuriated as veterans and Republicans may have been by President Obama’s news conference on the Veterans Administration scandal, that is nothing compared to the depression and angst Democrats must be feeling. The president, with no apparent purpose other than to try to stem the bad headlines in the MSM, came out to tell us how mad he is (he didn’t look all that mad) and to do essentially nothing about the latest mismanagement fiasco of his presidency.

The decision to stand by embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is almost inexplicable. For Democrats, it must be at the very least disheartening that the architect of the largest extension in government since the Great Society is so disconnected and lackluster in his approach to governance. It was his “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job” moment when he declared, “Ric Shinseki has been a great soldier. He himself is a disabled veteran, and nobody cares more about our veterans than Ric Shinseki. So I know he cares about it deeply. And, you know, he has been a great public servant and a great warrior on behalf of the United States of America.” And he’s been there for five years while this mess has deepened and cost lives.

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Instead he is simply investigating. Obama’s reference to “allegations” of delays and fraudulent time keeping suggests he still doesn’t believe there is widespread malfeasance. When he says he’s going to hold people accountable, if allegations are true he sounds out to lunch. The response was predictable, as The Hill reported:

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the president’s remarks came “belatedly” and urged the president to endorse legislation the House is expected to vote on later Wednesday that would make it easier for the administration to fire and discipline top officials within the VA.
“I urge the president to call on his party’s leaders in the Senate to act on this bill immediately,” Boehner said. “The president has made a lot of promises to our veterans. It’s time to keep them.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called for an independent investigation into the brewing scandal.
“Our veterans have had enough. They deserve results. And we all deserve more from our president,” Priebus said. “It’s time for an independent investigation.”
Democrats have begun to voice criticism as well. During a meeting Tuesday on Capitol Hill, House Democrats told White House chief of staff Denis McDonough they were alarmed by the allegations.

The stream of Democratic criticism is likely to become a torrent as media and public outrage grow. The former now openly grouse about the president’s performance. It’s hard not to see his performance as grudging if not petulant. By dismissing calls for Shinseki to resign and in casting the problem still as only “allegations,” Obama communicates that he is more concerned about giving Republicans points than in fixing the problem. He seems, for all his foot stomping, to be at a loss as to what to do.

Here’s a thought: Fire Shinseki. Get respected advisers who aren’t just government hacks. Show the country he does more than talk. The White House seems concerned with the news cycle (of which there are dozens a day now), as if this is all a communications snafu or a message problem. In fact it’s a governance problem. The president is at a loss on how to run the government and his political supporters now see what a liability his presidency is becoming.