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A1: The stories you need to read before your first conference call.
-- Manipulating records to hide delays in medical care to veterans, and the delays themselves, are "systemic," the VA's Inspector General said in a preliminary report Wednesday. The IG's report found 1,700 veterans who are patients at the Phoenix hospital who are not on official waiting lists, including 1,100 patients who have waited longer than six months for an appointment. The office is conducting investigations into 42 medical facilities in connection with the delays. (USA Today)
-- The report brought out the first Democratic calls for Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation from Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), John Walsh (D-N.H.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and a handful of House members. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who had resisted calling on Shinseki to quit, reversed himself in an interview on CNN. House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) also demanded his resignation; Miller joined a growing number of lawmakers seeking a Justice Department criminal investigation. (Washington Post)
-- Reid's Take: The dam is broken; McCain and Udall were the final cracks. The question now becomes whether anyone wants the job. Note to the administration's designated turnaround artist Jeff Zients: Now would be a good time to go on a long vacation to a place with no cell service.
-- President Obama's West Point commencement address laid out a doctrine that would have the U.S. involved beyond its borders while avoiding getting dragged into international crises, a balance between isolationism and unilateralism. The White House has been working on the speech for weeks, and Obama met with foreign policy experts over lunch on Tuesday to continue pushing back against critics. (New York Times)
-- Obama also said Wednesday now is the right time to step up aid to moderate Syrian rebels. He said international opinion has turned against Russia in Ukraine, an appropriate use of U.S. force abroad. And Obama said he still wants to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay before he leaves office. (NPR)
-- The DCCC has begun reserving $43.5 million in broadcast and cable television time across 36 districts in advance of the November elections. Democrats have reserved time in 19 districts they hold and in 17 seats held by Republicans. (Associated Press) So they'll have to run the table and win two more seats to get to 218. For a complete list of districts where Democrats will run ads, see the TV Time Out section below.
-- Allies of House Speaker John Boehner are discussing whether to change Republican Conference rules to punish members who don't back party nominees on the House floor. The Boehner allies, including Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Ohio), are also thinking about releasing a letter signed by several dozen Republicans who pledge to vote for no one but Boehner in next year's Speaker elections. Boehner's friends are also working against Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who faces a tough primary challenge. (Politico)
-- The RNC's site selection committee will tour Cleveland next Monday through Wednesday as part of their official evaluation before the 2016 convention. They head to Kansas City on June 4-6, Denver on June 9-11 and Dallas on June 11-13. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
-- Front Pages: WaPo, WSJ and USA Today all lead with the VA's inspector general report. NYT leads with President Obama's West Point commencement address. WaPo, NYT and USA Today all feature Maya Angelou obituaries on their front pages.
National Roundup: What's happening outside the Beltway.
-- WH'16: The super PAC Ready for Hillary has filed paperwork with the FEC that would allow them to contribute directly to candidates running for office this year. (Politico) Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) stopped near Cedar Rapids, Iowa to campaign for Senate candidate Matt Whitaker, currently running way behind. He'll fundraise for Gov. Terry Branstad (R) in Ames and make three stops in northwest Iowa today. (Des Moines Register, Associated Press) Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) is headed to Iowa next month to keynote the state Democratic convention. (Washington Post)
-- Maryland: Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) has $4.1 million in the bank in advance of the June 24 Democratic primary, his campaign said yesterday. Brown raised $1.24 million in the last six weeks, four times the amount raised by Attorney General Doug Gansler (D). Gansler had $3.1 million on hand, while Delegate Heather Mizeur (D) had $1 million on hand. (Washington Post) Brown's advantage comes almost entirely from a fundraiser he held with Bill Clinton earlier this month.
-- Kansas: Former Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R) will meet with supporters and reporters today at the Kansas Aviation Museum in Wichita to decide whether to challenge his successor, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R), in the August 5 primary. (Associated Press) Quick reality check: Pompeo has $2.1 million in the bank. The last time Tiahrt's federal account reported to the FEC, it had $883 on hand.
-- Wisconsin: An attorney for Gov. Scott Walker (R) is talking with the lead investigator about settling allegations of illegal coordination between Walker's 2012 recall campaign and conservative groups that supported him. A U.S. District judge halted the John Doe investigation earlier this month, ruling that it violated the free speech rights of one of the conservative groups involved. The investigator, Francis Schmitz, is appealing that decision. (Associated Press)
-- New Jersey: Gov. Chris Christie's (R) administration will audit a $15 million investment the state's pension system made in a firm linked to Massachusetts businessman -- and Republican gubernatorial candidate -- Charlie Baker. Baker contributed $10,000 to the New Jersey GOP in May 2011; seven months later, the state invested money with his venture capital firm, General Catalyst. New Jersey State Investment Council chairman Robert Grady, who requested the audit, said the firm hadn't listed Baker as an investment officer. (Newark Star-Ledger)
-- Virginia: Bad news for Gov. McAuliffe: House Appropriations Committee chairman Chris Jones (R) said in a letter Wednesday the Commonwealth could face a $1 billion budget shortfall over the next two fiscal years. Final revenue numbers are due at the end of June, but the state already faces a potential $300 million to $350 million shortfall this fiscal year. (Richmond Times-Dispatch) That means deep cuts to budgets passed by both the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House.
DC Digest: What's on tap today in DC.
-- President Obama hosts a summit on sports concussions in the East Room, where he'll be joined by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and representatives from the NCAA, the NFLPA and youth sports leagues.
-- Vice President Biden wakes up in San Francisco today and heads to Seattle, where he attends a DNC fundraiser. In Seattle, Dr. Jill Biden and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will host a roundtable with local business leaders on working families.
-- The House wraps up debate on the CJS appropriations measure. First votes are expected between 1:15 p.m. and 2:15 p.m., with final votes coming late this evening.
-- Take your umbrella to work today. Off and on rain throughout the day with highs only in the mid-60s, according to our pals at the Capital Weather Gang.
TV Time Out: Our exclusive look at who's advertising, and where.
-- DCCC On Offense: The DCCC has reserved airtime in the following Republican-held districts: AR-02 (Open, Rep. Tim Griffin), CA-10 (Rep. Jeff Denham), CA-21 (Rep. David Valadao), CA-31 (Open, Rep. Gary Miller), CO-06 (Rep. Mike Coffman), FL-02 (Rep. Steve Southerland), IA-03 (Open, Rep. Tom Latham), IA-04 (Rep. Steve King), IL-13 (Rep. Rodney Davis), MI-01 (Rep. Dan Benishek), MI-07 (Rep. Tim Walberg), MI-08 (Open, Rep. Mike Rogers), MI-11 (Rep. Kerry Bentivolio), NJ-03 (Open, Rep. Jon Runyan), NY-11 (Rep. Michael Grimm), NY-23 (Rep. Tom Reed), PA-06 (Open, Rep. Jim Gerlach), PA-08 (Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick), VA-10 (Open, Rep. Frank Wolf).
-- DCCC On Defense: The DCCC has reserved airtime in these Democratic-held districts: AZ-01 (Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick), AZ-02 (Rep. Ron Barber), AZ-09 (Rep. Kyrsten Sinema), CA-07 (Rep. Ami Bera), CA-26 (Rep. Julia Brownley), CA-52 (Rep. Scott Peters), CT-05 (Rep. Elizabeth Esty), FL-26 (Rep. Joe Garcia), GA-12 (Rep. John Barrow), IL-10 (Rep. Brad Schneider), IL-12 (Rep. Bill Enyart), MA-06 (Rep. John Tierney), MN-07 (Rep. Collin Peterson), MN-08 (Rep. Rick Nolan), NH-01 (Rep. Carol Shea-Porter), NH-02 (Rep. Ann McLane Kuster), NY-01 (Rep. Tim Bishop), NY-21 (Open, Rep. Bill Owens), TX-23 (Rep. Pete Gallego), WV-03 (Rep. Nick Rahall).
-- Reid's Take: Steve King is going to be tough to beat. That ad buy is likely to come off the board, or focus on neighboring Latham's seat. Mike Rogers' district is a stretch for Democrats in good years; this isn't a good year. Some of the Democrats the DCCC has to defend are on the list because they just can't, or don't bother to, raise money. Rick Nolan and Carol Shea-Porter fall into that category. If Esty, Bishop and Peterson are still in trouble come October, Democrats are losing seats big-time this year.
-- New Hampshire: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) is up with her third advertisement, a positive spot touting her work saving jobs at a shipyard and creating jobs at a new federal prison in Berlin. (Boston Globe)
The Buried Lede: The nuggets that deserve the spotlight.
-- A new EPA regulation cutting carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants by up to 20 percent, to be announced Monday by President Obama at the White House, will be the strongest action ever taken by a president tackling climate change. It's expected to set a national limit on carbon pollution from coal plants while allowing states to come up with their own plan for emission cuts. The new rule could shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants across the country. (New York Times)
B1: Business, politics and the business of politics
-- Freddie Mac said Wednesday that many of the country's housing markets are stalling. The Multi-Market Market Index found housing markets in only 10 states and D.C. are stable, while fewer than half of all markets show an improving trend. At this point last year, more than 90 percent of housing markets were improving. North Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska and Louisiana have the strongest housing markets in the country. (Wonk Blog)
-- Markets are up fractionally in pre-bell trading after stocks sank on Wednesday. International markets are mixed today; the Nikkei closed up, but the Hang Seng in Hong Kong lost ground. (CNN)
C1: The long reads you'll need to check out before tonight's cocktail party.
-- In his first extensive interview with a U.S. television network, NSA leaker Edward Snowden told NBC's Brian Williams he had destroyed sensitive materials before traveling to Russia, and that he cannot access the documents he took from a remote location. Snowden said he decided to act after realizing the NSA could watch anyone type words on a computer in real time. He said he raised red flags inside the NSA before going public, but those warnings were ignored.
-- Snowden's attorneys and government prosecutors have begun very preliminary conversations about his return to the U.S. He had been a CIA employee before becoming a contractor for the NSA. Snowden, living in an undisclosed location, sat down with Williams for five hours at a Moscow hotel, joined by journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. (NBC News)
-- Hey, CNN! Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 is probably not in the grid searchers have been scouring for the last few months, Australian officials said Thursday. Searchers will now begin examining a much larger part of the Indian Ocean, encompassing more than 23,000 square miles. An unmanned U.S. Navy submersible has searched 328 square miles already. (New York Times)
C4: The comics page, fun things to read when you're bored at work
-- Can drought take down a state? Ancient letters from the Hittite kingdom to neighboring nation-states begging for grain speak of a famine caused by drought, and a roving band of marauders known as the Sea Peoples may have been fleeing island homes in search of verdant lands. A good history lesson, and perhaps more evidence of a changing climate, in today's New York Times from a professor who taught your humble author.
Attn Matt Drudge: Things conservatives will get outraged by today.
-- A new HHS Inspector General report shows Medicare dished out $6.7 billion more for office visits and patient evaluations than it should have in 2010. But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it won't review billing practices of doctors who almost always charge for the most expensive visits, because it isn't cost effective. More than half of claims were billed at the wrong rate or lacked documentation, the IG found. (ProPublica)
-- Yesterday, conservatives were outraged over Michelle Obama's push for healthier school lunches. Today, the First Lady fires back with a New York Times op-ed. "Remember a few years ago when Congress declared that the sauce on a slice of pizza should count as a vegetable in school lunches? You don’t have to be a nutritionist to know that this doesn’t make much sense," she writes.
Attn HuffPo: What outrages liberals today
-- Governors in seven states, all Republicans, are ignoring or refusing to comply with federal standards meant to prevent sexual assault in prisons. The Justice Department gave governors until May 15 to comply with national standards or show that federal grants are helping them comply; just two states, New Hampshire and New Jersey, are totally in compliance. Republican governors in Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Nebraska, Texas and Utah did not promise to dedicate federal grant money to compliance measures. (Huffington Post)