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VA scandal another burden for desperate Dems

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki speaks with the news media on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 15, 2014.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki speaks with the news media on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 15, 2014.  (AP)

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Buzz Cut:
• VA scandal another burden for desperate Dems
• Study: ObamaCare boosts emergency rooms visits
• Chicagoland gets Ready for Hillary
• Billionaire Steyer picks his targets
• Not so pleasant in Pleasant Hill

The hits keep coming for the blue team this midterm season. There’s just one problem for Democrats: These hits sting. The political liability of running in the shadow of the Obama administration’s scandals, from ObamaCare to Benghazi and now the Veterans Affairs debacle has become a crushing burden for vulnerable Democrats. President Obama’s Wednesday remarks, forced by pressure from lawmakers and public outrage over reports of corrupt practices at VA hospitals treating veterans, may well have added to that load. After weeks of silence, the president delivered a now familiar mix of disdain, promises of punishment for those responsible and another review. “If these allegations prove to be true,” Obama said, “it is dishonorable, it is disgraceful and I will not tolerate it – period.” “Too little too late” was the response from House VA committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla. Some Democrats broke ranks, agreeing with Republican and veterans groups’ calls for the ouster of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who the president continues to support. More than two dozen VA facilities are under investigation and new revelations of shady record-keeping surface almost daily. Pressure from Democrats already running away from the president’s low approval ratings and ObamaCare, may force his hand where Shinseki is concerned. While Obama has a tendency to stand by his cabinet chiefs and let scandals blow over, with veterans the victims and the midterm clock ticking, heads will need to roll…and soon.

[“How can we let this happen? How is that acceptable in the United States of America? The answer is, it’s not. It’s an outrage. And it’s a betrayal, a betrayal of the ideals that we ask our troops to risk their lives for.” – then candidate Barak Obama, criticizing President George W. Bush’s management of veterans care during a 2008 stump speech.]

The passive approach  - Milbank: “This would be a good time for Obama to knock heads and to get in front of the story. But, frustratingly, he’s playing President Passive, insisting on waiting for the VA inspector general to complete yet another investigation, this one looking into the Phoenix deaths.”

Veterans scandal divides Dem ranks - A House approved measure that gives Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki the power to fire or demote senior VA officials drove a wedge between House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and her chief lieutenants. Wednesday’s vote saw House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., House Democratic Caucus Head Xavier Becerra, D-Calif. and House Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., breaking with the minority leader. In the end, reliable Pelosi confidants Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and retiring colleague Henry Waxman D-Calif., joined 33 other Democrats in opposing the measure. Hoyer, who benefits from the support of federal workers, called the legislation, “a knee-jerk reaction to a broad situation.”

[“I listened to the president today. And I was very disappointed with President Obama today. There was no urgency. Mr. President, we need urgency! We need you to roll up your sleeves and get into these hospitals!”—Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., during an impassioned floor speech Wednesday.”]

Subpoenas may fly - Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., says he will subpoena three VA employees if they do not answer questions before a House panel today about “the destruction of an alternate wait list associated with the Phoenix VA Health Care System.”

What difference does the House’s Special Select Committee to investigate the Benghazi attacks make to 2016 Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton? Enough of one for Clinton allies to push House Democratic leadership to drop plans of boycotting the panel. Politico reports: “Clinton emissaries launched a back channel campaign, contacting several House Democratic lawmakers and aides to say they’d prefer Democrats participate, according to sources familiar with the conversations. [House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s] staff said they have not heard from Clinton’s camp… On Wednesday, Pelosi appointed five Democrats to the committee, giving Democrats another crucial mission in the months ahead of what was already a tough election year: act as Clinton’s first line of defense.”

[National Journal considers how pro-Clinton groups are already stepping up their defense against conservative groups seizing on the 2016 frontrunner’s forthcoming memoirs.]

The Senate will vote today on the confirmation of Obama administration nominee David Barron to fill a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the first circuit. Under mounting pressure from both parties, the White House agreed to release a censored version of one of the memos Barron authored asserting a legal rationale for the president to order the killing of Americans without trial. Barron survived a largely party-line committee vote Wednesday. Potential 2016 contender, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., an ardent opponent of the administration’s targeted killing program, has led the charge fighting Barron’s nomination.  More.

The Judge’s Ruling: duplicitous in duty - New Today at Fox News Opinion, Judge Andrew Napolitano poses questions about the government’s double standard in enforcing the Constitution: “What if the Constitution declares that if the government wants to take life, liberty or property from anyone, it must seek what it wants by means of the courts and not by means of drones? … What if that lawyer who advised the president that he could kill with drones -- even Americans if he wished -- has been nominated to become a federal judge?”

While President Obama has argued his signature entitlement program would reduce emergency room visits, the American College of Emergency Physicians is seeing early signs the health law is actually making them busier. Alex Rosenau, president of ACEP blames the uptick on ObamaCare. “America has severe primary care physician shortages, and many physicians do not accept Medicaid patients, because Medicaid pays so low,” Rosenau said in a press release. “When people can’t get appointments with physicians, they will seek care in emergency departments.”

ObamaCare enforcers cost taxpayers millions with union activities -  The agency now charged with enforcing ObamaCare regulations apparently has time to spare. Washington Examiner: “The Treasury Department has revealed to the House Ways and Means Committee that Internal Revenue Service employees spent over 500,000 hours on union activities last year. They estimated the cost to taxpayers at $23.5 million in salary and benefits.”

The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson explores The Myth That Americans Are Busier Than Ever: “Feeling harried? Swamped? Overwhelmed? Lucky you. It is, in many ways, a privilege to feel busy in America… Obviously, we’re working more than ever, because it feels like we are. Right? Actually, no, we’re not. As a country, we’re working less than we did in the 1960s and 1980s… Even in America, which looks like an industrious outlier compared to Europe, we work less, both at the office and at home.”

Got a TIP from the RIGHT or LEFT? Email FoxNewsFirst@FOXNEWS.COM

Real Clear Politics Averages
Obama Job Approval: Approve – 43.9 percent/Disapprove – 51.3 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 28.4  percent/Wrong Track – 63.3 percent 
Generic Congressional Ballot:  Democrats – 42.8 percent/Republicans 42.2 percent

WaPo: “Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate and an early and enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, is officially throwing his support behind Hillary Rodham Clinton’s prospective 2016 presidential campaign. Durbin, along with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D), will headline a high-dollar fundraiser next month for Ready for Hillary, the pro-Clinton super PAC organizing grass-roots support for Clinton's potential candidacy. The three political heavyweights are billed as the ‘special guests’ at a June 5 evening reception in Chicago co-hosted by an array of major Obama donors… Tickets to the Chicago reception… are $1,000 per person, making it one of Ready for Hillary’s biggest fundraising events… Among the co-hosts are Laura Ricketts, a co-owner of the Chicago Cubs and a major bundler for Obama’s campaigns. Her father, Ameritrade founder Joseph Ricketts, is a significant Republican donor, while her brother, Peter Ricketts, won the GOP nomination for governor in Nebraska last week.”

Former Gov. and potential 2016 contender Jeb Bush, R-Fla., is making a debut in Iowa today without actually setting foot in the first in the nation caucus state. Bush will host a fundraiser for Gov. Terry Branstad, R-Iowa in Coral Gables, Fla. Branstad’s campaign manager Jake Ketzner said in a statement, “Branstad admires the work Bush has done to manage Florida’s finances while focusing on growing the state’s economy.”

USA Today: “Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer will target Republicans in seven Senate and governors' races this year, as he pushes to make climate change a top issue in November's elections, his political aides announced Wednesday. His campaign — which will include television ads and on-the-ground efforts to persuade women, young adults and minorities to vote in traditionally low-turnout midterm elections — will hit Republicans in competitive Senate contests in Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and New Hampshire… Steyer also will spend heavily to shape governor's races in Maine, Pennsylvania and Florida… In picking the seven races, Steyer has opted so far against targeting vulnerable Democratic senators up for re-election who support the [Keystone] pipeline, such as Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu.”

Just days after Georgia’s Democratic nominee Michelle Nunn skirted questions on whether she would vote for President Obama’s signature health law, Kentucky’s Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, played dodge-the-ObamaCare question Wednesday. “Asked two times whether she’d have voted for the 2010 overhaul, the Kentucky Democrat who is challenging Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told AP: ‘I, when we are in the United States Senate, will work to fix the Affordable Care Act.’ Grimes added: ‘I believe the politically motivated response you continue to see from Mitch McConnell in terms of repeal, root and branch, is not in reality or keeping ... with what the facts are here in Kentucky’… Obamacare remains unpopular in the state, mostly because President Barack Obama himself is unpopular here.”

McConnell wants to give Grimes the Lincoln-Douglas treatment - WSJ: “In a letter addressed to Ms. Grimes Wednesday, Mr. McConnell proposed three Lincoln-Douglas-style debates—a format used by Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas in their 1858 Senate race in Illinois. The one-hour debates envisioned by Mr. McConnell would be televised but without a live audience and would allow the candidates to make their points at length with relatively little involvement by a moderator.”

The nasty Mississippi GOP Senate contest is getting nastier by the day. WaPo: “Wednesday…state Sen. Chris McDaniel sent an open letter to Sen. Thad Cochran [R-Miss.] accusing his campaign of ‘shameful slander’ and challenging him to debate… ‘Senator, if you are inclined to cast aspersions on my honor and integrity then I call upon you to do it to my face in a debate forum,’ McDaniel wrote. Until then, he added, ‘I will not engage either your campaign or the liberal media in their absurd witch hunt.’ When asked about McDaniel’s challenge, Cochran spokesman Jordan Russell suggested the campaign was not interested. He pointed to what the Cochran campaign says is a shifting version of events from the McDaniel camp in response to a blogger who was arrested last week for allegedly filming Cochran’s bedridden wife at a nursing home.” Hang on to your hats, there’s still 13 days to go until the primary.

Washington Free Beacon: “The number of Republicans who voted in Tuesday’s Arkansas primary surpassed the number of Democrats ‘for the first time since the Civil War,’ according to a memo issued…by Republican Senate candidate Rep. Tom Cotton’s campaign. The number of GOP primary voters increased by 32.4 percent since 2010 and 18.3 percent since 2012, communications director David Ray wrote in the memo. The growing numbers signal an upsurge in GOP voter enthusiasm, according to Ray.”

[Gallup’s latest survey finds respondents split over whether they would like to see one party controlling both chambers of Congress, with 36 percent favoring one party in control of each chamber while 32 percent favoring one party controlling both.]

The conservative group American’s for Prosperity is hitting Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., for hurting women and families by routinely supporting hikes to the nation’s debt limit with a $340,000 ad buy. From the ad: “Louisiana families budget and make do, but does Sen. Landrieu?...Why should she live by her own rules? She’s spending your money.”

[Watch Fox: Nebraska Republican Senate Candidate Ben Sasse appears in the 2 p.m. ET hour]

Republicans have their sights set on six seats to win back control of the Senate from Democrats. So which seats are most likely to flip from blue to red? The current consensus among Fox News First readers: Arkansas, Montana, Louisiana, South Dakota, North Carolina and West Virginia. Reader Jerry James adds, “It is hard for me to choose my sixth state from among Michigan, Colorado, Oregon and Iowa, but right now my money is on Michigan.” James adds, “It is an open seat…[Republican Terri Lynn Land is] a strong candidate and Michigan’s economy is in such shambles and there has been so much Democrat ‘skullduggery’ in that state for so long.” How did Tuesday’s primary results change your outlook on any of the races? We want to hear from you.

Share your top six picks. Email them – just your top six, please – to FOXNEWSFIRST@FOXNEWS.COM or tweet @cstirewalt.

NY POST: “The USS Cole triumphantly cruised into New York for Fleet Week on Wednesday — staging a symbolic victory over terrorism on the same day the new Sept. 11 museum opened to the public. The guided-missile destroyer was the target of a deadly attack in 2000 that marked the rise of al Qaeda less than a year before the terror group toppled the Twin Towers. It will be open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Memorial Day at the former Navy Home Port off Front Street in Staten Island. Admission is free.”

You get the impression that the verbal theatrics at Pleasant Hill City Council proceedings weren’t all that inspiring, at least for the woman taking minutes. “Kim Lehmkuhl, AP reports,  was elected as Pleasant Hill’s clerk in 2012 and since has been criticized by the Mayor Tim Flaherty and other residents for writing opinionated Twitter updates during meetings instead of taking minutes.” Lehmkuhl, who was urged to resign, eventually left her position with not a whimper but a fiery bang. In an email on Monday to Flaherty she lamented, “’This has been an atrocious, incredibly depressing and mind-numbingly inane experience I would not wish on anyone.’ Her burning email spewed even more pleasantries as she said, ‘I wish the City the best of luck in finding some schmuck eager to transcribe every last misogynistic joke, self-indulgent anecdote, and pathetic pandering attempt by Council.”’

“[President Obama] can’t run away from this. On the other scandals the Democrats would sit it out, or pretend there wasn’t a scandal, call it a witch hunt, call it partisan and the press would join with the Democrats and that would be it. Here the Democrats have been screaming very loudly. Loud complaints from many democrats, some on the floor of the Congress and that being the case there is nowhere to hide on this.” –Charles Krauthammer, discussing the Veterans Affairs Scandal on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”   Watch here.

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.