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Dems demand Shinseki scapegoat, but will Obama oblige?

Al Franken_REUTERS_660.jpg

U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) in Wilton Manors, Florida October 31, 2012.Reuters

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Buzz Cut:
• Dems demand Shinseki scapegoat, but will Obama oblige?
• Clinton campaign seeks control of Benghazi narrative
• Landrieu still backs Reid
• Break-in at DeMaio HQ
• It’s what you do when no one is watching

DEMS DEMAND SHINSEKI SCAPEGOAT, BUT WILL OBAMA OBLIGE?
Remember why President Obama chose Eric Shinseki as his secretary of Veterans Affairs, way back on Dec. 7, 2008? Obama’s fellow Hawaiian is a decorated, combat-wounded Vietnam veteran, a former Army chief of staff and certainly qualified for the post. But at the time, Shinseki was also a symbol of the movement that brought Obama to power and made the retired general a hero to Democrats everywhere. Shinseki rose to fame in the weeks prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq for publicly disputing the Bush administration’s estimates for the cost of the invasion and the number of troops that would be required. Shinseki’s testimony provoked a backlash from civilian leaders at the Pentagon, and, Democrats alleged, Shinseki being forced from his position sooner than scheduled. But Shinseki’s public contradiction of official policy would later be a central part of the calls to oust then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2006 when the war effort was failing. President George W. Bush didn’t oblige the bipartisan demands for Rumsfeld’s resignation in the midst of a difficult midterm election cycle for Republicans – even though it would have helped their party. Eight years later, it is Shinseki who is the scapegoat and Democrats who are baying for blood. Will Obama oblige them?

[The first report from the Veterans Affairs inspector general investigating the abuses inside the agency, particularly the practice of using secret waiting lists to hide the rationing of health care to veterans, describes the problem as “systemic.”]

Divided loyalties - Shinseki certainly doesn’t sound like he’s ready to be a martyr to the Democratic midterm cause, penning an OpEd for USA Today that vigorously defends his tenure and argues that he is best suited to remedy the problems: “The findings … are reprehensible to me and to this department, and we are not waiting to set things straight.” It would be more than a little unseemly for Obama to dump the man he praised, whose selection was heralded as “karmic justice” and provoked “wonderment at the Obama team’s deftness in the symbolism and substance of this choice.” After all, Obama abided with former Secretary of Health Kathleen Sebelius for more than half a year after she failed spectacularly in the rollout of Obama’s most important initiative. It made political sense, too. By stonewalling and waiting for Democrats to get in line, Obama prevented the perception of continuing chaos and was able to eventually claim some version of success for his troubled initiative before giving Sebelius the boot. But endangered Senate Democrats need a quicker resolution this time. Election Day is just 22 weeks away. They need a symbolic firing, the appointment of a blue ribbon commission and a quick pivot away from an issue that could cost additional seats. Obama needs the perception of calm to prevent this from engulfing his administration. Senate Democrats need to show they can get results in response to public outrage. So what to do?

[Pergram-atic detail - Senior Capitol Hill Producer Chad Pergram offers the blow-by-blow account of Wednesday’s late-night standoff between Veterans Affairs official Dr. Thomas Lynch and outraged committee members.]

Will Obama cave? - The president has a famously poor relationship with Senate Democrats, so it might be possible that last night’s sudden shift to Shinseki scapegoating by five vulnerable Democratic senators – Colorado’s Mark Udall, Montana’s John Walsh, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Al Franken of Minnesota and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire – wasn’t coordinated with the White House. Such a mass defection would usually signify that a president was going to dump a troublesome staffer anyway and wanted vulnerable members to get some mileage out of the move. But if that’s not the case, and Obama is going to try to ride this out, there’s big trouble ahead. The Democratic narrative for 2014 is that the party’s Senate candidates are independent-minded members who hold the unpopular president to account and get results. If this, like the Keystone Pipeline and global-warming regulations, proves another example of meaningless opposition, that narrative will be badly damaged. But worse for Democrats, if Obama is seen as insufficiently responsive amid allegations of wrongdoing that led to the deaths of veterans, the desire among voters to further constrain his power with an all-Republican-controlled Congress will be even more attractive. Will Obama bow to political expediency and fire a onetime Democratic hero?

[Watch Fox: Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., discusses the Veteran’s Affairs scandal in the 9 a.m. ET hour]

Uh… -Tampa Bay Times: “Rep. Corrine Brown [D-Fla.] remains convinced about one thing: ‘We’re doing fine in Florida,’ she said … at a VA hearing, listing projects in  [Florida]. Her comfort level caught the attention of the GOP opposition group America Rising, …particularly since the VA in Gainesville has come under question for having a secret waiting lists such as the ones at the Phoenix facility. Three supervisors in Gainesville have been put on paid leave. But local officials — and Sen. Bill Nelson [D-Fla.] who visited the hospital on Friday — contend the list was not like the one in Phoenix.”

WITH YOUR SECOND CUP OF COFFEE...
Today is the 26th anniversary of then-President Ronald Reagan’s first visit to Moscow. The 1988 summit was the fourth between Reagan and his Russian counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev, and produced little in the way of new treaties. But it gave Reagan the chance to speak directly to the Soviet people (including this very familiar-looking “tourist” in Red Square.) While hardliners in the United States were unhappy that Reagan was rewarding the still-oppressive Soviet regime with an official visit, Regan used his platform to launch a frontal assault on communist ideologies. Reagan’s now-famous speech at Moscow State University tantalized students with the promise of an “information revolution” that he said would “alter our world, shatter old assumptions and reshape our lives.” That development, he said, would depend on people being free to experiment and free to fail instead of central economic planning. But he also explained that the freedom had to be built on a strong spiritual foundation.

‘Reason and experience’ - From Reagan’s speech: “Freedom, it has been said, makes people selfish and materialistic, but Americans are one of the most religious peoples on Earth. Because they know that liberty, just as life itself, is not earned but a gift from God, they seek to share that gift with the world. ‘Reason and experience,’ said George Washington in his Farewell Address, ‘both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. And it is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.’ Democracy is less a system of government than it is a system to keep government limited, un-intrusive; a system of constraints on power to keep politics and government secondary to the important things in life, the true sources of value found only in family and faith.”

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POLL CHECK
Real Clear Politics Averages
Obama Job Approval: Approve –  44 percent/Disapprove – 51.9 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 29.8  percent/Wrong Track – 62.7 percent
Generic Congressional Ballot:  Democrats – 43  percent/Republicans 42.3 percent

CLINTON CAMPAIGN SEEKS CONTROL OF BENGHAZI NARRATIVE
Politico: “An array of Democrats — including Hillary Clinton’s allies — are meeting this week to hammer out a united front on national security issues, including a clear response to Republicans over the Benghazi controversy. They see an opportunity to wrest control of a narrative that some allies fear could be damaging to Clinton if she moves ahead with a 2016 presidential campaign. A major milestone in the effort will take place this Friday, when a coalition of Democratic-leaning groups and influentials converges at the headquarters of the centrist think tank Third Way for a briefing that includes top Clinton adviser Philippe Reines.”

But is she likable enough? - She has been on the national stage for decades, but what does the American public really think of 2016 Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton? A study from the conservative American Enterprise Institute, reviewing nearly 5,000 poll questions analyzing nearly every aspect of her career found that Americans believe her to be competent, but not necessarily trustworthy: “During Bill Clinton’s presidency, Hillary Clinton received consistently high marks for handling her job as first lady…. In 1992, only 19 percent said she had what it takes to be president…Nationally, Americans were not especially enthusiastic about her senatorial candidacy, though they viewed her as competent and up to the job. According to several polls of New Yorkers during her Senate career, her ratings were higher at the end of her term than when she began. In Fox News polls throughout her service as secretary of state, more people approved than disapproved. … As far as personal characteristics are concerned, Hillary Clinton is seen as intelligent, experienced, and competent. Her perceived weaknesses concern her lack of honesty and saying what she believes rather than what people want to hear”

Loyalty rewards program - WaPo: “Ready for Hillary, a super PAC mobilizing support for a potential presidential bid by Hillary Rodham Clinton, filed paperwork Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission that will allow it to make direct candidate donations. The move lets the group set up a separate fund to provide direct but limited support to campaigns. As a super PAC, it can spend unlimited sums on independent activity that is not coordinated with candidates. By restructuring as a so-called hybrid super PAC, Ready for Hillary could serve as a flanking political operation for Clinton by contributing to Democratic candidates she endorses, much in the way that leadership PACs operate. Its support for 2014 candidates could also help assuage concerns that the super PAC and other pro-Clinton groups are too focused on the 2016 elections.”

WARREN RIDES TO RESCUE
Seattle Times: “[Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.] is in Seattle Thursday for a political fundraiser and to promote her memoir, ‘A Fighting Chance.’ That biography has fueled chatter about Warren’s future because it reads a lot like the tale of a candidate eager to frame her personal story… Warren is scheduled to headline Sen. Patty Murray’s [D-Wash.] annual ‘Golden Tennis Shoe’ political fundraiser at the Washington State Convention Center. Tickets for that event start at $125-a-person… No doubt Warren and Murray will be all smiles Thursday. But in a previous book, Warren criticized Murray, along with other Democratic leaders, for failing to stand up to banks when it came to bankruptcy laws.”

Warren gets the money for Merkley -  The Oregonian: “[Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.] and [Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.] dished out heaping platefuls of biting commentary about the big banks and how they've prospered at the expense of ordinary families as they won raucous cheers and applause from about 1,000 supporters gathered at the Portland Hilton Hotel. The $100-per-ticket fundraiser and a private, higher-dollar event that benefited both Merkley's re-election campaign and the Democratic Party of Oregon, altogether brought in $250,000, according to the Merkley campaign.”

O’Malley: Don’t you forget about me - Daily Beast: “…Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley is scheduled to speak at the Iowa Democratic Party’s state convention on June 21… O’Malley is widely considered a possible Democratic candidate for the presidency in 2016 and has already made political appearances in the early primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina.”

FIRST IN FOX NEWS FIRST: CARSON OUTLINES PLAN TO REPLACE OBAMACARE
Dr. Ben Carson’s Legacy PAC is launching the first of five Web videos, detailing his alternative to ObamaCare called “Save our Healthcare.”  In an e-mail to supporters Carson says, “In Part One, I explain why expanding access to personal, tax-free Health Savings Accounts will empower patients, reduce costs, increase transparency, and put the most important person in control of your healthcare – you.”

KELLY FILE: ROMNEY TALKS TOUGH ON WEAKNESS
During an appearance Wednesday on “The Kelly File” 2012 GOP presidential Nominee Mitt Romney criticized President Obama’s speech Wednesday defending his foreign policy. The former Massachusetts Governor told Megyn Kelly, “I think it’s a particularly sad day in America when the president of the United States feels compelled to give an address saying that America in effect isn’t weak, saying we really are a leader, we really are strong.” Romney went on to say, “Look, if you have to tell people you’re strong, then you’re not. If you tell people you’re not weak, then you are.”  Watch the full interview here.

[WSJ: “We know that no foreign policy speech can cover the entire world. But listening to Mr. Obama trying to assemble a coherent foreign policy agenda from the record of the past five years was like watching Tom Hanks trying to survive in ‘Cast Away’: Whatever's left from the wreckage will have to do.”]

JEB HELPS COLORADO COUSIN
Former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., heads to the Centennial State for a fundraiser this evening for his cousin, Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton.  Bush will take part in a $1,000 ticket VIP reception with Stapleton.

AD BLASTS BEGICH OVER VA SCANDAL
Crossroads GPS is putting $450,000 behind an ad hammering Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, over the Veteran Affair’s Scandal. From the ad: “Sen. Mark Begich sits on the Veterans Affairs Committee. His response? If there’s a problem, they need to fix it. IF there’s a problem? Four years ago, the VA inspector general failed the Anchorage VA office in 13 of 14 areas. Now some senators are blocking bipartisan legislation to shake up the VA and enforce accountability. Tell Sen. Begich: When veterans are dying, it IS a problem.” Begich’s campaign manager Susanne Fleek-Green responded to the ad, in a statement, saying, “Turning the death of veterans in Arizona into a political attack ad in Alaska proves the appalling and disgraceful lengths [Republican Senate hopeful] Dan Sullivan and his Outside allies will go to wage political attacks that disgust Alaskans.”

LANDRIEU STILL BACKS REID
Pro-GOP research group America Rising flagged comments from Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., in an interview with NBC News in which the endangered Democrat offered her support for another term for Harry Reid as Senate majority leader. Landrieu is campaigning in her natural-resource-rich home state on her ability to fight anti-global-warming policies backed by Reid and President Obama. But when push came to shove, Landrieu said she’s still on the team. “If he runs, I will” Landrieu said.

Betcha she’ll hear about this one - Washington Examiner: “New Environmental Protection Agency rules cutting back on the amount of carbon emissions from power plants would cost the economy more than $50 billion per year through 2030, according to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce report that amounts to one of the first salvos in the upcoming war over the rules.

AIR ASSAULTS ESCALATE IN FINAL DAYS OF MISSISSIPPI RACE
In the final days of what has become a bitterly personal and nasty GOP primary in Mississippi between Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and state Sen. Chris McDaniel, the Club for Growth has launched its final ad in support of McDaniel asking voters to, “put aside all the negative ads” decrying Cochran’s senate record. The ad comes the same day the Cochran camp released an ad featuring former Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss.

[“It was kind of amateurish. I don't know quite any other way to describe it.” –Sen. Thad Cochran discussing McDaniel supporters being linked to the photographing of his bedridden wife in an interviewwith AP.]

McDaniel assails Cochran seniority - “Seniority is not what it used to be. No one in the state can name a single charge that Senator Cochran has led against Barack Obama. What good is seniority if he’s not willing to fight? Secondly, with a country like ours that is $17.5 trillion in debt….the idea that seniority will enable him to bring home additional moneys seems a bit unreasonable and frankly immoral. At some point the adults of this country have to understand this debt issue will eventually crush us. Seniority doesn’t mean anything in that context.” –Republican Senate Challenger Chris McDaniel in an interviewwith WSJ.

HANDEL LENDS A HAND TO KINGSTON
Athens [Ga.] Banner-Herald: “ [Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga] and Karen Handel announced Wednesday that they are putting the criticism of recent months behind them and are now on the same side in working to defeat Democrat Michelle Nunn and take Republican control of the U.S. Senate. Handel’s endorsement of Kingston for U.S. Senate came the same day the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced it is airing television ads on his behalf featuring University of Georgia football legend Herschel Walker. Handel, who came in third behind Kingston and frontrunner David Perdue, said she didn’t know Kingston well before the campaign, but had grown to admire him for his integrity and fighting spirit.”

UNDECIDEDS UP FOR GRABS IN MICHIGAN 
While the Detroit News poll finds Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., leading Republican Terri Lynn Land 39 percent to 35 percent, 23 percent of respondents remain undecided in the Michigan Senate race. The same poll finds Gov. Rick Snyder, R-Mich., besting former Rep. Mark Schauer, D-Mich., 45 percent to 35 percent in the state’s gubernatorial contest.

[New On Fox News Radio - The Balance of Power: Primary Season Heats Up. Check out the podcast.]

TWITTER TOUGH TALK TACKY
NH Journal: “The  [New Hampshire] state Republican Party is accusing Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s [D-N.H.] chief Senate counsel of promoting a Twitter post the party says contained a ‘grossly inappropriate’ statement and was an ‘over-the-line attack.’ Judy Reardon on Tuesday re-tweeted and favorited a tweet that commented on Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s [R-N.H.] endorsement of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Scott Brown.  The original tweet, by another person, said:  ‘Biggest winner from Ayotte endorsement of Brown? Hassan for Senate 2016. Payback's a bitch.’ The reference was clearly to speculation that Gov. Maggie Hassan [D-N.H.] may challenge Ayotte in 2016, when Ayotte is up for reelection, and that Ayotte’s endorsement of Brown will hurt Ayotte’s chances in such a match-up.”

Shaheen talks job record, Brown touts ties to N.H. in new ads - In her latest ad, Shaheen boasts her record of job creation and improving infrastructure in the Granite State. In his latest radio ad Scott Brown plays up his family’s history in New Hampshire while railing on Shaheen’s support of ObamaCare.

SASSE STAFFS UP
Nebraska Republican Senate candidate Ben Sasse has tapped James Wegman as his press Secretary. Wegman previously served as communications director for Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind. “We need to grow the conservative movement by making better arguments and communicating the ideas that have always made us an exceptional nation. James will be a tremendous asset in this work,” Sasse said in a statement.

PICK SIX
Republicans need to gain six seats to take control of the Senate. Which six Democrat-held seats are the most vulnerable? The current consensus among Fox News First readers: Arkansas, Montana, Louisiana, South Dakota, North Carolina and West Virginia.

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

BREAK-IN AT DEMAIO HQ
The campaign headquarters of Carl DeMaio, one of two openly gay Republican 2014 congressional candidates backed by the national party was the target of a break-in Wednesday. KSWB: “Authorities sought Wednesday to determine who broke into and trashed congressional candidate and former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio’s Miramar campaign headquarters…Patrol personnel arrived to find computer cables cut and monitor screens smashed, SDPD public-affairs Officer Matt Tortorella said. It was not immediately clear if anything had been stolen…DeMaio, a Republican, is running to unseat Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, in California’s 52nd Congressional District.”

TEA AND SYMPATHY 
First lady Michelle Obama will join House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., to host an “afternoon tea” fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Boston Monday. The Boston Globe reports: “The invitation offers tickets ranging from $500 per person to $32,400 per couple. The top tier ticket includes ‘2 spots in VIP clutch, photo opportunity, and 1 table of 10 to the afternoon tea.’’’

IT’S WHAT YOU DO WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING
Joe Cornell
’s road to recovery came to a fork this week. He’s been living at the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center in Fresno for the past four months working hard, getting help with an addiction to meth and living sober. As Joe was watering some curbside trees at the center Wednesday he happened on a bag. Turns out the sack, dropped by a passing Brinks truck, contained $125,000. Would Joe keep it? No way. “Cornell says when he found the cash his first concern was for others who could be hit with a loss. ‘Deposits from businesses and stuff, so that could have trickled down to a lot of people’s jobs, who knows what so I just figured it was the right thing to do.’” he told KMPH. Cornell, scheduled to complete the program in July, said his next task is to find a job. His wife Virginia proudly told the station, “Anyone that needs an honest man to hire, we know that he’s an honest man. He just gave back $125,000 that wasn’t his.’” The Brinks folks are happy too, giving Cornell a $5,000 reward.

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“I think [President Obama’s speech to U.S. Military Academy graduates] was literally pointless. He didn't have a point. … He sets up a straw man, he makes the argument – and I think it was a very weak and defensive speech and there was no response from any of the cadets. It was as quiet as a mouse.” –Charles Krauthammer, 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 digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C.  Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First” political news note and hosts “Power Play,” a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.”  He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.