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Media ratchet up pressure on White House as probe confirms cover-up at VA

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FILE: Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (AP)

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Unconventional Wisdom: A Republican Wave That May Not Materialize This Fall

Media Ratchet Up Pressure on White House As Probe Confirms Cover-up at VA

Well, President Obama can no longer say he’s waiting for the results of the investigation.

At least one investigation is done, and it’s devastating to the VA.

Now even John McCain is calling on Eric Shinseki to resign, and urging the Justice Department to launch a criminal probe.

The IG’s investigation confirms what the Arizona Republic and CNN originally reported, that there was lying and a cover-up at the Phoenix facility.

Critics say the president follows an increasingly tired playbook: He finds out about some administration malfeasance from the media, expresses outrage, fires no one, asks for an investigation, and by the time the probe is over, the White House can promise reforms and generally treat the matter as old news.

But Wednesday’s report could force Obama to speed up that timetable:  

“The inspector general for the Department of Veterans Affairs reported on Wednesday that at least 1,700 veterans at the agency’s medical center in Phoenix were not registered on the proper waiting list to see doctors, creating a serious condition that means veterans ‘continue to be at risk of being forgotten or lost’ in the convoluted scheduling process,” says the New York Times.

“Irregularities in how the 1,700 veterans were handled, the report said, mean that ‘these veterans may never obtain a requested or required clinical appointment.’”

The average waiting time for a medical appointment for a group of patients studied was 115 days, but the Phoenix center falsely claimed it was 24 days.

Adds Politico: “The review is intensifying an already simmering scandal engulfing the VA — and the Obama administration. Republicans on Capitol Hill and the campaign trail are pointing to the issue to bolster their case that the White House is dysfunctional.”

Pushing out Shinseki, a decorated war veteran, would, of course, be symbolic. But it’s important for a president to demonstrate that he’s on top of a problem. A resignation would at least allow Shinseki to leave with dignity.

The president delivered a major foreign-policy address at West Point yesterday, but that is likely to be overshadowed by the VA furor.

The VA mess has touched a nerve because it feels like America has betrayed its promise to those who served. The scandal, and it is a scandal, is not hard to understand. The interviews with grieving relatives of patients, some of whom have died awaiting care, packs a powerful emotional punch. I have gotten plenty of emails from aggravated vets and family members.

Yes, the VA has been dysfunctional for decades, and previous administrations share the blame. But that’s no excuse for a president in his sixth year.

The national media were slow to react to the initial reports, but this story is not going away, and should not go away, anytime soon.

Unconventional Wisdom: A Republican Wave That May Not Materialize This Fall

What if 2014 isn’t such a big Republican year after all?

The conventional wisdom is that Democrats are going to get clobbered in the midterms, victims of ObamaCare, an anemic economy and the sixth-year presidential blues.

But what if there isn’t a wave election in the making? Just a strong current that lifts a few Republican boats?

Bill Kristol, the Weekly Standard editor and a onetime GOP strategist, is sounding a cautionary note. The fall contests, he warns, may not play out like the Tea Party election of 2010.

Now maybe Kristol is just worried about overconfidence. Here’s his argument:

“Democrats may well feel disillusionment and even dread this year. But we can’t say we’re overwhelmed by any Republican sense of energy and anticipation. Perhaps we’ve just become insensate and jaded. Or perhaps we’ve been reading too much history. Because history suggests you get only one wave election per two-term presidency: 1958 for Ike, 1966 for Kennedy-Johnson, 1974 for Nixon-Ford, 1986 for Reagan, 1994 for Clinton, 2006 for Bush, 2010 for Obama. We rode our wave in 2010. To get to do so again in 2014 would be fun—but unprecedented.”

He also notes that Obama’s approval rating, after sinking last year, “has stabilized. Indeed, his rating has ticked up a bit in 2014—it’s now at 44 approval and 51 disapproval. And the generic congressional ballot, which moved in a Republican direction during 2013—from about +7 Democratic to even, has stayed even in 2014.” For Republicans, he concludes, “the bad news is that momentum has stalled.”

I see it differently. The GOP doesn’t need a tidal wave. The party already enjoys a strong working majority in the House. It just needs a pickup of six Senate seats. If it wins those six seats, this will be remembered as a banner Republican year that gave the party complete control of Capitol Hill and forced the president to play defense for the remainder of his term. If the Republicans capture, say, only five seats, the year will be viewed as a disappointment that left Harry Reid in charge.

Kristol, for his part, has advice to boost his party’s prospects: “We’d like to see more energetic action by the Republican leadership in Congress, both in taking on the Obama administration and in advancing a positive, populist conservative policy agenda. We think it would help. But we don’t expect to see it.”

He’s right on that last point. The GOP leadership is basically running out the clock in a game that it sees as preordained in its favor. For all of John Boehner’s talk about immigration reform, nothing seems to be happening. A minimum wage hike appears dead. Remember when extended unemployment benefits ran out last December? The House hasn’t lifted a finger since then.

A few lawmakers, like Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor, are talking about a more populist agenda that addresses middle-class concerns. But for the most part, that remains in the realm of polite debate.

The strategy makes sense: Why risk changing such a favorable environment by working with Democrats to pass compromise legislation? Easier to keep criticizing ObamaCare and hold some more Benghazi hearings.

But what if the Republicans are missing a real opportunity to recast their party’s image—not just for the fall elections, but for 2016 as well?

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.