OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Calls for Shinseki to step down grow

THE TOPLINE: The chorus of lawmakers asking embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign grew louder on Wednesday.

The outrage was sparked after the VA Inspector General released the initial findings of an investigation into mismanagement at a clinic in Phoenix.

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Investigators discovered, among other problems, that 1,700 veterans had been left off the official waiting list to receive a primary care appointment, and those patients had to wait an average of 115 days to see a doctor.

Shinseki called the findings “reprehensible” but that did not stop Sens. Mark Udall (Colo.), John Walsh (Mont.), and Kay Hagan (N.C.) from becoming the first Democratic senators to call for his ouster.

Udall, Walsh and Hagan are all in tough re-election bids and Shinseki’s political survival has quickly morphed into a heated campaign issue, highlighted when Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), joined three other Democratic Senate candidates to come out against him.

Shinseki’s support among Republicans, which wasn’t strong, shrunk further as key GOP lawmakers who had previously stopped short of calling for his resignation, said he needed to move aside.

"It would be best if General Shinseki stepped down as Secretary, both as an example for other VA leaders and to lay the groundwork for new leadership to meet with success," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said in a statement. 

He was joined by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee,  who said Shinseki “in both word and deed – appears completely oblivious to the severity of the health care challenges facing the department.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a prisoner of war during the Vietnam war, also said Shinseki should go and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said the administration should tap the FBI to look into VA “schedule schemes.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney said President Obama had been briefed on the interim report and found the details “extremely troubling.”

Carney urged the VA to enact the recommendations laid out in the report, including moving those veterans whose care had been compromised to the front of the line.

OBAMA DETAILS FOREIGN POLICY: President Obama on Wednesday argued for a new chapter of American foreign policy that values diplomacy and multilateralism over the overreaching use of military force. 

During a speech at the U.S. Military Academy, the president argued that military action cannot be “the only — or even primary — component of our leadership.” 

"Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail," Obama told graduating cadets.

“We must broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development; sanctions and isolation; appeals to international law and — if just, necessary and effective — multilateral military action," Obama said.

The president defended his stance against critics who say his foreign policy is weak and wavering. 

"Some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences, without building international support and legitimacy for our action or leveling with the American people about the sacrifice required," Obama said.

"Tough talk draws headlines, but war rarely conforms to slogans," he added.

The president said that the U.S. would rely more on partners to fight terrorism around the world. 

"A strategy that involves invading every country that harbors terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable," Obama said. "I believe we must shift our counterterrorism strategy, drawing on the successes and shortcomings of our experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, to more effectively partner with countries where terrorist networks seek a foothold."

The president announced that he would increase training and material aid to the moderate opposition in Syria, and create a $5 billion counterterrorism fund that would help other countries to fight radical extremists within their borders. The fund will require congressional approval. 

Members of the cabinet are expected to lay out the president’s foreign policy in the coming weeks, according to the White House.

THORNBERRY HITS BACK: Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) chided President Obama’s newly unveiled strategy to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the close of 2016.

“I can’t be the only one who suspects that we got to 9,800 because it sounds a whole lot better than 10,000,” he said in a speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “This is another example of the president calculating what the minimum necessary to get by is, but his heart really isn’t in it.”

Obama on Tuesday announced that 9,800 troops would remain in Afghanistan after 2014. That number would be cut in half by the end of 2015 and reduced to an embassy presence by the end of 2016.

Thornberry, who spoke around the same time as Obama delivered the West Point commencement speech, said “the president wants a minimalist approach and to get out as quick as possible.”

He added that there is a “fear that the president thinks and acts like he can make things happen in the world just by giving a speech, that he can protect America with his rhetoric.”

Thornberry, who could take the reins of the House Armed Services Committee next year, said, “we have to have military power, and it has to be credible.”

LABOR CHIEF LOBBIES FOR VET BENEFITS: Labor Secretary Thomas Perez on Wednesday blasted lawmakers for not extending long-term unemployment benefits, which he said could ease veteran homelessness.

"In particular, the main piece of unfinished business from the Great Recession is the plight of the long-term unemployed," Perez said at the 2014 conference of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

"Unfortunately there's a little bit of [unemployment insurance] fatigue among some in Congress. We're going to make sure that fatigue doesn't exist, because too many people are suffering," he said.

Perez said he regularly meets with people who have been out of work for an extended period and recalled visiting with a military veteran in Northern Virginia who lives in a 275-square foot trailer with his wife and three children.

"[He is] remarkably talented and has been unemployed for almost two years, doing odd jobs just to get food. Ran out of unemployment benefits — effectively homeless, and he has been stripped of his dignity," Perez said.

"That's really what I hear from so many people: 'I have a poverty of spirit,' " he said.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

-McCain: Obama foreign policy has ‘intellectually dishonest’ premise

-Thornberry: Russia making the case for more defense spending

-Deadline set for Senate action on cybersecurity

-Lee: Obama’s policy in Syria could be ‘gas on a fire’

-House passes bills to provide veterans with sexual trauma support, job training

 

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