OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Senators stand up against Shinseki

THE TOPLINE: A slew of Democratic senators called for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign on Thursday, a day after the VA's inspector general issued a report confirming inappropriate scheduling practices. 

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) became the 11th Democratic senator to call for Shinseki's ouster in a wave of calls that began flooding in after the report was released on Wednesday. 

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Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) became the first Democratic senator not up for reelection this fall to call for Shinseki's resignation, signaling that it has gone further than a campaign issue between Democrats and Republicans. 

Most of the Democratic senators issuing calls for Shinseki to step down face competitive races this November. 

Other than Heinrich and Kaine, those calling for Shinseki to resign include Sens. Al Franken (Minn.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Udall (Colo.), Tom Udall (N.M.), John Walsh (Mont.), and Mark Warner (Va.).

According to a list compiled by Military Times' Leo Shane, by Thursday evening, at least 63 House Republicans and 13 Senate Republicans are calling for Shinseki to resign. 

So far, 21 House Democrats have called for Shinseki's ouster. House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.), though, has refrained from calling for his resignation. 

Both Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) both urged a solution to fix the roots of the problem. 

Boehner shifted blame to the White House: "The real issue here is that the president is the one who should be held accountable,” he said.

The White House only issued tepid support of Shinseki, with press secretary Jay Carney saying the president believed he "performed overall well," and "put his heart and soul" into providing care for veterans. But he emphasized the president was still waiting for the results of an internal investigation. 

SENATE DEMS TARGETED: In the midst of the Shinseki storm, a veterans group announced it would launch an ad campaign against five Senate Democrats in tight reelection races.

Concerned Veterans For America’s “Walk the Walk” campaign will take to the airwaves against Sens. Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Mark Warner (Va.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) to pressure them to back the 2014 Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act, which passed the full House 390-33 last week.

That measure would make it easier for the VA secretary to fire underperforming officials.

Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn), Hagan, Landrieu, Shaheen, Pryor and Warner have all backed a bill being floated by Sen. Mark Rubio (R-Fla.) that would grant the secretary of Veterans Affairs, be it Shinseki or his successor, greater power to fire VA managers found to be incompetent for offenses such as mismanagement and sexual harassment. 

HAGEL BEEFS UP REVIEW: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has upped the priority and speed of a review of the Pentagon's military health system, as the Department of Veterans Affairs comes under increasing fire for delays in care.

Hagel announced the 90-day review earlier this week and on Thursday morning he assigned the Pentagon's No. 2 — Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work — to lead it.

Previously, the review was going to be led by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Jonathan Woodson, but the issue was given greater priority following the interim release of a VA inspector general report that confirmed that officials tried to hide long wait times for primary care appointments.

Hagel is also requesting regular updates on the review, and said he expects the first update and an action plan by June 6. The review will focus on access to healthcare, safety of care, and quality of care.

He has requested a final report to be delivered to him no later than Aug. 29.

"To the degree we learn about issues affecting the healthcare of our military health beneficiaries, including active duty service members, retirees, and their eligible family members, we will address them," Pentagon press secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said.

HOUSE APPROPRIATORS MAKE OPENING BID. The House Appropriations Defense subcommittee revealed its draft of a $491 billion Pentagon spending bill for fiscal year 2015.

Lawmakers also included a $79.4 billion placeholder for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which fund ongoing war efforts in Afghanistan. However, since the White House has not submitted an OCO request to Congress that figure is likely to change.

The proposed legislation, which will be taken up behind closed doors on Friday, mirrors the authorization measure adopted by the full House last week, in that it nixes many of the cost-cutting ideas put forward by the Obama administration.

For instance, the preliminary bill provides $789 million to refuel the USS George Washington aircraft carrier, a vessel the Pentagon wanted to mothball early. It also contains $128.1 billion for personnel costs, including a 1.8 percent pay raise for troops rather than the 1 percent hike proposed by the White House.

It also restores $100 million cut to commissary subsidies approved last week by the full chamber in the fiscal 2015 defense authorization bill.

The bill would also bar the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and prevents the refurbishment of U.S.-based facilities for the purpose of holding terror suspects.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

-Snowden email fell short of NSA criticism

-Advocates call for spy court changes

-Plame: CIA outing ‘colossally stupid’

-VA warned not to ignore other programs while fixing claims backlog

-Hagel to decide ‘fairly soon’ about detainees

 

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