One of the more common developments inside the Beltway in recent years is seeing congressional Republicans call for various members of President Obama’s cabinet to resign. It’s become so routine, it’s almost as if GOP lawmakers consider it part of their daily routine: wake up, have breakfast, get dressed, and call for the Secretary of Whatever to step down immediately.
But as the tide turned quickly against Eric Shinseki at the Department of Veterans Affairs, House Republican leaders bit their tongues this week, refusing to call for his ouster. It became pretty odd – many of Obama’s close Democratic allies demanded the secretary’s resignation, even as John Boehner and Eric Cantor did not.
Was this because GOP leaders wanted to give the White House a break? Um, no. Was it the result of Republicans’ deep respect and admiration for Shinseki, a true patriot? That’s a nice thought, but that’s not what happened, either.
Instead, consider the response to Shinseki’s resignation.
House Speaker John Boehner said Friday that the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki “really changes nothing” to fix systemic problems at the department, calling on President Barack Obama to take further action to address system-wide mismanagement.“One personnel change cannot be used as an excuse to paper over” problems at the VA, he told reporters after President Barack Obama accepted Shinseki’s resignation Friday morning.
As recently as yesterday, the Ohio Republican told reporters, “The question I ask myself: Is him resigning going to get us to the bottom of the problem? Is it going to help us find out what’s really going on? The answer I keep getting is no.”
It’s important to understand Boehner’s likely motivations here.
What Republicans leaders want is to blame President Obama for the controversy. Substantively, that’s not an easy sell – as Mariah Blake makes clear today, much of what plagues the VA started under the Bush/Cheney administration – but there’s an election coming up, and none of the issues GOP officials hoped to run on are going the way Republicans hoped.
What does this have to do with Shinseki’s ouster? Probably everything.
Inside the Beltway, there was an overwhelming demand that Obama “do something” and not let this story linger any longer. Boehner, however, likely wanted the opposite: White House inaction, more delays, and a controversy that lingers indefinitely.
Many on the right may have cheered today’s announcement, but in no way does this advance a partisan goal. The VA system hasn’t been working, so the president is replacing the head of the VA system with someone who’ll hopefully do a better job. This doesn’t help Boehner at all, which is why he was so quick to say the news “really changes nothing” – the Speaker is probably concerned attention will now shift now that the embattled Shinseki is leaving the stage.
And even putting partisan motivations aside, substantively, Boehner arguably has a credible point. The VA mess will be no better this evening than it was this morning. A cabinet secretary is gone, but the problem that forced him out remains.
If the political world decides to move on, it will disappoint Republican leaders with big plans for this scandal, but it will also do a disservice to veterans who continue to wait for a solution.