WASHINGTON — When the president of the United States summons you for a meeting, it’s usually a bad thing. When that meeting happens on a Friday amid a burgeoning scandal, it’s a very, very bad thing.
So, when Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki sat down with President Barack Obama on Friday, he had to know what was coming. Earlier in the day Shinseki apologized publicly for the problems engulfing VA — long wait times, inadequate care — but made no mention of the possibility of resigning.
He didn’t have to, since virtually every politician in Washington was calling for his head. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a wounded veteran of the Iraq war and a former VA official, said earlier Friday that Shinseki “has to go.” Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), who heads up House Democrats’ campaign arm, said Thursday that it was time for Shinseki to step aside, giving every vulnerable incumbent or aspiring challenger a free pass to do the same. Across the Capitol, just about every Democratic senator in a competitive race this fall joined the chorus of voices calling for Shinseki’s ouster.
Obama himself had reserved judgment on Shinseki’s fate until the release of a VA inspector general’s report on the problems that had infected the department — up to and including the falsifying of records by senior officials in hopes of obfuscating veterans’ wait times for care.
That ended Friday morning when Obama announced that, “with considerable regret,” he had accepted Shinseki’s resignation, because, as the president put it, “we don’t have time for distractions.”
Eric Shinseki, for adding your name to the long list of not-so-voluntary resignations in Washington lore, you had the worst week in Washington. Congrats, or something.
Cillizza covers the White House for The Washington Post and writes The Fix, its politics blog.