Boehner: I will continue to reserve judgment on Shinseki for some reason

Three weeks ago he said he wasn’t ready to call for Shinseki’s firing. Last week he said he was getting closer — but still not ready. Today, after that brutal IG report sent Democrats scurrying on the Hill, he’s finally … still not ready.

What am I missing here?

“I’m going to continue to reserve judgment on General Shinseki,” Boehner told reporters Thursday. “The question I ask myself is, ‘Is him resigning going to get us to the bottom of the problem? Is it going to help us find out what is really going on?’ And the answer I keep getting is no.”

Boehner added that President Barack Obama should be held accountable for problems at the veterans organization.

“The president is going to have to step up here and show some real leadership,” he added.

Obviously there’s a political strategy at work here. Er, what is it? A “Shinseki must go” statement from the Speaker isn’t going to drown out damaging coverage of the IG’s findings and panicked Democratic reaction to it. Given how many Dems have already jumped ship, there’s no risk of the media turning this into some sort of partisan battle over the VA head either. Maybe Boehner feels that it’s risky to be too harshly critical of a general when your base is as pro-military as the GOP’s is, but that doesn’t make sense either: The victims of Shinseki’s and Obama’s negligence are American soldiers. Righteous outrage on their behalf, even at the expense of a former commander, won’t alienate any Republicans. I could understand if Boehner refused to demand Shinseki’s ouster in order to make a point about the VA system as a whole, i.e. that rationed care and endless wait times are inevitable in a system of socialized medicine and that no manager, be it Shinseki or his replacement, will fix that. But that’s not what Boehner’s saying. (If it was, why did he say he was getting closer to calling for Shinseki’s termination last week?) He seems to think there is a potential solution here if only Obama would show some “leadership.” There isn’t. The VA will remain a disaster because it’s the VA, not because The One’s a screw-up.

Maybe he’s afraid that focusing too much on Shinseki will let O fade into the background on this? That doesn’t make sense either. Shinseki is his handpicked VA administrator; if Obama’s forced to fire him, it’s a powerful admission that he’s made poor personnel decisions. Why do you think so many conservatives were eager to see Sebelius fired?

Just as I’m writing this, news is breaking that Mark Warner — another purple-state Democrat facing a tough reelection campaign this fall — has called for Shinseki’s resignation. (Imagine how painful it is for lefties to see Democrats turning on the man who became famous for questioning the “light footprint” occupation strategy in Iraq.) I’m not worried that voters will perceive Dems as being more proactive on VA reform than the GOP given that all of this is happening on a Democratic president’s watch, but Republican leaders are leaving easy political currency on the table here by not speaking up more.