Earlier today, embattled VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s schedule got shifted abruptly to include a 10 am face-to-face meeting with President Barack Obama. Even before the meeting started, the White House announced that Obama would have a statement for the press 45 minutes after Shinseki arrives at his office:
— Breaking Politics (@breakingpol) May 21, 2014
There doesn’t appear to be much mystery any longer. Scheduling a statement about a meeting before it takes place provides a strong indication that the meeting’s outcome has already been determined. The New York Times readout of White House activity also makes it sound as though Obama has decided to make changes at the top of the VA:
Officials said that Rob Nabors, the president’s deputy chief of staff, will join his boss in the meeting with Mr. Shinseki. Mr. Obama has ordered Mr. Nabors to work full-time at the V.A. department to help the secretary conduct a review of the policies at hospitals around the country.
Mr. Nabors is scheduled to fly to Phoenix on Wednesday evening for a series of discussions with officials at the V.A. hospital there. Reports that workers were hiding delays in wait times for doctors’ appointments first surfaced several weeks ago at that facility.
The existence of the Oval Office meeting on Wednesday was added to Mr. Obama’s public schedule and disclosed early Wednesday morning. The White House said the meeting would be closed to the press and officials did not indicate whether Mr. Obama or his aides would make public remarks about the situation after their discussions.
The president is also sending Denis R. McDonough, his chief of staff, to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to consult with the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Senator Bernard Sanders, independent of Vermont. Lawmakers are working on bipartisan legislation that would give veterans officials greater authority to fire those responsible at the department. The House is expected to vote on Wednesday on a bill, and the Senate is expected to hold hearings on the legislation soon.
McDonough would also be the man dispatched to brief Sanders and his House counterpart Jeff Miller on a change in leadership at the VA. Given that the legislation in question hasn’t even scheduled hearings on the bill, it seems more likely that this is McDonough’s mission today. With Shinseki at the White House, a legislative liaison about a barely-processed Senate bill cannot be high up on the priority list for the chief of staff.
If Obama wanted to keep Shinseki around, he would almost certainly avoid making a public statement about it, and especially not on live TV. The probes of VA facilities have just gotten started (which is part of the problem), and a public statement on live TV about how much Obama wants to keep Shinseki on board will be embarrassing if these probes turn up evidence of incompetence at the highest levels of the VA, or worse. On the other hand, a change like this almost requires a live statement from the Commander in Chief in order to boost his presidential aura while bouncing his own pick to run the agency.
Update: According to Major Garrett at CBS, there will be no resignation — just an opportunity for Obama to vent his anger:
Pres.Obama will NOT announce departure of VA Secy.in upcoming statement. @MajorCBS reports Obama to discuss his own anger about VA troubles.
— PETER MAER (@petermaer) May 21, 2014
This will be a big problem for Obama as more data pours out of this scandal. It’s going to be a big, red marker pointing to his own executive deficiencies, as well as Shinseki’s. Why not hold the presser first, and then meet with Shinseki if this was the intended message? The President needs better political advisers, to be sure.
Update: ABC’s Jon Karl confirms that there will be no personnel announcements today:
WH officials say POTUS will not be announcing leadership changes at the VA this morning. "No personal announcements"
— Jonathan Karl (@jonkarl) May 21, 2014
And of course, Obama’s late to his own presser again, which isn’t exactly communicating outrage over a lack of timely care for veterans.
CBS has a live video feed for the statement, which is scheduled for 10:45. Obama’s usually late to these press statements, but depending on how quickly the meeting concludes, perhaps he’ll show up early: