In a particularly cheap move at Tuesday’s White House daily briefing, Fox News Chief White House Correspondent Ed Henry tried to twist a quote from Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Il) to fit the narrative that the President hasn’t made sufficient public comments about the scandal. Press Secretary Jay Carney responded by telling Henry that the quote doesn’t back up what he’s saying.
In a not-so-classic example of the “shop,” Henry told Carney that Rep. Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran who lost both legs in combat,”told The Washington Post ‘It’s hard, because Mrs. Obama has done so much and Mrs. Biden has done so much and I see that as part of the president’s push,’ and went on to say that ‘I think he’s relied on Secretary Shinseki, but we could use his personal attention at this point.'”
“You have a Democrat from the President’s home state saying ‘We haven’t had his personal attention,'” Henry continued. “How do you react to that?”
Carney began by explaining the attention that the President has given to the V.A., but Henry interrupted, “They’re not buying it, Democrats are saying we need to see…”
“I’m not sure the quote you read backs up what you’re saying,” Carney said.
“Personal attention,” Henry exclaimed.
Carney then responded by explaining the steps the President has taken since he first commented publicly on the scandal, including sending Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors to Phoenix to assist in the investigation that the President ordered V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki to conduct.
Carney is correct that the quote Henry read isn’t the same thing as saying that the V.A. “doesn’t have the President’s personal attention,” but his dishonesty extends further than that. Even the exact quote he read, out of context, makes it sound as though Rep. Duckworth is less than satisfied with the President’s handling of the situation so far, but even when the Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe pressed Duckworth to call on the President to speak publicly about the situation, she wouldn’t do it:
I know you’re a fan of the president and you owe to some extent your political career to him and others from Illinois who got to know you and encouraged you to do this. But how would you assess President Obama’s handling of veterans’ issues?
[Long pause.] “I think that, it’s hard, you know, because Mrs. Obama has done so much and Mrs. Biden has done so much and I see that as part of the president’s push. I think he’s relied on Secretary Shinseki, but we could use his personal attention at this point.”
He hasn’t said enough in recent days?
“I think he’s said, but it needs to be more than a comment in the aftermath of a news story like this. I think that if [White House chief of staff] Dennis McDonough stays engaged and if the president – he’s appointed an adviser – that if that continues, we need that.”
That’s not a ringing endorsement of his veterans’ legacy.
“I think he’s done a lot. I don’t know what more he could have done. He appointed Eric Shinseki, it’s been one of the top things on the first lady and Dr. Biden’s agenda. That has been going gangbusters. I don’t know any other president who’s done more than that. But now that we have this crisis, we need more.”
So he should be out there more forcefully?
“I’m not interested in the show. I’m really not interested in the eyewash and the show. What I’m interested in, is Dennis McDonough going to stay involved and is he going to be getting that information to the president everyday? You can go out there and put on a show and have the media show up, but if you’re not going to follow through, that’s not good.
“To put your chief of staff on it is a pretty forceful thing. I hope that that remains and that stays and that the pressure stays on Secretary Shinseki to finish this audit and do it quickly so we can figure out how extensive the problem is and what we need to do to fix it. And if we need to hire some hospital directors, then we have to fire some hospital directors.”
Whatever you think of the President’s handling of the scandal so far, Rep. Duckworth is clearly not saying what Henry said she was saying. As Carney explained to reporters last week, the President spoke about the allegations when Ed Henry asked him about it in Malaysia, but with investigations underway, and no new steps to announce, as Duckworth notes, it matters much more what is being done at this point, than what’s being said. If he is going to focus on what’s being said, Ed Henry should pay closer attention, especially when it’s one of our vets doing the talking.