Beltway Insider: Obama Heads to G7; VA Scandal Widens; Ukraine Post Election Fighting; Carney Resigns

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President Obama lost two key members of his staff this week, with the resignations of his long time confident and advisor, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and due to the ever expanding Veterans Administration scandal VA Secretary Ric Shinseki.


According to Gallup, President Obama's job approval, over the past week increased two percentage points to 44% of those polled who approve of his effectiveness as President and those who disapprove of his effectiveness as President decreased two percentage points to 52%. 

Obama Travels to Poland, Belgium and France; Attending G7 Summit

 President Barack Obama begins his travels to Eastern Europe to initiate a week of meetings with European partners and allies that conclude with the G7 Summit, the annual meeting of the leaders of the seven top global economies in Belgium, Brussels.

With the G7 Summit moving to Eastern Europe, the President has taken the opportunity to hold bi-laterals, which will include an expanded mini-summit with eastern and central European nations, which will serve to reaffirm the United States' commitment to maintaining a free Europe.

In the height of the pre-election Ukraine crisis, the President and his team along with European allies decided to hold a minor summit with Central and Eastern European nations, all of which are European Union members, and part of the expanded U.S. - Polish alliance.

 "The United States and Poland will host a meeting of our broader Eastern and Central European allies.  The President has done this on a couple of occasions earlier in his presidency.  And given the focus on reassuring and consulting with our Central and Eastern European allies, we determined with the Poles that it would be good to host this meeting in Warsaw.  This will include the United States and Poland, as well as Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and of course, the United States and Poland are co-hosting that meeting," said Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications.

The agenda, originally slated during the Russia occupation of Ukraine, was created to serve as a clear and defined boundary and warning to the USSR that Eastern European aggression will not be tolerated, as no nation was privy to Russia's intent, and the United States and the world will stand with all partners and allies to ensure the respect of sovereign territorial boundaries of these smaller nations.

Additional issues including energy dependency, climate changes and situations unique to the world's top seven economies and in essence, through trickle down, those smaller nations with whom partnerships are cemented will be addressed throughout the three day summit.

"Frankly, the Ukraine crisis has brought into sharp focus Europe's energy dependence on Russia, so we are going to work closely with our European allies on the importance of both short- and long-term efforts to diversify their energy sources, to modernize their infrastructure, and to limit Russia's ability to use energy as a tool of political leverage.  And so I'd expect those conversations to take place both in Poland at the meeting of the Central and Eastern European nations and at the G7 where there will be a discussion of specific steps that can strengthen both individual and collective energy security," Rhodes said.

The European trip will also commemorate two significant events in history. During the visit to Poland, the President will mark the 25th Anniversary of Solidarity, the movement that ushered in the first free Polish elections and advanced democracy in the region.

The trip also coincides with the 70th Anniversary of D-Day and the largest allied amphibious invasion of World War II as troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, which resulted in the allies effectively gaining a foothold on German occupied Eastern Europe that became a turning point in Hitler's control culminating in the Pacific with the dropping of the Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which ended WW II.

Obama, Putin, The G7 and Poroshenko

Russian President Vladimir Putin, still under expulsion from the G7 is expected to attend Freedom Day ceremonies and the Leader's lunch.

There are no bi-laterals or other meetings planned between President Obama and Putin. Following the continued occupation of Ukraine and the subsequent post election eruption of violence from, what has been called, Russian funded separatists, the United States and other member nations are less likely to initiate involvement or even acknowledge the embattled president.  

President Obama will also be meeting with Ukraine's President-elect Petro Poroshenko to reiterate continued support of the United States, assistance to the people of the Ukraine as they face post election challenges and the long term partnership plans between the nations.

"We have a broad agenda to work with them; to stabilize the economy; to provide significant assistance as they seek to reestablish stability and growth within Ukraine; and also, of course, to support their efforts to reduce tensions to pursue dialogue and unity within Ukraine; and also to work with the European allies, with Russia, and above all with the government of Ukraine to facilitate dialogue to reduce the tensions within Ukraine," Rhodes said.

The leaders of the G7 have also made it imperatively clear, and although they each deal with Russia individually, as a governing body the G7, has stressed and agreed Russia and Putin or any designated leader is not welcome nor invited to attend the summit.  The only opportunity presented to the Russians at this time is the total withdrawal of troops to pre-occupation levels or face the continued isolation and sanctions.

"So that's the choice that continues to be before the Russians.  The Ukrainian people have made their choices, and it's clear that their new government wants to move forward in terms of unifying the country and pursuing good relations with the United States and Europe, but also, as indicated, a willingness to engage in dialogue and constructive relations with Russia," said Rhodes.


Ukraine Erupts in Post Election Fighting

Ukrainians are still reeling from the historic democratic election that steered their future toward a new emerging westernized Ukraine and distancing them from the old Soviet guard.

Unfortunately, the post script calm that was anticipated and even pledge from Russian President Putin, who indicate he would honor the election results, has not arrived.

"We see these separatists in the east and the south who we believe enjoy the support of the Russian government continuing their efforts to commit acts of violence and to destabilize Ukraine.  So we believe Russia needs to use its influence on those separatists to calm tensions, to put an end to this violence, and to engage in a dialogue with the newly elected government of Ukraine," Rhodes said.

The pre-election restraint shown by the Ukrainians have ended and with new, and allied friendly, leadership, violence that was met with minor retaliatory actions have  increased to dispose of the Russian backed separatists who have attempted to take over towns along the eastern Ukraine border.

VA Scandal Widens

Veterans Administration Secretary Ric Shinseki tendered his resignation this week as the increasing investigation into allegations of widespread mismanagement that led to hundreds of deaths at VA hospitals around the country has begun to take its toll.

Recommendations brought to President Obama, after he allowed an internal investigation did not hide the facts that pervasive unprofessional conduct was prevalent across many hospitals. Patients were left unattended, denied care, held to unreasonable wait times and subsequently passed away and these actions and records were then covered up.

In his last actions, Secretary Shinseki has initiated the termination process of as many people as are responsible, including senior leaders at the Phoenix VA.  Any possible performance bonuses for this year have been cancelled for VHA senior executives.  He ordered the VA to personally contact every veteran in Phoenix waiting for appointments to get them the care that they need and that they deserve.

"For now, the leader that will help move us forward is Sloan Gibson, who will take on the reins as Acting Secretary.  Sloan became Deputy Secretary at the VA just three months ago, but he, too, has devoted his life to serving our country and our veterans, "the President said.

Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary, Resigns

Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary, has tendered his resignation to the President Obama who with reservation accepted.

"In April, Jay came to me in the Oval Office and said he was thinking about moving on and I was not thrilled, to say the least.  But Jay has had to wrestle with this decision for quite some time," the President said

Carney, a former reporter for 21 years with Time Magazine, a foreign policy expert, serving in Russia during the collapse of the Soviet Empire, has served the Obama Administration for more than five years and explained the demands have taken a toll on his personal and family life.

"Jay has become one of my closest friends, and is a great Press Secretary and a great advisor.  He's got good judgment.  He has a good temperament.  And he's got a good heart.  And I'm going to miss him a lot.  I will continue to rely on him as a friend and advisor after he leaves," Obama said.

Echoing the President's sentiment, Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, said, "We are very sad that Jay Carney will be leaving us.  He's been a tremendous friend and colleague to all of us who work here in the White House the last five years.  We're sorry that he is leaving us and won't be on this upcoming trip.  But we've enjoyed so much working with him, learning from him, and getting his perspective not just as a Press Secretary but as a former journalist and foreign correspondent himself."

Carney has come under fire recently for his media stonewalling tactics in the recent Veterans Administrative scandal as well as the Benghazi Terror Attack.  He plans to leave his post in two weeks and will not be accompanying the President to Europe. The duties for the upcoming summit will be passed to the newly appointed Press Secretary also named by the President during the announcement of Carney's departure.

 "Of course, I had to make a decision on who will succeed Jay.  We've got enormous talent around here, but I've decided that we're going to put in this slot somebody who is also a friend and advisor.  So today, the flak jacket is officially passed to a new generation Mr. Josh Earnest," President Obama said.

Josh Earnest, whose current title is White House Special Assistant to the President, Principal Deputy Press Secretary and Chief of Staff, will begin his official duties traveling with the President to the G7 Summit, moved from Sochi Russia to Belgium Brussels.

"People, more often than not, say to me, you have the hardest job, or you have one of the hardest jobs.  And I'm not saying it's easy every day, but I love it.  It's an important interaction that takes place here.  It's not always pretty; it could certainly be better.  But to be a part of it is an honor and a joy for me.  And no matter how tough the briefing is, I walk out of here having been glad to stand here," Carney said.


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