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OBAMA AGENDA: The Democratic dam breaks

The latest on the VA scandal, via the Wall Street Journal, as more and more in the president's own party are calling for the resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki: "The interim report by the VA's independent inspector general focuses on the Phoenix VA Health Care System in Arizona, where wait times for patient appointments were improperly reported, but also points to widespread scheduling problems throughout the VA health-care system. 'Our reviews at more VA medical facilities…have confirmed that inappropriate scheduling practices are systemic,' the report said. The inspector general said it had identified potential criminal and civil violations, and is coordinating efforts with the Justice Department."

Among the Democratic lawmakers calling for Shinseki's ouster so far: Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, Sen. John Walsh of Montana, Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Rep. Bruce Braley of Iowa and Rep. Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire.

In a wide-ranging foreign policy interview with NPR, Obama spoke about the political crisis in Ukraine, his plans for Syria, and what his legacy on world affairs may be. The full transcript is here.

The New York Times analysis on Obama's argument that the United States should not be unilaterally dragged into conflicts abroad: "To his critics, mainly on the right but also some on the left, this is a prescription for passivity, an abrogation of decades of bipartisan leadership on the world stage. Stung and irritated, Mr. Obama used his commencement address to West Point cadets on Wednesday to mount a sustained rebuttal and to define an approach to foreign policy that he believes is suited to a new era and that he hopes will outlast his presidency."

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon notes that the phrase "conditions on the ground" were absent from Obama's speech.

Also on the agenda today, per the AP: "At the White House on Thursday, Obama was hosting a summit with representatives of professional sports leagues, coaches, parents, young athletes, researchers and others to call attention to the issue of youth sports concussions."

What will drive the conversation next week: "President Obama will use his executive authority to cut carbon emissions from the nation’s coal-fired power plants by up to 20 percent, according to people familiar with his plans, and will force industry to pay for the pollution it creates through cap-and-trade programs across the country," the New York Times writes.

Michelle Obama rebuts critics of her Let's Move! initiative in a New York Times op-ed.

OFF TO THE RACES: DCCC reserves $44 million

The DCCC has reserved $44 million in advertising requests in 36 contested districts, the Associated Press writes.

Republicans who want to overhaul the Obama health care system with a GOP twist could face a political backlash akin to the criticism Sen. John McCain faced during the 2008 campaign, the Wall Street Journal writes.

IOWA: The Des Moines Register profiles top Joni Ernst rival Mark Jacobs as the GOP Senate primary race enters its final days.

KENTUCKY: The Herald-Leader rips into McConnell for trying to decouple the Obama health law and Kentucky's (popular) exchange, Kynect. "Nothing could be more connected — or should be more important to Kentucky's senior senator — than the fates of the more than 400,000 Kentuckians who are getting health insurance, many for the first time, and the federal Affordable Care Act, which is making that possible."

The Washington Post looks at the claim as well: "Given the popularity of the state exchange, McConnell appears to want to offer out hope it would continue even in the unlikely case the law was actually repealed. That’s likely not a tenable position, and we will pay close attention to McConnell’s phrasing on this issue in the future."

MISSISSIPPI: The New York Times talks to ethics and campaign finance experts about allegations that Sen. Thad Cochran has shown too much favoritism to aide Kay Webber. "Cochran campaign officials say there is nothing unusual about the senator’s connections to his aide, who, like Mr. Cochran, is 76 and has worked on Capitol Hill since the 1970s. Ms. Webber’s travel with the senator is “strictly professional” and “is perfectly appropriate as a senior staff member,” said Jordan Russell, a spokesman for the Cochran campaign. The senator declined to be interviewed."

The Clarion-Ledger says Tea Party leaders in the state are eager to move away from the photo scandal that's rocked the state's contested primary.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is up with a new upbeat ad that features New Hampshire residents talking up her accomplishments.

PENNSYLVANIA: Rep. Charlie Dent became the latest of a few GOP members of Congress to support gay marriage. "The American public’s views on this issue have shifted. So have mine," Dent said, per the Philly Inquirer. "Life is too short to have the force of government stand in the way of two adults whose pursuit of happiness includes marriage."

SOUTH CAROLINA: Lindsey Graham challenger Richard Cash is up with a new ad that slams the incumbent Republican for "increasing our national debt to $17 trillion, or confirming Obama's radical pro-choice judges, or pushing amnesty for illegal immigrants."

TEXAS: Why is the Tea Party thriving in Texas while it languishes in other states? Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News writes: “Texas is not Nevada, Delaware or Indiana, where tea party candidates with baggage can lose a general election. A bad candidate or a bad idea can cost a political party dearly in many states. In California, Gov. Pete Wilson’s embrace of a conservative-led, anti-immigration initiative in 1994 damaged the GOP for years. But in Texas, among Republicans at the moment, there’s no penalty for picking the “wrong” nominee. The last time Democrats won statewide office was 1994.”

PROGRAMMING NOTES.

*** Thursday’s “The Daily Rundown” line-up: NBC’s Chuck Todd interviews the Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), the National Whistleblowers Center’s Stephen Kohn, American University’s Dante Chinni, Time Magazine’s Bobby Ghosh and NBC’s Richard Engel.

*** Thursday’s “News Nation with Tamron Hall” line-up: Tamron Hall interviews Fmr Rep Patrick Murphy and Washington Post’s Dana Milbank on the VA scandal; Fmr. NY Giant & hall of famer Harry Carson & Washington Post Sports blogger Cindy Boren on President Obama’s speech on youth sports safety and concussions; Rep. Karen Bass & Toni Washington for today’s congressional “Foster Shadow Day” ; Maternity guru Rosie Pope on the military mom charity “Red, White & Babies” ; and Steven Fogel on whether smartphones are stealing your personality.

*** Thursday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up: NBC’s Andrea Mitchell interviews Fmr. Rep. Jane Harman, Fmr. Chief of Staff to Secretary of Defense Jeremy Bash, NBC Counterterrorism Analyst Michael Leiter, IAVA’s Tom Tarantino, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, NBC’s Chuck Todd, Pete Williams, Richard Engel and Bob Costas.

*** Thursday’s “The Reid Report” line-up: MSNBC’s Joy Reid interviews The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates on his article “The Case for Reparations”. Plus: The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky and Salon.com’s Joan Walsh talk about Republicans and Obamacare.

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