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Mr. Clean Up: White House turns the corner on VA scandal

As we've said multiple times during President Obama's second term, this is a White House that's controlled by events, rather than in control of them. Just think about the last three months of the past midterm cycle—ISIS, Ferguson, Ebola. None of those events were helpful to Democrats during the final stretch of the campaign season. But here's the other part of the story: When the White House finally puts all hands on deck, it usually fixes the problem, or at least makes it more manageable. And on this Veterans Day, one clear example of this has been the clean up over at the VA.

Here's the Washington Post from yesterday: "On the eve of Veterans Day, new Secretary of Veteran Affairs Robert McDonald said that 'the largest restructuring in the department's history is under way' and that at least 35 people are facing disciplinary action, with as many as 1,000 to follow. The action follows a nationwide scandal this summer over the thousands of veterans waiting for health care."

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Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald.
Getty Images
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald.

This also was the conclusion from Bloomberg's Josh Green on the Obama administration's crisis management. "[H]is record, even on issues where he's drawn heavy criticism, is often much better than the initial impression would lead one to believe. He may tackle crises in a way that ignores the public mood, yet things generally turn out pretty well in the end." Other examples here include the BP spill, the HealthCare.Gov debacle, even the economic recovery.

Why the VA story turned around for the White House

On the VA front specifically, the reason things (at least PERCEPTION-wise) have turned around for the White House is that they did something the president had been so hesitant to do in the past: firing the person at the top, i.e. Eric Shinseki. The president doesn't like to do political business that way. But in Washington, it's sometimes the only way to buy time and space.

More from NBC News:
VA head details 'largest' ever restructuring at Agency
Obama nominates Loretta Lynch for Attorney General
Howard Dean on MTP: 'Where the hell is the Democratic party?'

Imagine if the president had acted quicker in some of these other cases. Fair or not, feeding the Washington beast is a necessary evil of the presidency. That said, not everyone has embraced the Obama administration's VA reforms. "Secretary McDonald has spent the last few days talking to news outlets about his plans to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs, but so far that's all it has been—a lot of talk," said the Koch Brothers-backed group Concerned Veterans for America. "We are pleased that he recognizes the need for increased accountability and a greater focus on customer service, but his actions have yet to match his words. The bottom line is that VA reform efforts will never succeed if the people who created the scandal are left in place to implement them."

The challenge for the next president

Here is the challenge for all Democrats and Republicans thinking about running for president over the next two years: Much of the job—especially in today's media environment—is about reacting to any problem out there (even if you didn't cause it) and then trying to fix it. And if the opposition party wants to make life difficult for you on any of these problems, turning any event or issue into a full-blown PR disaster, it can and will. So even if you end up fixing the problem, the next one is just around the corner.

Read MoreWall Street offers veterans a foot in the door

United States now has zero known Ebola cases

And speaking of fixing problems or making them more manageable… NBC News: "Dr. Craig Spencer, the Doctors Without Borders volunteer who was infected with Ebola while treating patients in Guinea, is free of the virus and will be released Tuesday, New York City health officials say... The U.S. is now free of known Ebola cases. Only two people have been infected in the United States and the 21-day monitoring period is almost over for Spencer's contacts; it will end Thursday." It's amazing what happens when 1) there aren't any new Ebola cases in the U.S., and 2) the campaign season is over.

Obama and Putin talkfor a combined 15-20 minutes

Meanwhile, on President Obama's second full day of his trip to Asia, guess with whom he met today at the APEC conference in Beijing: Vladimir Putin. The statement from National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan: "On three occasions throughout the day, for a total of approximately 15-20 minutes, President Obama had an opportunity to speak with President Putin. Their conversations covered Iran, Syria, and Ukraine."

Obama, GOP Congress headed for clash over the environment

The New York Times covers what will be one of the big priorities of the GOP-led 114th Congress next year: standing up to the Obama administration on the environment and energy. "The new Republican Congress is headed for a clash with the White House over two ambitious Environmental Protection Agency regulations that are the heart of President Obama's climate change agenda. Senator Mitch McConnell, the next majority leader, has already vowed to fight the rules, which could curb planet-warming carbon pollution but ultimately shut down coal-fired power plants in his native Kentucky. Mr. McConnell and other Republicans are, in the meantime, stepping up their demands that the president approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to carry petroleum from Canadian oil sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast."

Isakson is running for re-election in 2016

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) will announce his bid for re-election on Monday Nov. 17, NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports. Aides say Isakson has $2.5 million in the bank, hired a campaign manager, and a full digital campaign team. Isakson is "fully appreciative for the opportunity and eager to continue his service as U.S. senator proudly serving on behalf of Georgians for another term." With the retirement of fellow Georgian Saxby Chambliss in January—Republican David Perdue won his seat last week—Isakson will become his state's senior senator.

Read More Senate's VA deal 'revolutionary:' Veterans advocate

The Unresolved Races of 2014

Per NBC's Decision Desk, seven races remain unresolved—Alaska Senate (where challenger Dan Sullivan leads Mark Begich by 8,000 votes), Alaska Governor (where indie challenger Bill Walker leads incumbent Sean Parnell by 3,000 votes), AZ-2 ((Dem incumbent Ron Barber vs. GOP challenger Martha McSally), CA-7 (Dem incumbent Ami Bera vs. challenger Doug Ose), CA-16 (Dem incumbent Jim Costa vs. GOP challenger Johnny Tacherra), CA-26 (Dem incumbent Julia Brownley vs. GOP challenger Jeff Gorell), and NY-25 (Dem incumbent Louise Slaughter vs. GOP challenger Mark Assini). In addition, three races are headed to a December runoff—Louisiana Senate, LA-5 and LA-6. And one race goes to the state legislature—Vermont Governor.