House Speaker John Boehner declined to join the growing calls for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki on Thursday, a day after a damning watchdog report found that problems racking the agency were widespread and had been identified four years ago.
“I’m going to continue to reserve judgment on General Shinseki,” Boehner said at a news conference. “The question I ask myself is him resigning going to get us to the bottom of the problem? Is it going to help us find out what’s really going on? And the answer I keep getting is no. The real issue here is that the President is the one who should be held accountable. ... For the President to say that he didn’t know anything about it is rather shocking. The President is going to have to step up here.”
The House overwhelmingly passed a bill last week that would give the VA Secretary greater authority to fire or demote senior executives for perceived performance problems, amid a burgeoning scandal over secret wait lists and long backlogs for veterans to get benefits.
The VA inspector general report on Wednesday found systemic problems at Veterans Affairs health care facilities, including the loss of some 1,700 veterans from the official wait list at clinics in Phoenix, Ariz. Several Democrats facing reelection, including Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mark Udall of Colorado, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, and Reps. Bruce Braley of Iowa and Gary Peters of Michigan, have called for Shinseki's resignation. An outside conservative group has already begun airing an ad against Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who is also running for reelection, about the VA scandal.
Obama has so far resisted calls for Shineski's resignation. Shinseki defended himself in a USA Today op-ed on Thursday.
"We are doing all we can to accelerate access to care throughout our system and in communities where veterans reside," Shinseki wrote. "I've challenged our leadership to ensure we are doing everything possible to schedule veterans for their appointments. We, at the Department of Veterans Affairs, are redoubling our efforts, with commitment and compassion, to restore integrity to our processes to earn veterans' trust."