House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday said he was not prepared to call for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to be fired, even after a Wednesday report confirmed that the VA’s healthcare system in Phoenix has “systemic” problems related to long wait times for veterans.
“I’m going to continue to reserve judgment on Gen. Shinseki,” he told reporters Thursday morning.
“The question I ask myself is, 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,” he said.
Boehner has avoided calling for Shinseki’s resignation over the last few weeks, and said he feared his removal would only slow down efforts to get to the bottom of the veterans healthcare scandal.
Last week, however, Boehner said he was “getting a little closer” to calling for him to resign. Today, Boehner said blame should be laid at the feet of President Barack Obama for failing to fix a problem everyone has known about for years.
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he identified these problems in early 2013, and that VA said then it was working to fix it. Boehner said for that reason, Obama has no excuse for saying he just learned about the problems veterans are facing.
“For the President to say he didn’t know anything about it is rather shocking,” Boehner said. “The President is going to have to step up here and show some real leadership.”
Boehner’s comments reflect the growing pressure not just on Shinseki, but on Obama himself to take charge of the situation. Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) summarized the GOP’s frustration with both Obama and Shinseki in a tweet she wrote after Boehner spoke: “I don’t think VA Secretary Eri Shinseki should resign. I think he should be fired.”
Later in the morning, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) agreed that the IG report revealed a situation that is “intolerable,” and said the Justice Department needs to get involved to see if criminal charges should be brought against VA officials who tried to cover up the healthcare problems.
But she agreed with Boehner that it is not time to call for Shinseki’s removal. Pelosi said it makes sense to wait for the final IG report.
She also said that in her view, firing Shinseki would only reward the lower-level officials to hid the problem from Shinseki and others.
“Is the issue served by saying… those people did that, they kept the information from the Secretary and from the Congress. Now, let’s reward them by removing the Secretary?” she asked.
“I really do think we have to be careful about thinking that just because you remove the top person means that you’ve changed this systemic problem that exists within the organization.”
On Wednesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Inspector General released an interim report that seemed to confirm the VA has played games with healthcare wait times for veterans. The report said 1,700 veterans seeking healthcare have not yet been put on the official wait list, which means those veterans are not seen as officially waiting for a health appointment.
That report renewed Republican calls for Shinseki to resign, and prompted more than 20 Democrats in the House and Senate to join the GOP in making this call.
So far, however, the Obama administration has shown no signs that Shinseki will leave his post. On Wednesday, Shinseki released a statement saying he found the findings in the IG report to be “reprehensible,” and said the VA was working to quickly ensure the 1,700 veterans in Phoenix would quickly receive healthcare services.
On Thursday, Shinseki authored a USA Today op-ed that said he is not waiting around for the IG’s final report. He said he would ensure the IG’s final recommendations would be implemented as well.
“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,” he wrote.