White House backing away from Eric Shinseki

His resignation is demanded by 100 lawmakers

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President Obama’s faith in Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki appeared to be waning Thursday after a scathing report revealed cover-ups and poor care within the VA health system, and more than 100 lawmakers — including many politically vulnerable Democrats — have demanded the secretary’s resignation.

White House press secretary Jay Carney refused to express faith in Mr. Shinseki, instead telling reporters Mr. Obama is anxiously awaiting results of an internal VA audit due early next month that will give a sense for how widespread the problems are at the embattled department.


SEE ALSO: Nancy Pelosi is adamant: Firing Shinseki is ‘easy’ way out of VA mess


“When he receives the internal audit, he’ll be able to evaluate those findings,” Mr. Carney told reporters at the White House, backing away from previous expressions of support. “I’m just not going to speculate more about personnel.”

Asked specifically whether Mr. Obama has confidence in Mr. Shinseki in light of the new findings about the expanded scope of the scandal, the president’s spokesman retreated to comments that Mr. Obama made a week ago about his embattled Cabinet member.

A preliminary inspector general’s report released Wednesday found that at least 1,700 veterans had never been placed on the electronic wait list at a Phoenix VA facility and had experienced delays in care. The report substantiated many of the allegations that surfaced last month about the Phoenix VA, including that wait time stretched to more than 100 days and some patients never got to see a doctor.

The report also found scheduling schemes and manipulation of data at other VA facilities, 42 of which are currently under investigation.

While leaders on Capitol Hill have mostly reserved judgment on the fate of Mr. Shinseki’s career, rank-and-file lawmakers on both sides of the aisle jumped to call for his resignation after the report was released. Of the more than 100 lawmakers calling for him to step down, more than 30 are Democrats as of Thursday afternoon, according to a count by the Military Times.

Most are facing tough re-election bids in November, but Sen. Martin Heinrich, New Mexico Democrat, became the first Senate Democrat not up for re-election this year to call for the secretary’s resignation.

“I have a mountain of respect for what General Shinseki has done in service to our country, but our nation’s veterans deserve nothing less than the very best service our nation has to offer,” Mr. Heinrich wrote.

Other Democratic senators calling for Mr. Shinseki to step down are: Al Franken of Minnesota; Kay R. Hagan of North Carolina; Tim Kaine of Virginia; Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana; Jeff Merkley of Oregon; Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire; Mark Udall of Colorado; Tom Udall of New Mexico; John E. Walsh of Montana; and Mark R. Warner of Virginia.

House leaders, however, said lawmakers should focus not on firings, but on getting to the bottom of systemic scheduling problems at VA facilities, even as rank-and-file members called for the head of the department to step down.

House Speaker John A. Boehner instead asked why calls for accountability equaled calls for resignation when removing Mr. Shinseki would not fix deep-rooted problems at facilities across the country.

“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?” the Ohio Republican told reporters. “And the answer I keep getting is no.”

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, called this week’s interim report “intolerable,” but echoed Mr. Boehner’s sentiment that removing one person won’t fix problems that existed before he even took office and that firing him would actually reward those who misled him.

“I really do think we have to be careful about thinking that just because you remove the top person means that you’ve changed the systemic problem that exists in the organization 10 years before Shinseki, or five years at least before Shinseki became the secretary,” she said.

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