Calls for Eric Shinseki’s resignation grow among Republicans, Democrats

Updated 4:37 p.m.

Three senior Republican lawmakers and two Democratic senators running for reelection for the first time Wednesday called on Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki to resign following the release of a new report confirming allegations about wait times at a veterans facility in Phoenix, a signal that more members of both political parties are likely to follow suit in coming days.

In rapid succession, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.), Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- a leading GOP voice on military and foreign affairs -- and Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and John Walsh (D-Mont.) called on Shinseki to step down just hours after the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General released a report confirming some allegations that have rocked the beleaguered department in recent weeks.

The report said 1,700 veterans using a Phoenix VA hospital were kept on unofficial wait lists, adding that “these veterans were and continue to be at risk of being forgotten or lost in Phoenix HCS’s convoluted scheduling process."

In a statement, Miller called Shinseki "a good man who has served his country honorably." But Miller said that the secretary "has failed to get VA’s health care system in order despite repeated and frequent warnings from Congress, the Government Accountability Office and the IG. What’s worse, to this day, Shinseki – in both word and deed – appears completely oblivious to the severity of the health care challenges facing the department."

Miller's comments came just hours before the committee was scheduled to hear testimony from VA officials about the controversy. Three senior officials are set to testify during a rare evening hearing at 7:30 p.m.

McCain weighed in later, during an appearance on CNN. "I haven't said this before, but I think it's time for General Shinseki to move on," McCain said. The senator sounded reluctant to be calling on his fellow Vietnam War veteran to leave, but added that he believes the situation in Phoenix likely exists across much of the sprawling department.

Later, McCain's home state colleague, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), joined him in calling for Shinseki to go. Flake added that if Shinseki doesn't resign, Obama should ask for his resignation.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) also called for Shinseki’s resignation. "It would be best if General Shinseki stepped down as Secretary, both as an example for other VA leaders and to lay the groundwork for new leadership to meet with success,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Udall and Walsh became the first incumbent Democratic senators facing reelection this year to call on Shinseki to resign:

"In light of IG report & systemic issues at @DeptVetAffairs, Sec. Shinseki must step down," Udall said via Twitter.

And Walsh said in a statement, "It is time for President Obama to remove Secretary Shinseki from office. Montana's and America's veterans deserve an immediate end to the troubles plaguing the VA, and we must take urgent steps to secure the care they deserve."

Miller, McCain and others also joined a growing list of lawmakers in both parties who are asking the Justice Department to launch a formal criminal investigation. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.) took a different approach, suggesting in a letter to Shinseki that the VA consent to "an outside, independent audit of the VA in addition to expediting the agency’s internal review that is currently underway."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who leads the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, called the inspector general's findings "unacceptable" but didn't call for Shinseki to step down. Instead, he urged Shinseki to review whether the department's goal of seeing patients within 14 days of a request is realistic. "The VA must determine what new staffing may be needed at VA hospitals in parts of the country where there have been significant increases in patient loads," Sanders said in a statement.

But several members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee called on Shinseki to leave or make immediate changes.

"Heads must roll over this scandal," said Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), a member of the committee. "Secretary Shinseki should use the powers we gave him in the VA Accountability Act to fire hospital directors and others responsible for these failures. Additionally, he should recall bonuses paid out to anyone responsible for secret waiting list hospitals. If the Secretary knew about any of these atrocities, he should resign."

Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) in a statement said that "with a heavy heart" he was calling on Shinseki to leave office. "Our veterans deserve better and we must work to make sure fundamental changes are made to the way we care for and treat the men and women that have served this country," he said.

That outrage was echoed by other GOP members of the veterans committee, who responded to questions from The Washington Post on Tuesday and Wednesday. Democratic members of the panel, however, have responded by saying that the situation requires further investigation and accountability, but have stopped short of calling for Shinseki to go.

"Our veterans deserve a thorough investigation, not rash decisions," said Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) in a statement provided to The Post. "Congress must be swift, but fair, to ensure that all those at the VA are working to provide the best services possible for our nation’s heroes. And if they aren’t, they need to go.

Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) said "I’m determined to follow the facts, and let them dictate the actions that need to be taken, and those who need to be held accountable. The most important and only criteria I’m using to determine how to proceed is to do what is best for our veterans. Period."

Several other members of the veterans panel -- including Reps. Mark Tokano (D-Calif.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.) -- gave similar statements.

And Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a key lieutenant of House Democratic leaders, said via Twitter that the VA "should IMMEDIATELY implement all 4 recommendations" in the IG's report.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report incorrectly suggested that House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had called for Shinseki's resignation for the first time Wednesday. McCarthy first did so last week.

Wesley Lowery covers Capitol Hill for The Fix and Post Politics.
Ed O’Keefe is a congressional reporter with The Washington Post and covered the 2008 and 2012 presidential and congressional elections.
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