When the federal government screws up, a common response is to demand the resignation of the Cabinet secretary of the agency that blundered.
But as congressional Republicans intensified their cries for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to step down this week, it seems the “off with their head” outcry is more about posturing than expecting an actual result. At this point, so many high-level officials in President Obama’s administration have been asked to step aside that the force of the demand is reduced to a base-pleasing sound bite.
Shinseki joins the ranks of secretaries Kathleen Sebelius, Timothy Geithner, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Eric Holder, Steven Chu, Janet Napolitano and Leon Panetta, as well as Susan Rice, who all at one point in their tenure were called on to resign by one Republican or many. And while some did eventually do so, it’s not because Republicans asked them to. Several had been there since the first term and, as commonly happens in the second term, it was time to move on.
To be sure, demands that officials resign aren’t unique to the Obama administration. Democrats, for example, were adamant that President George W. Bush’s Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resign over the Iraq War.
John Hudak, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, concurred that it’s largely an attention-grabbing technique to feign influence. “It’s something that makes a statement, gets your name in the paper,” Hudak said.
So, the Loop put together this list of the Obama Cabinet officials Republicans have wanted to resign, and why. You might call it a trip down GOP-outrage memory lane.
1. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) sounded the call, and Senate Minority Leader John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and others quickly followed this week after news that an Arizona VA hospital’s fabricated wait list resulted in veterans’ deaths. The tragic news adds to a long list of problems with VA accounting and bureaucracy.
2. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
The demands for Sebelius to resign reached a fever pitch after the botched rollout of Obamacare. Republicans wrote a letter to Obama saying he should “relieve” her. Some Republicans had called for her departure long before the HealthCare.gov technology failure: over her support for contraceptive coverage under Obamacare; and for violating the Hatch Act, a federal law that limits political activity by government employees, by telling an audience to reelect Obama.
3. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner
From the early days of the Obama administration, as the economy crawled through its recovery, Republicans called for Geithner to resign. At several times throughout his tenure — when Standard & Poor’s downgraded the nation’s credit rating, the AIG bonus payments, and the slow growth of the economy in general — Geithner, who would have gladly stepped aside had Obama let him, was constantly in Republican crosshairs.
4. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Clinton was planning to leave after Obama’s first term regardless, so when the Benghazi terrorist attacks occurred Sept. 11, 2012, calls for her resignation would have been redundant. Yet some Republicans believed that she should have resigned immediately, blaming her for the failure to secure the U.S. compound in Libya. A year and a half later, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said on CNN, “she should have resigned and accepted blame for it.”
5. Secretary of State John Kerry
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) went on the Senate floor last month to call for Kerry’s resignation after the United States’ top diplomat was taped saying Israel could become an “apartheid” state. “Sadly, it is my belief that Secretary Kerry has proven himself unsuitable for the position he holds,” Cruz said.
6. Attorney General Eric Holder
Like Geithner, Holder has been called on to resign many times over the past several years. In 2011, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said Holder should resign for suggesting that Guantanamo Bay prisoners be tried in a civilian court. Most Republicans wanted Holder gone after the Fast and the Furious operation investigation. And he was also called upon to resign after news that his agency secretly obtained reporters’ phone records. The House held Holder in contempt of Congress in June 2012 for failing to provide documents on the Mexican gun-running operation. Some Republicans now want him impeached.
7. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu
In 2011, after the taxpayer bailout of the failed Solyndra solar energy company came to light, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), who chaired the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee investigating the scandal, claimed he had the votes to call on Chu to resign. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012 also called for Chu, as well as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, to resign “over rising energy prices.”
8. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano
At least one Republican, Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) wanted Napolitano to resign after the attempted Christmas Day airline bombing in 2009. Burton said she should step down or the Obama administration replace her with “someone competent and able to protect the lives of the American people.”
9. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
Though he was not a member of Congress, GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich had Panetta on his list of Obama officials who should resign. Panetta’s offense was that he suggested that the U.S. get international permission before intervening in Syria. “If he believes that, he should resign tonight,” Gingrich said. Gingrich also wanted Holder, Chu, Salazar and others to be replaced.
10. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice
After Rice went on Sunday talk shows and said the attacks in Benghazi were spurred by outrage over an anti-Muslim video, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said she should step down because she misled the American people. The intense criticism of Rice kept her from getting the secretary of state job, and instead Obama appointed her head of his National Security Council.