Senate Republican leaders called for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign on Tuesday in the wake of the medical center scandal in Arizona.
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) called for Shinseki to step down shortly after Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) gave a floor speech demanding he resign, as Republicans quickly ramped up pressure on the embattled VA secretary.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stopped short of calling for Shinseki’s resignation outright, but said “a change in leadership might be a step in the right direction.”
Cornyn said it was time for Shinseki’s tenure to come to an end as the VA was suffering from a “failure of leadership and incompetence.”
“Veterans are being denied the health care and services they have earned,” he said.
The resignation calls come less than 24 hours after the American Legion announced that it wanted Shinseki gone from the VA following the Phoenix scandal, in which VA officials are alleged to have falsified waiting lists and more than three-dozen veterans died waiting for care. Shinseki is also facing criticism for other problems with medical care, as well as the disability claims backlog.
While lawmakers have previously called for accountability at the VA over the backlog, the deaths in Arizona have put several lawmakers over the edge.
Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), the top Republican on the Veterans Affairs Committee, told POLITICO Tuesday that he also thinks it’s time for Shinseki to go.
“With all the problems the VA has had over the last several years, it’s time for new leadership,” said Burr. “I have no hope you can accomplish any changes with the current regime.”
Even some Democrats are weighing Shinseki’s future.
“I’m looking at it and I’m trying to figure out what is going to be the best for veterans. It shouldn’t be about a political scalp. It should be: How are we going to improve care for veterans,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told POLITICO. “It may be that him going is the way to do that, but it may be that there are other ways that could change things that would have more dramatic impact than going through a who knows how long confirmation battle and not having any leadership at the agency for a while.”
But the growing Republican calls for Shinseki’s resignation risk opening a rift in the party as the VA secretary has backing of several senior GOP defense hawks.
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) say they want to see the results of an inspector general investigation before they’d call for Shinseki’s resignation.
“Obviously we’re very unhappy, and the investigation needs to go on, but let us get through this investigation,” McCain told reporters Tuesday.
Armed Services ranking member Jim Inhofe said that he backed Shinseki.
“I’ve been working Gen. Shinseki for many years. He’s made great sacrifices for his country, including loss of limb. So I’m not about to call for resignation,” Inhofe said.
Shinseki is the latest member of President Obama’s Cabinet to face Republican resignation calls. Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called on Secretary of State John Kerry to resign over comments about Israel. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) wanted former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to step down last year amidst the botched the healthcare rollout. And Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) called for Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation in 2012 over Fast and Furious.
Inhofe said that the tactic doesn’t typically yield results.
“I’ve never seen it work yet,” he said. “I’ve only been around 20 years.”
In the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has criticized the VA over the Phoenix scandal, but he is not calling for the VA secretary’s resignation.
Many Senate Democrats are also still backing Shinseki.
“I know the feelings are strong on it, and that’s one way to express feelings, but I don’t favor it,” said Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that Shinseki is “a fine man.”
“The issue that came up in Phoenix, these are allegations,” Reid said.
The White House said Tuesday that Obama remains confident in the secretary.
“The president remains confident in Secretary Shinseki’s ability to lead to the department and take appropriate action based on the IG’s findings,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney.
The VA said it is taking the allegations in Phoenix seriously.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs takes any allegations about patient care or employee misconduct very seriously,” VA spokesman Drew Brookie. “If the VA Office of Inspector General’s investigation substantiates allegations of employee misconduct, swift and appropriate action will be taken.”