Dole and Some Dems Rethink Support for VA’s Shinseki
Policy + Politics

Dole and Some Dems Rethink Support for VA’s Shinseki

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Early this week, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS) stood by Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, even while calling for a “shakeup” at the VA in response to reports of misconduct and mismanagement at the department. At least 40 veterans died while waiting for care.

Dole, a highly decorated and long revered World War II combat veteran, momentarily looked like a bulwark against calls for Shinseki’s firing by the head of the American Legion and a small handful of Republicans. President Obama on Wednesday quickly doused speculation that Shinseki was on his way out – at least for now – pending the findings of an inspector general’s investigation.

Related: Poor Performers at the VA Can Be Fired, Says House

But now the 90-year-old Dole is having second thoughts – and that could spell bad news for Shinseki heading into the Memorial Day weekend. In an interview with USA Today, Dole said he was having “mixed feelings” about whether the VA secretary should go.

“He should stay until the White House gets this investigative report that they're doing, until we get the facts, and you see what you can lay at his feet and what his response has been,” Dole said. He went on to say that "If the facts reveal that he neglected his duties, then he should go."

A number of Democrats in high-profile election races have called for Shinseki to resign, including Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is looking to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Michelle Nunn, a Senate candidate from Georgia. But if Shinseki loses the solid backing of Dole - a former Republican presidential nominee and icon of American veterans who introduced Shinseki at his Senate confirmation hearing in January 2009 – then he’s likely to lose his job, too.

Dole overcame massive injuries during World War II to rise to power in the Senate and he is among the nation’s foremost advocates for veterans and military families. He co-chaired a commission under President George W. Bush that investigated care for returning veterans, while his wife, former Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, is active in assisting disabled veterans.

Related: Obama Sticks to Scandal Playbook in VA Mess

Shinseki, a retired Army general, served two tours of duty in Vietnam and earned a Purple Heart after losing part of his right foot. His five and a half years at the helm of the VA have come under fire following reports last month about the deaths of dozens of veterans waiting for treatment at a Phoenix hospital where officials allegedly kept separate record books to hide the problems.

He signaled to reporters on Thursday that he intended to try to ride out the scandal, according to The Washington Post. “I came here to do one thing, which is to take care of veterans and families,” he said. “We’ve run hard for five years. I think we have good things to show for it.”

Yet pressure continues to mount for his ouster.

Related: Neglect and Delay May Not Have Caused VA Deaths

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California, the third ranking Republican in the chamber, on Thursday urged Shinseki to resign, saying in a prepared statement that the Veterans Affairs Department has become a "national embarrassment."

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), meanwhile, also indicated he was moving toward calling for a change.

“I’ve not called for General Shinseki to resign, although I have to admit I’m getting a little closer,” Boehner said at a news conference at the Capitol. “This isn’t about one person. This isn’t about the secretary. It’s about the entire system underneath him.”

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