House Speaker John Boehner said today that he is getting "closer" to calling on Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign, but said his greater concern is that he believes the VA's inspector general lacks the capacity to investigate the agency's growing scandal.
Boehner spoke after the House Veterans Affairs committee voted unanimously to compel three senior VA officials to testify before Congress next week regarding the destruction of documents at the center of a cover up at a Phoenix VA hospital.
"I've not called for General Shinseki to resign, although I have to admit I'm getting a little closer," Boehner, R-Ohio, said at a news conference today at the Capitol. "This isn't about one person. This isn't about the secretary. It's about the entire system underneath him."
"I am not confident that the [Inspector General] has shown the interest or capacity to get to the bottom of what is a systemic failure of an entire agency," he said. "If you were a doctor and you were seeing a patient, you'd want to know to the extent of how sick that patient is before you would begin to prescribe some method of curing that."
Boehner indicated his primary concern is that replacing Shinseki could distract efforts to fix the problems at the heart of the VA, that now involves at least 26 VA facilities throughout the country.
"The general can leave and we can wait around for months to go through a nomination process and we get a new person, but the disaster continues," he said. "I don't want people to get confused about what the shiny ball is here. The shiny ball is a systemic failure of this agency."
The subpoena voted on today compels Dr. Thomas Lynch, Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs; Joan Mooney, Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs; and Michael Huff, Congressional Relations Officer, Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs to testify next Friday, May 30.
Chairman Jeff Miller told members on the panel that the trio has indicated they'll voluntarily appear next Wednesday evening, May 28, when the House returns to session after Memorial Day. If they testify voluntarily, the subpoena for testimony on May 30 will not be enforced.
The House also voted in bipartisan fashion Wednesday to approve H.R. 4031, the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act, which gives the Secretary of the VA authority to remove senior employees based on poor performance.
Boehner took issue with President Obama's statement from the White House briefing room Wednesday and asserted the White House has not been focused on accountability.
"Instead of waffling, the president should support this bill and call on Senate Democrats to pass it immediately," he said. "The president has made a lot of promises to our veterans. It's time for him to start keeping them."
Boehner said he has "heard a lot more" in the past few weeks about issues at the VA from his own constituents as a VA center in Dayton generated headlines across Ohio this month after a gunman, Neil Moore, is facing life in prison stemming from federal charges that he shot a former colleague in the ankle in a basement break room.
"The reports that continue to come are appalling, and these are men and women who served our country and we've not just let them down, we've let them die," Boehner cried. "This is awful stuff and somebody ought to be held accountable for it."