GOP Piles on Hillary Clinton Over VA Remark

Clinton campaign fires back at a demand that she apologize.

MANCHESTER, N.H.— -- Hillary Clinton’s campaign today defended her recent characterization of the Veterans Affairs hospital controversy, accusing Republicans of trying to "exploit the scandal" by going after the Democratic presidential front-runner for comments she made recently about issues with veterans care.

Clinton said last week the problems the V.A. is facing have “not been as widespread as it has been made out to be,” which Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., today in a conference call described as “very offensive to not only all veterans but all Americans,” demanding that she apologize.

“I don’t know what Hillary Clinton’s view of what widespread is but the facts are stubborn things,” McCain said, citing statistics of veterans who have had extended wait times and even died waiting for care. ”If that’s not quote ‘widespread,’ I would like to know what Hillary Clinton’s definition of widespread is.”

But Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement today, "At this point, Republicans are trying to exploit the scandal to try to score partisan points and push an ideological agenda to privatize the V.A.

“Hillary Clinton has said repeatedly that the systemic problem of excessive wait times at the V.A. is an outrage, but she refuses to believe the V.A. is beyond fixing. Republicans are trying to suggest the only solution to the VA's problems is to privatize it, but Hillary Clinton will not apologize for insisting on doing the hard work to reform the V.A., rather than ending it altogether."

The scandal erupted last year with revelations that veterans died waiting for care at V.A. hospitals. The scandal began at a Phoenix-area hospital and, eventually, led to the resignation of V.A. Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Over the past few days, Clinton has come under fire for the remark she made during her interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last week.

"It's not been as widespread as it has been made out to be," Clinton said about the VA scandal. "Now, I do think that some of the reforms that were adopted last year should be given a chance to work. If there is a waiting period that is just unacceptable, you should be able to, in a sense, get the opportunity to go out, have a private physician take care of you, but at the cost of the V.A."

Jeb Bush also pounced, saying she was "insulting" veterans.

"It is outrageous to suggest that this doesn't need to be cleaned up," he said.

Clinton is expected to roll out her V.A. reform plan next month.