Gee, two meetings with the boss in two weeks? Not bad for a Cabinet Secretary whose last face time with the President had been almost two years earlier. It’s amazing the kind of attention that a scandal can bring. Once again, the Commander in Chief has summoned his embattled subordinate for another unscheduled meeting:
President Barack Obama is summoning VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to the White House Friday morning.
The meeting comes amid mounting calls for the embattled Shinseki to resign. There are widespread allegations of treatment delays at VA hospitals around the country. Shinseki is expected to give the president an update on a review he has been conducting.
Last week, Barack Obama had the perfect set-up to dismiss Shinseki. The scandal had made it clear that Shinseki had little knowledge and even less control over the VA despite years of bragging about improvements, and despite massive growth in the VA budget (78% over six budget cycles, and $235 billion in additions over the FY2008 baseline.) Instead of asking for Shinseki’s resignation, though, Obama kept him on board and extolled Shinseki’s qualities, although pointedly not his work.
One might expect something else from the do-over. However, Shinseki spent the early part of the morning apologizing to the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans, and admitting that the problems at the VA are “systemic”:
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki apologized Friday for what he called “irresponsible and unacceptable” practices at VA health care facilities and announced that he has started the process of firing leadership at the Phoenix facility at the epicenter of the scandal.
‘Given the facts I now know, I apologize as the senior leader of the Department of Veterans Affairs,” he said at a meeting of the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans in Washington D.C.
“I cannot explain the lack of integrity among some of the leaders of our health care facilities,” he said. “This is something I rarely encountered during 38 years in uniform. And so I will not defend it, because it is indefensible, but I can take responsibility for it and I do.”
President Barack Obama is set to meet with Shinseki at 10:15 a.m. ET Friday “to receive an update on the situation at the Department of Veterans Affairs.”
Last night, Obama let it be known that he wanted to have a “serious conversation” with Shinseki about whether he was the right man to reform the organization that, er, he’s led for the past five and a half years:
President Obama said he will have a “serious conversation” with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki about whether he’s the right person to address the veterans’ care crisis.
The comment, made during an interview taped Thursday for “Live! with Kelly and Michael,” was played on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday.
With calls for him to resign hanging over his head, Shinseki on Friday will face representatives of people particularly vulnerable to his agency’s medical failings.
The problem is that Obama seems to be the last person having that conversation:
So does this mean that Shinseki will get the boot? If Obama wanted to gain himself some breathing space on the scandal, then he could have done so last week. The new IG report created a quantum leap in pressure to act since then, but if that’s what Obama had in mind, then why did the White House allow Shinseki to make his speech this morning? That sounds like the beginning of an attempt at rehabilitating Shinseki, especially with his announcement that he’s sacking the executive management at the Phoenix VA.
We’ll see. So far, the only announcement from the White House is that the meeting will take place at 10:15. If they call a presser later like they did last week, I’d bet that it won’t be to extol Shinseki’s virtues a second time.
Update: This should get the White House worried about another endorsement of Shinseki’s continued run at the VA:
Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a former Veterans Affairs official who lost both of her legs while serving in combat during the Iraq war, said Friday that her former boss Eric Shinseki should resign.
“Our first priority should be the veterans and at this point whether Secretary Shinseki will stay or go is too much of a distraction,” she said in an exclusive interview with The Washington Post. “I think he has to go. He certainly loves veterans, but it’s time for new leadership, it’s time to get someone in who will put veterans first. We’ve moved away from veterans being the primacy of the conversation. It’s now a political discussion and that’s not where it should be when it comes to our nation’s heroes.”
That’s going to hurt if Obama doesn’t act today. [Updated with corrected transcription.]