Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

VA Scandal: Dick Durbin Vows to Put Eric Shinseki 'On the Spot'

The Illinois Democrat meets with the embattled veteran affairs leader in DC

Email
|
Print

    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    FILE - In this Oct. 9, 2013, file photo, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki listens as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky says a leadership change may help resolve what he calls "dysfunction" at the Department of Veterans Affairs, following allegations of corruption and avoidable deaths at the veterans' hospital in Phoenix. McConnell says the tenure of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki is "embarrassing" and that the agency is in "a stunning period of dysfunction." McConnell isn't calling for Shinseki to step down, but says a change in leadership "might be a good thing."(AP Photo/ Evan Vucci, File)

    Hours before attending back-to-back Chicago fundraisers for his re-election campaign, Sen. Dick Durbin was scheduled to meet with Eric Shinseki at his Washington office amid increasingly louder calls for the veteran affairs secretary to resign.

    The Illinois Democrat, in a pre-meeting interview with MSNBC's "Morning Joe," said he planned to put the retired Army general "on the spot."

    Shinseki is the target of growing outrage over accusations that veterans hospitals fudged waiting lists in an effort to cover up lengthy health care delays. President Obama, drawing heavy criticism for not taking swift action to show Shinseki the door, said Wednesday that he's waiting on the results of the inspector general's report and will "make sure there is accountability."

    Durbin echoed that sentiment on "Morning Joe," calling the "current situation unacceptable -- in Illinois and across the nation." But, like the president, he was standing by Shinseki -- for now.

    "If General Shinseki were gone tomorrow, the challenge at the VA would still be there," Durbin said Thursday. "We have to make certain that everyone is pulling together. It is easy to point fingers of blame and say if one person goes, that ought to solve the problem. It is more than that. It is an overwhelming challenge to a system, but a promise that we've made that it's going to work."

    Later in the day, both Obama and Durbin will make cameos in Chicago for two pro-Durbin fundraisers at the homes of Michael Polsky, President and CEO of Invenergy LLC, and Democratic super-donor Fred Eychaner. (As NBC previously reported, Polsky has contributed to the campaign of Bruce Rauner, the Republican candidate for Illinois governor. Meanwhile, Obama has pledged to give "strong support" for incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn.)

    Illinois' Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk said Wednesday in a letter to Richard Griffin, the acting inspector general of the veteran affairs department, that he'd spoken with Shinseki to request that all veterans hospitals across the state "be investigated to ensure that no Illinois veteran is being denied proper and timely care."

    Kirk shocked political observers last month when he announced he would campaign for ice cream magnate Jim Oberweis, who's running against Durbin in this fall's midterm elections. Kirk previously said he would not stump for Oberweis in order to protect his "good relationship" with Durbin.

    Speaking of Durbin, here he is being grilled by a fired-up panel of pundits on Thursday's "Morning Joe":