Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki testifies during a Senate Budget Committee hearing on President Obama's budget proposal and veterans program proposals, on April 23, 2013 in Washington, D.C. UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo
WASHINGTON, May 12 (UPI) -- The White House has an unusual ally standing against calls for the resignation of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki: House Speaker John Boehner.
In siding with the Obama Administration's support of the embattled secretary, Boehner said forcing Shinseki out of his position would do little to fix the problems facing the VA, including allegations that the Phoenix VA allowed more than 40 veterans to die while awaiting care and falsified records to cover it up.
"I think it'd be the easiest thing in the world for the administration to do, take Shinseki out, go through a process of coming up with a new secretary, when that's not the issue," Boehner said, during a rare live, open-ended interview in Texas Monday. "There is a systemic problem within the organization in the VA. The problem is much, much bigger than who the secretary is."
Boehner instead suggested Shinseki should be given more authority to react to the problems within his department -- by firing managers or cutting bonuses -- rather than taking the fall.
"It will distract everyone's attention if Shinseki goes and we wait around for a new secretary, and I don't want that to happen," he said. "I want to keep the focus on fixing the problem, not fixing the personality."
The speaker's stance comes in opposition to members of his own party, who have made their displeasure known. Last week, three senators took to the chamber floor to urge Shinseki's resignation, while 16 Republicans in the House sent President Obama a letter urging him to hold the secretary accountable.
But the White House is standing by their man, reiterating their support for Shinseki again Monday.
"The president takes the situation, as he has said, around the Phoenix office very seriously," said Press Secretary Jay Carney. "And that's why he directed Secretary Shinseki to investigate. And Secretary Shinseki has invited the independent Veterans Affairs inspector general -- Office of Inspector General, to conduct a comprehensive review."
"The president remains confident that Secretary Shinseki is focused on this matter, and he's confident in Secretary Shinseki's ability to lead the department and take appropriate action based on the I.G.'s findings," Carney said.