Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday suggested that Congress ought to take legislative action to address the scandal-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs. The California Democrat called the "allegations of misconduct" at the VA — charges that the department manipulated wait times for veterans seeking medical attention — "completely and utterly unacceptable."
But she defended President Barack Obama and declined to specifically implicate VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, calling instead for a comprehensive investigation into the allegations and for the Veterans' Affairs committees in the House and Senate to explore broad overhauls of the agency's operational structure.
Pelosi said there was legislation pending in both chambers that would result in some needed overhauls of the VA's operations, day-to-day and long-term, and that she saw potential for bipartisanship in such efforts.
"I'm very impressed with some of what [House Veterans' Affairs Chairman Jeff] Miller has said about some of these issues in our own house," said Pelosi of the Florida Republican. She went on to laud Senate Veterans' Affairs Chairman Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.
"I've been very impressed by Republican senators as well," Pelosi added.
Pelosi's comments come as Democrats are finding themselves, once again, faced with a choice of standing with the Obama administration or distancing themselves from political fallout that could implicate Democrats in a midterm election year.
Democratic Reps. John Barrow and David Scott, both of Georgia, were among the first members of their party to call for Shinseki's resignation, with other Democrats such as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona expressing deep alarm that could, depending on the inspector general's findings, culminate in their own calls for the VA secretary's ouster.
"The president forcefully reiterated his commitment to getting to the bottom of gross misconduct," Pelosi said of Obama's remarks on Wednesday . "Democrats share the president's outrage."
And lest Democrats be accused of caring less about veterans than Republicans, Pelosi touted her party's legislative record for helping veterans when she was speaker: "When we had the majority, we did not tinker around the edges. We made some of the biggest progress for veterans in our country since the GI bill, and some were even bigger than that since the needs were greater."