Embattled VA secretary: 'I deeply regret' distractions at agency

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on Thursday sought to put what he described as "distractions" behind him, te...

Posted: Mar 16, 2018 12:18 AM
Updated: Mar 16, 2018 12:18 AM

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on Thursday sought to put what he described as "distractions" behind him, telling House lawmakers that he's focused on getting his department on track and working for veterans.

But later Thursday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders suggested that the secretary, under fire for ethics violations and in conflict with members of the administration, may not have the White House's full support.

"The President has a large number of individuals that are working hard to make sure that the VA is helping veterans at the best level possible," Sanders told reporters. "We are continuing to review if there are anything that we can do to improve on that system. And if we make changes, we will let you know."

Asked whether that may include replacing VA leadership, Sanders said she had no personnel announcements, but that "every day we're looking at how we can better the system, whether it's through policy changes or personnel changes, not just at the top level, but across the board."

Shulkin won unanimous Senate confirmation last year, and frequently appeared alongside the President during his first year on the job due to bipartisan wins he racked up on Capitol Hill. But his standing with the White House has soured amid disputes with Trump administration political appointees and the White House over how to best care for the nation's veterans.

Last month, Shulkin was the subject of a damning IG report, and the President has grown frustrated with Shulkin, and considered replacing him with Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

Both men were on Capitol Hill on Thursday, testifying in two separate committee rooms in the same hall of a House office building. Perry arrived first and told CNN's Rene Marsh that he isn't interested in the VA job.

"I've got the perfect job," Perry said as he walked into the hearing Thursday. Asked if he is happy as Energy secretary, he replied: "I'm a happy man."

Minutes later, Shulkin arrived, and told reporters that he hadn't spoken to Trump on Thursday. He didn't respond to questions about whether he feels secure in his job.

Talk about a hot seat: Sitting next to Trump can be awkward

On Thursday, Shulkin told lawmakers on a House appropriations subcommittee that he deeply regretted distractions involving his leadership at the agency, saying "I've publicly acknowledged the distraction that's happened."

"I've come here for one reason, that's to improve the lives of veterans," he said, adding that there are "a lot of people that frankly, are more interested in politics than I am."

Shulkin also addressed reports that he has posted an armed guard at the door of his 10th floor office, saying that "every Cabinet member has a security detail that is armed, I am no different."

He said that he has done "nothing different" with his security, though he prefers not to discuss it, and said that he does not personally make security decisions.

The troubles at the department of Veterans Affairs spilled into the public eye in February, when an inspector general report faulted him and senior aides for their handling of a 2017 Europe trip. The report found that Shulkin and top aides, including his chief of staff, misled ethics officials, and that his wife's travel was inappropriately paid for by the agency. Shulkin has since repaid it.

But behind the scenes for months, Shulkin has been at odds with members of the department, installed by the Trump administration, a dispute over how much veterans should be able to seek private care outside the VA health care system.

Speaking to lawmakers on Thursday, Shulkin said he had not faced pressure from the administration or others to privatize veterans' health care. Instead, Shulkin said, "there is no pressure to privatize. There is pressure to fix this system."

Shulkin, who ran the VA's health system under President Barack Obama, has retained the backing of key lawmakers on the House and Senate veteran's panels. Just two lawmakers, Republican Reps. Mike Coffman of Colorado and Andy Biggs of Arizona, have called for Shulkin to resign.

Coffman told CNN in an interview Wednesday that Shulkin doesn't have "the leadership or the moral authority to move the VA forward."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 15229

Reported Deaths: 723
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds99925
Lauderdale73561
Madison72023
Scott65012
Neshoba63038
Jones59825
Forrest55338
DeSoto5337
Rankin4217
Leake42112
Holmes39728
Copiah3104
Jackson30513
Attala29216
Yazoo2734
Newton2714
Leflore25831
Harrison2577
Lincoln25628
Monroe25525
Lamar2355
Oktibbeha23512
Lowndes2119
Pearl River20931
Pike20211
Adams19615
Noxubee1856
Wayne1771
Warren1719
Washington1687
Covington1652
Bolivar16011
Jasper1574
Smith15011
Lee1496
Kemper14411
Clarke14318
Chickasaw13312
Lafayette1314
Coahoma1214
Carroll11711
Marion1159
Clay1124
Winston1121
Claiborne1112
Lawrence1021
Simpson1010
Yalobusha905
Hancock9011
Tate891
Grenada893
Wilkinson889
Itawamba877
Union835
Marshall833
Montgomery831
Sunflower813
Jefferson Davis772
Tippah7311
Panola703
Webster691
Calhoun644
Humphreys607
Amite601
Walthall550
Tunica543
Prentiss523
Perry503
Choctaw432
Jefferson421
Tishomingo320
Pontotoc323
Stone300
Franklin282
Tallahatchie271
Quitman260
George251
Alcorn171
Benton150
Greene121
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 17359

Reported Deaths: 618
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2191115
Jefferson1780102
Montgomery163238
Tuscaloosa73814
Marshall6879
Franklin5457
Lee54033
Shelby50319
Tallapoosa42364
Butler40217
Chambers35325
Walker3442
Elmore3398
Madison3274
Baldwin2839
Dallas2603
Morgan2511
Etowah24811
DeKalb2433
Lowndes23812
Coffee2291
Sumter2206
Autauga2164
Houston2094
Bullock2034
Pike1980
Colbert1782
Russell1670
Marengo1636
Lauderdale1612
Hale1598
Calhoun1543
Choctaw1518
Barbour1501
Wilcox1447
Clarke1422
Cullman1260
Randolph1257
Marion12111
St. Clair1181
Pickens1114
Dale1100
Talladega1093
Chilton1001
Limestone940
Greene944
Winston880
Covington771
Jackson772
Crenshaw763
Macon754
Henry742
Bibb721
Washington686
Blount611
Escambia573
Lawrence480
Geneva400
Conecuh391
Coosa381
Monroe372
Perry370
Cherokee373
Clay272
Lamar230
Fayette150
Cleburne141
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 61°
Columbus
Clear
60° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 60°
Oxford
Clear
55° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 55°
Starkville
Clear
55° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 55°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather