By Justin Sink - 05/21/14 01:48 PM EDT
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday said he didn’t know the specific reasons why the administration is concerned about a House GOP bill that would make it easier to fire people at Veterans Affairs hospitals.
The White House hasn’t announced its opposition to the bill, but it is also not supporting it.
The first question at Carney’s briefing on Wednesday, which started just hours after Obama in public remarks promised to bring accountability to the agency, was about what the administration’s concerns are about the bill.
“I don't know the specifics,” the White House spokesman said of the administration’s concerns.
Pressed on what the concerns were, Carney said: “I just don't have an itemization of some of the issues.”
Carney did reiterate that "the goal of empowering the secretary to be able to hold folks accountable is one that we share" and that the White House wanted to work with lawmakers to address the unnamed concerns.
“I know that we're discussing with Congress this legislation and concerns that we have with it that are, you know, relatively small vis-a-vis the broader goal, which is to make sure that there is an ability to hold folks accountable,” Carney said.
The Senior Executives Association, an association representing top-tier government employees, has complained that the House bill would eliminate due process protections afforded to top-tier government officials.
According to the group, senior executives in the government are currently allowed to appeal firings and demotions to an administrative panel. The House bill would eliminate that recourse. The group also expressed concerns that the bill would allow the department to scapegoat career civil servants in the media and interject politics into the firing process.
Republican lawmakers have championed the legislation as an example of Congress taking action while the White House continues to wait for the conclusion of an internal investigation into the matter.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called on Obama to “immediately” urge Senate Democrats to also take up the House legislation in a statement issued shortly after the president’s remarks.
“The president has made a lot of promises to our veterans,” Boehner said. “It’s time to keep them.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also called on the Senate to pass the bill “without delay.”
“A crisis of the magnitude facing the VA on providing care to our veterans demands clear leadership from President Obama,” McConnell said. “Unfortunately, so far I have yet to hear from the president that he is treating the VA crisis with the seriousness it deserves.”
Earlier Wednesday, the president told reporters that he expected to have preliminary results from the internal review next week, with a full report to come next month.
The president acknowledged that “people are angry and want swift reckoning,” but largely defended VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and stressed it was important to allow the investigation to play out.