White House offers tepid support to Shinseki as pressure builds

The White House offered tepid support Thursday for embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric ShinsekiEric ShinsekiSenate approves new Veterans Affairs watchdog GOP senator to block Obama's VA watchdog VA secretary defends paying out 2M in bonuses MORE, skirting questions on whether he’ll soon be fired.

White House press secretary Jay Carney repeatedly sidestepped questions about whether Shinseki retained the confidence of the president.

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Carney said the president believed Shinseki had “performed overall well” and “put his heart and soul” into providing care for veterans. But he also emphasized that the president was waiting to see the results of an internal investigation led by White House deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors.

“When it comes to the current situation, the inquiries and the investigations and some of the allegations, the president wants to see the results of these reports,” Carney said. “And he, as you know, made clear that he believes there ought to be accountability once we establish all the facts.”

The White House knew Carney’s briefing would be dominated by questions surrounding Shinseki, who many observers think will be gone from the Veterans Affairs Department by the end of the week.

Eight Democratic senators have called for his head, and the number has been growing quickly.

A number of Republicans have also dropped their support for Shinseki, though Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday again did not call for his resignation.

Demands for Shinseki to resign grew after a VA inspector general’s interim report found systematic mismanagement within the department.

According to the preliminary IG report released Wednesday, a Phoenix-area veterans clinic claimed veterans waited 24 days for care when in fact they were kept from booking a primary care appointment an average of 115 days. Some 1,700 veterans were put on an unofficial wait list by managers at the facility.

Carney said Obama expects a preliminary report on the VA's internal investigation “very soon,” likely by the end of this week.

But Carney said that the president's main focus was “getting to the root of the problem and determining the full scope of the problem, so we can get, most importantly, the veterans the care they need and deserve.”

“The president's focused first and foremost on the need to address the problems that have impeded the quality and speed of care,” Carney said.

In an op-ed published Thursday, Shinseki said the findings of the IG report were "reprehensible" and that he was scrambling resources to help veterans at a Phoenix hospital at the center of the controversy.

He also pledged to punish those responsible for misconduct.

“After 38 years in the Army, I am honored and privileged to serve veterans as the secretary of Veterans Affairs, and I remain committed to providing the high-quality care and benefits that veterans have earned and deserve. And we will,” he wrote.