Angry conservatives stepped up their criticism of Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald on Tuesday, with several calling for him to be pushed out of office after his comments invoking Disney customer service practices and veterans medical wait times.
Republican Sen. Roy Blunt from Missouri and Joni Ernst from Iowa issued statements saying the gaffe was enough to warrant McDonald’s immediate resignation.
“Secretary McDonald’s preposterous statement is right out of Never Never Land,” Blunt said. “I call on him to resign because it’s clear he cannot prioritize getting our veterans the health care they deserve and have earned in a timely manner. Dismissing wait times when veterans can often wait months for an appointment is negligent and a clear sign that new leadership is needed at the VA.”
Ernst called McDonald's comments "dishonorable" and said the secretary "blatantly dismissed the heart ache and pain that our veterans face while awaiting basic care, and illustrated his compete disregard for the incredibly serious issues facing the VA."
The scandal began on Monday, at a press event where McDonald downplayed ongoing concerns with veterans’ wait times to access department medical care, saying that those figures don’t always reflect patient satisfaction.
“What really counts is how does the veteran feel about their encounter with the VA,” he said. “When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? What’s important is what your satisfaction is with the experience. What I would like to move to eventually is that kind of measure.”
Lawmakers and conservative activists seized on the comments as insensitive, misguided and troublesome. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., demanded clarification from the VA on the remarks but stopped short of calling for McDonald’s job.
The Washington Examiner published a staff editorial Tuesday titled “Fire Robert McDonald,” saying that the two-year Cabinet member “has adopted the cavalier disregard of veterans that he was hired to end” and “has become the lead excuse-maker for an uncaring and self-serving bureaucracy.”
Officials from Concerned Veterans for America, a frequent critic of the department and Democratic administration, said they would not call for McDonald’s resignation, but only because they have little faith that President Obama would appoint a responsible replacement.
Instead, they’re asking that the next president ignore past recommendations to keep McDonald on during the transition between administrations. Dan Caldwell, CVA’s vice president for political action, said he doesn’t see much hope for improvement for the embattled department, at least until next year.