WASHINGTON -- Speaker Paul Ryan had harsh words for Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald on Tuesday, after the top VA official earlier compared health appointment wait times for veterans to lines at Disney. But most notable were the words Ryan didn't use: that McDonald should resign.
"I don't know if he should resign," Ryan said Tuesday morning when asked if he, like Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), thought McDonald's comments rose to that level. "He should clarify his comments, and he should show some empathy for our veterans that he's supposed to serve. This really is just beyond the pale, a comment like this."
McDonald made the case on Monday at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast that the VA should be measured less by doctor's appointment wait times and more by satisfaction. "When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line?" McDonald asked. "What’s important? What’s important is: what’s your satisfaction with the experience?”
Republicans and Democrats were jumping all over McDonald's comment by Monday afternoon, slamming him for comparing lengthy and dangerous waits to see a doctor to a line at Space Mountain. And the story showed little sign of going away Tuesday. Ryan and other top House Republicans lambasted McDonald's comment during their weekly press conference.
"We were dumbfounded," Ryan said. "This is not make-believe. This is not Disneyland or Wonderland, for that matter."
The Wisconsin Republican noted that veterans have died waiting in line for health care. "Clearly, the secretary's comments are not worthy of the veterans that he serves," Ryan said. "But they're also indicative of a cultural indifference at the VA."
Ironically, McDonald became VA secretary after former Gen. Eric Shinseki was forced to resign over the Veterans Affairs wait times scandal, and many veterans activists have given McDonald high praise. Both VA committee chairmen in Congress -- Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) in the House, and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) in the Senate -- have suggested that McDonald should stay on as Secretary of Veterans Affairs into the next administration.
McDonald's comments, however, have certainly threatened his legacy at the VA, and the story could spiral even more out of control if it's not appropriately dealt with.
The VA issued a statement Monday night that said the department was “working to better serve the Veterans we have the privilege of serving. This is a solemn duty that we take seriously.”
That doesn't seem to have placated Republicans like Ryan.
"Secretary McDonald ought to clarify his comments," the speaker said. "Just as important, he should pledge to redouble his efforts to fix these problems, as he and the president promised to do."