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Ryan: VA Secretary Doesn't Need to Resign, Just 'Show Some Empathy'

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) stopped short today of calling on Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald to resign after his remarks comparing veterans’ wait times to see a doctor to rides at Disneyland.

At a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington on Monday, McDonald argued the quality of the VA experience was more important than the number of days, weeks or months a veterans waits for care.

“When you go to Disney, do they measure the number of hours you wait in line? Or what’s important? What’s important is, what’s your satisfaction with the experience?” McDonald said. “And what I would like to move to, eventually, is that kind of measure.”

Outside of a closed caucus meeting on Capitol Hill today, Ryan said lawmakers were “dumbfounded” by the VA secretary’s statement.

“This is not make-believe; this is not Disneyland, or Wonderland, for that matter,” he said. “Veterans have died waiting in line for their care. Clearly, the secretary’s comments were not worthy of the veterans that he serves. But they’re also indicative of a culture of indifference at the VA.”

Asked if McDonald should step down, the House speaker wasn’t so quick to throw him to the wolves.

“I don’t know if he should resign. He should clarify his comments and should show some empathy for our veterans that he is supposed to serve,” Ryan replied. “This really is just beyond the pale, a comment like this. It just shows kind of the arrogance of the federal bureaucracy. That’s why we are working so hard up here to pass veterans’ legislation, pass veterans’ funding to make sure that these problems that we’re uncovering in Congress — just so you know, it’s our investigations in Congress that have uncovered this fiasco.”

“And to show the kind of absolute — these kinds of disgusting comments that show you do not have the proper empathy needs to be addressed. And I don’t know how he’s going to fix it, but he needs to fix it.”

The caucus dedicated the presser to veterans affairs, with Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) saying McDonald’s comment “really shows how tone-deaf this administration is to the problems that are going on right under their nose.”

“It’s clear that people, veterans, died waiting for care. In Congress we passed strong legislation to hold people accountable and we haven’t seen that level of accountability carried out by the administration,” Scalise said. “It’s time they go and refocus on just what’s going on right under their nose and to ultimately make sure that our veterans are receiving the care that they deserve, that they fought for.”

House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash.) added: “When you go to Disneyland, you aren’t wondering if you are going to live long enough to make it to Space Mountain.”