Despite announcing his resignation today, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was the subject of some pointed questioning from MSNBC’s Chuck Todd and ABC’s John Karl over the nature and competency of the White House throughout the Veterans Administration scandal.
Todd led off pointing out the similarities between the president’s response to the VA waiting lists scandal and to previous scandals.
“The president in explaining the problems of the VA seemed to sound a familiar theme that he did during the HHS situation, that he did during the GAO issue, which he did during the IRS, which is that its a systemic bureaucratic issue, out-dated technology in one case,” Todd said. “In another case its people that didnt, there wasn’t enough manpower over here, in another case its middle management not getting the issue up to the top.”
“Is there now a concern that essentially if there was any department that we all spent ten days scrutinizing, we’d find out it was just as mismanaged, just as bureaucratically a mess? Is he [Obama] concerned that this technology issue that he has identified at HHS, that he has identified at the VA is systemic around the government? and if that’s the case is it time to front load and do something about the management of government?”
Carney swatted away Todd’s broader question attempting to argue that the roll out of Healthcare.gov and the ongoing waiting list scandal at the VA were intrinsically different creatures.
Todd came back again and argued that where as the failure of Healthcare.gov could be seen as a “surprise,” the failings in the VA were known as far back as 2004, and was discussed during President Obama’s transition in 2008. “Do you guys lack a system here, in the White House to find out whats going on at these agencies? Double check, Particularly on veterans affairs?” Todd shot back.
Carney parried again. Arguing that the failing at the VA resulted from former Secretary Shinseki being kept in the dark by “individuals below him and management to whom he depended on to give him accurate information.”
Todd further inquired, “How do you know that you don’t have the same systemic technological problems at agriculture? Before I get a call from Tom Vilsack. That’s the pattern that I feel like you see here and the President himself seems to explain everything to the American public which is that everything is a bureaucratic problem or technology problem when there are these issues that come up.”
A visibly perturbed Carney, raised his voice, and began to thump the podium as he intoned “First of all the President stood up here and said he is President, he is chief executive, he takes responsibility for things that happen in his administration .”
John Karl of ABC then took over after Todd and delved straight into the White House’s assertion that it did not know about the VA scandal, demanding to know how a letter from the Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs committee — which documented the systemic failings of the VA and was sent to the President over a year ago — did not get a response.
Carney deflected, promising to get a response saying that he was “not familiar with the specifics of the letter.”
Karl continued his questioning wanting to know why the care of veterans, something championed by Senator Obama when he was running for the presidency, had been so poorly mis-managed after his election and is another sign that there have been systemic failures at the White House.
“I mean this is an issue that he was passionate about as a Senator and as a presidential candidate, is he concerned about a break down of communications even at the White House?” Karl asked. “I mean to have something of this magnitude going on for so long, and not to be aware of it until five years in, there seems to be a failure not just at the Veterans Administration but here at the White House no?”
Carney responded, “Look, the President stood before you, as chief executives should, took responsibility for everything that happens in his administration and pledged to hold accountable those who were directly responsible for any misconduct.”