ATLANTA — Democrat Michelle Nunn, who's seeking Georgia's open Senate seat, has joined a chorus of congressional candidates from both parties calling for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to leave amid a growing crisis over veterans' health care.
Nunn stopped short of calling for Shinseki's firing in a statement Friday. Her father, former Sen. Sam Nunn, was a moderate who represented Georgia for years and once served as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Her father was also heavily involved in drafting the 1986 Department of Defense Reorganization Act, which reworked the military's command structure and increased the powers of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"It has become increasingly clear that we need new leadership to build confidence, focus and accountability at the VA to fix what is wrong with the agency," said Michelle Nunn. "I hope that Gen. Shinseki will step aside to allow for fresh leadership to tackle these pressing issues and support the veterans that the general is deeply committed to serving."
And the number of sitting politicians and challengers calling for Shinseki's resignation continues to grow as the VA investigates 26 facilities nationwide over allegations of treatment delays and deaths. Also Friday, one of the Democrats' most vulnerable incumbents, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., added his name to the list, saying "by stepping aside, Secretary Shinseki will help to restore the trust our veterans must have in the VA and will demonstrate a commitment by this administration to address the system's serious shortcomings."
A day earlier, Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky also called for new leadership, saying: "I don't see how that breach of trust with our veterans can be repaired if the current leadership stays in place."
Georgia and Kentucky are key battlegrounds in the upcoming midterm elections, as Democrats see Nunn and Grimes as their best opportunities to thwart efforts by Republicans seeking a majority in the Senate. Grimes is challenging Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the GOP needs just six more seats to take control of the chamber.
Earlier this week McConnell said problems at the VA were "a management problem, not a money problem."
Both Grimes and Nunn have kept their distance from President Barack Obama as they look to woo moderate voters in their states. Just recently, both candidates refused to say whether they would have voted for the federal health care law, Obama's signature legislative achievement. And Republicans quickly sought to portray Nunn's statement on Shinseki as a reversal, noting she had said in a May 11 debate that she would "defer to the president's judgment" when asked whether Shinseki should resign.
In Georgia, the two Republicans competing in a runoff for the party's Senate nomination, Rep. Jack Kingston and former Dollar General CEO David Perdue, have both called for Shinseki to resign.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, stopped short of calling for Shinseki to resign Thursday but said he was getting closer to doing so. He called the reports about the VA appalling and said someone should be held accountable.
Shinseki, 71, said Thursday he intends to remain on the job. The former Army general and chief of staff added "this is not the first time" he has faced controversy in his career.
Obama's deputy chief of staff, Rob Nabors, was in Phoenix on Thursday to meet with hospital staff. The director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System has been placed on leave while the inspector general investigates claims that up to 40 people died while awaiting treatment there.
The allegations have raised fresh concerns about the Obama administration's management of a department that has been struggling to keep up with an influx of veterans returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Vietnam veterans needing more care as they age.
Associated Press writers Matthew Daly, Jim Kuhnhenn and Erica Werner in Washington contributed to this report.