Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, under fire for a taxpayer-funded trip to Europe last year, told House lawmakers on Thursday that the “optics” of the trip, during which he took in tourist activities including attending a Wimbeldon tennis match with his wife, were “not good.”
“I do recognize the optics of this are not good,” Shulkin told lawmakers. “I accept responsibility for that.”
Shulkin was on Capitol Hill to testify on his department’s 2019 budget request. He faced questions from lawmakers over a scathing report from the VA’s inspector general that found that Shulkin’s chief of staff both doctored an email and made false statements to justify using taxpayer dollars for his wife’s travel to Europe, at a cost of more than $4,000.
The report also found that Shulkin and his staff misled ethics officials about the trip and that the Secretary should not have accepted tickets to the Wimbeldon match.
Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman, who on Wednesday called on Shulkin to resign, pushed back on Shulkin’s defense that the optics were bad, saying that, “it’s not the optics that are not good, it’s the facts that are not good.”
Other members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, including the chairman and the ranking member, also expressed frustration and concern about the inspector general report.
Chairman Phil Roe, a Tennessee Republican, said that public officials need to be held to a “higher standard” and that he was “disappointed by the allegations raised by this report.”
Shulkin is the latest current or former member of the Trump administration to be mired in controversy over their travel practices. Tom Price, who President Donald Trump appointed as health and human services secretary, resigned last fall after questions about his use of private jets for government trips.
The VA IG recommended that Shulkin repay the government for his wife’s airfare, as well as to pay for the Wimbledon tickets he received. Shulkin has said that he will comply with all of the IG recommendations.
Prior to Thursday’s hearing, Shulkin was sharply critical of the IG report, calling it a “direct assault” on his wife, his character and his service.