WASHINGTON – Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on Thursday pledged to repay more than $4,000 for his wife's airfare for an 11-day trip to Europe that mixed business and sightseeing.
Testifying at a House hearing, Shulkin said he accepts responsibility for making mistakes after a government investigation found "serious derelictions" in the handling of the trip, including improperly accepting Wimbledon tennis tickets.
The report Wednesday by the Department of Veterans Affairs' internal watchdog concluded that Shulkin's staff had lied that he was getting an award to justify his wife accompanying him at taxpayer expense on the July trip to England and Denmark.
"I do recognize the optics of this are not good," Shulkin told the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, stressing that he wants to "make things right."
Shulkin said he would pay back the airfare, and heed the inspector general's recommendation that he cover the cost of the Wimbledon tickets.
His comments came as several lawmakers chided him for apparent misuse of taxpayer money and called on him to better explain his actions in the coming weeks.
One lawmaker, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., has demanded that Shulkin resign. Expressing impatience Thursday with some of Shulkin's explanations, Coffman said: "It's not the optics that are not good. It's the facts that are not good."
Four Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee urged the committee to hold a hearing with Shulkin and his chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson. She is accused of doctoring emails to help secure the free trip for Shulkin's wife.
The hearing would be part of the committee's investigation into alleged travel abuses by the Trump administration.