WASHINGTON — Secretary of Veterans Affairs Edward J. Derwinski resigned under pressure Saturday as the Bush Administration sought to improve the President's standing with veterans groups.
Republican sources said top officials of the Bush reelection campaign "felt very strongly" that Derwinski's stormy relations with veterans organizations had become a political hindrance, especially as the President sought to more fully exploit the issue of Democratic rival Bill Clinton's draft record.
Derwinski will fill a new post of deputy co-chairman of the Bush reelection committee. Deputy Secretary Anthony J. Principi will take over as acting secretary of the 245,000-employee department.
Derwinski, 65, a former Illinois congressman, became the first person to head the Department of Veterans Affairs three years ago after the former Veterans Administration was renamed and given Cabinet-level status. But he alienated vets through several proposals, including a now-abandoned Administration plan to open to poor non-veterans two under-used veterans hospitals.
Derwinski was booed when he appeared with the President at the American Legion convention in August. Also that month, the Veterans of Foreign Wars adopted a resolution attacking him for failing to address veterans' needs and calling for his resignation.
Richter reported from Washington and Jehl from Ohio.