Columns

Trump Says He Told Embattled VA Pick 'What Do You Need It For?'

Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, President Trump's choice to be secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, leaves a Senate office building after meeting individually with some members on Capitol Hill on April 24, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — The confirmation hearing for President Trump’s unvetted pick to lead Veterans Affairs has been put on hold as Trump said he wouldn’t blame White House physician Ronny Jackson if he chose to withdraw his nomination.

Jackson was supposed to testify before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday, but Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) postponed the hearing.

“The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is postponing the hearing to consider the nominee to be secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in light of new information presented to the committee,” Isakson and Ranking Member Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said in a joint statement. “We take very seriously our constitutional duty to thoroughly and carefully vet each nominee sent to the Senate for confirmation. We will continue looking into these serious allegations and have requested additional information from the White House to enable the committee to conduct a full review.”

The committee said Isakson and Tester sent a letter to the administration “requesting all information regarding any improper conduct pertaining to Rear Admiral Jackson’s service in the White House Medical Unit and as physician to the president.”

Jackson has served as White House physician since 2006. Trump picked him nearly a month ago to replace David Shulkin to lead Veterans Affairs.

The Senate committee is reportedly reviewing allegations from multiple former and current staffers of Jackson that include excessive drinking on the job, inappropriately dispensing prescription drugs and creating a hostile work environment.

The Associated Press today reported on a 2012 Navy Medical Inspector General’s report that found Jackson and another doctor were locked in a bitter power struggle that led to “unprofessional behaviors” and “a severe and pervasive lack of trust in the leadership that has deteriorated to the point that staff walk on ‘eggshells.’”

Before this information surfaced, members from both parties had expressed concerns about Jackson’s experience to run an operation as big as the VA.

At a press conference today, Trump argued that “nobody has the experience” for the job because “you could run the biggest hospital system in the world and it’s small time compared to the Veterans Administration.”

“What he is is a leader and a good man. But I told him, I said you know what, Doc? You’re too fine a person. His son’s a top student at Annapolis. He is a high-quality person. I said what do you need it for?” Trump said. “…So he’ll be — it’s totally his decision, but he’ll be making a decision.”

“I said to Dr. Jackson, what do you need it for?” he later added. “So, we’ll see what happens. I don’t want to put a man through who is not a political person — I don’t want to put a man through a process like this. It’s too ugly and too disgusting. So, we’ll see what happens. He’ll make a decision.”

Trump said that he “would definitely stand behind” Jackson as “he’s a fine man.”

“I would let it be his choice but here’s a man who has just been an extraordinary person. His family, extraordinary success. Great doctor, great everything and he has to listen to the abuse — if I were him –actually, in many ways I’d love to be him. But the fact is I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it. What does he need it for? To be abused by a bunch of politicians that aren’t thinking nicely about our country? I really don’t think personally he should do it but it’s totally his — I would stand behind him — totally his decision.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters today that “it’s pretty easy to guess that he wasn’t thoroughly vetted.”

“You might even speculate – I wasn’t there so I don’t know if this is true – that they were in the room together, and President Trump, in his usual quick way, said, ‘Why don’t you become secretary of Veterans Affairs,’ and off he went,” Schumer said. “…The cabinet is turning into a sad game of musical chairs, and the American people are losing out. The administration has repeatedly named nominees and asked questions later. We are proud in our role of thoroughly vetting the nominees, because the administration isn’t.”