April 25, 2018

After Trump suggests VA secretary nominee may back out, White House doubles down on its support

Daily Briefing

    White House officials on Tuesday reiterated their support for Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson's nomination for Veterans Affairs (VA) secretary after President Trump suggested earlier in the day that Jackson might withdraw his nomination.

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    Trump's comments came amid new reports concerning Jackson's professionalism leading and working in the White House medical office.

    Background

    The Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs earlier on Tuesday delayed a nomination hearing scheduled for Wednesday amid mounting concerns over Jackson's qualifications to lead VA.

    Lawmakers and veterans service organizations have questioned whether Jackson has the management experience needed to lead VA, which has 1,200 medical facilities across the United States. In addition, congressional officials said the Senate committee is investigating concerns regarding Jackson's oversight of the White House medical office, which include allegations that the office was a hostile work environment and permitted the overprescribing of drugs, as well as claims that Jackson consumed alcohol while working.

    White House says it will not withdraw Jackson's nomination

    Trump early on Tuesday said he continued to support Jackson, though he added, "I really don't think personally he should" proceed with the nomination, noting "abus[e]" directed at Jackson "by a bunch of politicians that aren't thinking nicely." Still, Trump said, "But it's totally his—I would stand behind him—totally his decision."

    Trump on Tuesday afternoon met with Jackson, and a White House official described the meeting as "positive." The official added that the meeting eased Trump's concerns.

    The White House later on Tuesday expressed additional support for Jackson. A senior White House official said, "Jackson's record as a White House physician is impeccable. He has improved unit morale, received glowing reviews and promotions under Republican and Democrat presidents, and has been given a clean vet from the FBI."

    New allegations

    Late Tuesday, CNN published an article containing new details regarding Jackson's alleged misconduct, reporting that Jackson during an overseas trip in 2015 banged on a female employee's hotel room door while he was intoxicated, according to four sources familiar with the allegation. One source said Jackson had become increasingly noisy, which prompted Secret Service to intervene out of concern that Jackson would wake up former President Barack Obama, CNN reports. However, according to Axios' "Vitals," Obama administration officials said they were not aware of such misconduct.

    In addition, the Associated Press reviewed a 2012 Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report that found Jackson had not acted professionally and had engaged in a power struggle with Jeffrey Kuhlman, who had been Obama's physician at the time, over the White House's medical unit. According to the AP, staffers who raised concerns about Jackson's leadership likened their work environment to "being caught between parents going through a bitter divorce." OIG at the time recommended that the White House either replace both doctors or replace either Jackson or Kuhlman.

    A senior White House official downplayed the OIG report's findings, saying Kuhlman was more responsible than Jackson for the situation detailed in the report. According to STAT News' "Morning Rounds," Jackson told reporters he anticipated his hearing would be rescheduled.

    Jackson has denied allegations of misconduct, The Hill reports. Jackson said he was "looking forward to [a] hearing, so [he could] explain everything to everyone and answer all the senators' questions."

    Veterans groups weigh in

    Veterans groups expressed frustration over the mounting allegations and ongoing turmoil at VA.

    Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said, "This is complete and total chaos after years of complete and total chaos." He added, "Our veterans deserve so much better. Our whole country does. Especially in a time of war."

    Garry Augustine, who leads the Washington headquarters of Disabled American Veterans, called the uncertainty over Jackson's nomination "distressing."

    Joe Chenelly, the national executive director of AMVETS, said, "Veterans are losing six different ways right now, from all directions," adding, "What makes it stop?" (Yen et al., AP/ABC News, 4/24; Wax-Thibodeaux, Washington Post, 4/24; Nicholas et al., Wall Street Journal, 4/24; Fabian, The Hill, 4/24; Samuels, The Hill, 4/24; Summers/Raju, CNN, 4/25; Snell et al., "The Two-Way," NPR, 4/24; Baker, "Vitals," Axios, 4/25; Thielking, "Morning Rounds," STAT News, 4/25).

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