March 27, 2018

Shulkin has Trump's 'confidence'—for now, White House says

Daily Briefing

    Amid reports that President Trump is considering firing Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David Shulkin,  White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley on Monday suggested Shulkin still has Trump's support.

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    Gidley during an appearance on Fox News Channel said, "At this point in time," Trump "does have confidence in Shulkin." But he added,"[Trump] wants to put the right people in the right place at the right time," so, "that could change."

    Background

    Gidley made the comments in response to recent reports that three Trump administration officials who spoke under the condition of anonymity told the AP that Trump intends to dismiss Shulkin from his post amid government investigations into his alleged misuse of taxpayer money and infighting within VA.

    Shulkin—a holdover from former President Barack Obama's administration—has opposed efforts to privatize VA's health care system and instead has focused on improving the existing system. That stance has put him at odds with several White House appointees who support privatizing the VA health care system and allegedly have been working to supplant Shulkin. The disparity reportedly has jeopardized negotiations on a bill to reauthorize the Veterans Choice Program.

    Several VA groups have defended Shulkin. For instance, the American Legion said Shulkin has helped to modernize the appeals process for VA benefits, improve patient satisfaction, decrease appointment wait times, and increase access to mental health care.

    Sources say Trump plans to oust Shulkin

    The AP on Sunday reported that three administration officials said Trump was strongly considering firing Shulkin over the controversies. According to the AP, one official said there is "50-50" chance the administration would fire Shulkin within the next few days.

    In addition, Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy during an interview on ABC's "This Week" said, "White House sources, not the president, tell me that … Shulkin is likely to depart the Cabinet very soon."

    If Shulkin were to be dismissed from VA, Tom Bowman would serve as the acting VA secretary until the Senate confirms a nominee. According to the AP, one person familiar with the conversations said the White House is considering about half a dozen candidates to replace Shulkin, including:

    • Toby Cosgrove, a former president and CEO of the Cleveland Clinic;
    • Pete Hegseth, a former military officer and former CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, who also serves as "Fox & Friends" contributor;
    • Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg;
    • Michael Kussman, a former VA undersecretary of health;
    • Leo Mackay, a former VA deputy secretary who currently is a senior vice president at Lockheed Martin; and
    • Former Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), who served as chair of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.

    Shulkin appears safe for now

    However, in addition to Gidley, VA press secretary Curt Cashour on Sunday suggested that the department is not expecting any major personnel changes. He said, "There are no personnel changes to announce at" VA, adding, "Trump has made clear that he expects the department's sole focus to be on providing quality care to America's veterans who have sacrificed to keep this country free and safe."

    Shulkin did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday, the AP reports (Manchester, The Hill, 3/25; Yen/Thomas, AP/Mercury News, 3/26; Diamond/Summers, CNN, 3/25; Diamond, "Pulse," Politico, 3/26; AP/ABC News, 3/26).

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