April 24, 2018

'Serious allegations' delay confirmation hearings for VA secretary nominee

Daily Briefing

    The Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs has postponed a confirmation hearing for Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, President Trump's nominee for Veterans Affairs (VA) secretary, after Democratic and Republican lawmakers raised concerns about whether Jackson is qualified for the position.

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    According to the Washington Post, it is unclear whether the hearing is postponed indefinitely or if lawmakers will choose another date for the hearing. Trump administration officials have confirmed the delay, the Post reports.

    Some question Jackson's qualifications, raise concerns

    Trump in a series of tweets in March announced that he would nominate Jackson, who currently serves as the White House's top physician, to replace former VA Secretary David Shulkin.

    The announcement came after reports that Trump was strongly considering firing Shulkin amid government investigations into his alleged misuse of taxpayer money and infighting within VA over Shulkin's opposition to proposals to privatize the department's health care system.

    According to the Wall Street Journal, lawmakers and veterans service organizations raised concerns over Trump's decision to nominate Jackson, questioning whether Jackson had the management experience needed to lead VA, which has 1,200 medical facilities across the United States.

    Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said he had posed questions about Jackson's lack of management experience to the White House and asked to discuss the matter with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. Moran said, "This job is so difficult. Nothing about this is easy, and it takes a very unique person to be able to lead an organization that is so difficult to lead, and I need to be convinced that's the case regardless of the sense of his experience."

    According to the Post, White House officials also said Committee Chair Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) in recent days had called the White House, raising concerns about Jackson being unqualified to lead the department. Isakson during the call reportedly said he would back the nomination of his former top aide Thomas Bowman, who currently serves as VA's deputy secretary, for the VA secretary position.

    Further, some observers over the past few days have raised new concerns regarding Jackson's oversight of the White House medical office. According to the New York Times, congressional officials said the Senate committee since last week has been investigating those concerns, 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.

    Senators delay confirmation hearing

    In the wake of those growing concerns, the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs delayed Wednesday's scheduled confirmation hearing, the Journal reports. Isakson and Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.), the committee's ranking Democrat, in a joint statement said the panel was "postponing the hearing … in light of new information presented to the committee." They continued, "We take very seriously our constitutional duty to thoroughly and carefully vet each nominee sent to the Senate for confirmation," adding, "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."

    Reaction

    The White House defended Jackson's record, but did not comment on the allegations, the Times reports. White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said, "Jackson has been on the front lines of deadly combat and saved the lives of many others in service to this country. He's served as the physician to three Presidents—Republican and Democrat—and been praised by them all." Gidley continued, "Jackson's record of strong, decisive leadership is exactly what's needed at the VA to ensure our veterans receive the benefits they deserve."

    However, officials have said the White House also is assessing the validity of questions raised about Jackson's professional background, the Post reports. According to the Post, three White House officials expressed concerns that Jackson's nomination could be in jeopardy (Min Kim et al., Washington Post, 4/23; Hughes/Nicholas, Wall Street Journal, 4/23; Everett/Schor, Politico, 4/23; Slack, USA Today, 4/23; Fandos, New York Times, 4/24; Isakson/Tester letter, 4/24).

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