April 24, 2018
White House praises Jackson but senators raise concerns over ability to manage 360,000 employees serving 9m military veterans
Ronny Jackson, Trumps pick for veterans affairs job, faces hearing delay
Senators have delayed the confirmation hearing for Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Ronny Jackson, over growing questions about the nominee’s ability to manage the government’s second-largest department.
The hearing for Jackson, Trump’s White House doctor and a navy rear admiral, was scheduled for Wednesday.
Trump, who on Tuesday was entertaining French president Emmanuel Macron at the White House, has already expressed frustration about delays in getting nominees through Congress. On Monday, Mike Pompeo, the nominee for secretary of state, narrowly cleared the Senate foreign relations committee.
“The Dems will not approve hundreds of good people,” the president wrote on Twitter, “including the Ambassador to Germany. They are maxing out the time on approval process for all, never happened before. Need more Republicans!”
On Tuesday, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley issued a statement that praised Jackson’s character.
“Admiral Jackson has been on the front lines of deadly combat and saved the lives of many others in service to this country,” he said. “He’s served as the physician to three presidents, Republican and Democrat, and been praised by them all.
“Admiral Jackson’s record of strong, decisive leadership is exactly what’s needed at the VA to ensure our veterans receive the benefits they deserve.”
Speaking before the delay was confirmed, Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat and member of the Senate veterans affairs committee, said: “Some Republican colleagues have told me that they think the hearing should be postponed, which certainly deserves consideration.
“I think there may well be a need for more time, in fairness to Admiral Jackson, so he and the administration have an opportunity to answer these questions fully and fairly.”
Blumenthal declined to discuss why more time might be needed.
Trump selected Jackson, whom he said was “highly respected”, to head the VA last month after firing former Obama administration official David Shulkin following an ethics scandal and mounting rebellion within the agency. Shulkin protested and said it was a political move.
The president was impressed with Jackson’s performance at the White House podium in January, when the doctor appeared before the press to discuss the 71-year-old Trump’s physical and mental health. Trump told aides he liked Jackson’s smooth turn before the cameras and ability to field questions as he offered a glowing report on the president’s physical and mental wellbeing.
Jackson spent nearly an hour exhausting reporters’ questions, extolling the president’s “incredible genes” and joking that if only Trump had eaten a healthier diet over the last 20 years, “he might live to be 200 years old”.
Jackson has faced numerous questions from Republicans and Democrats as well as veterans groups about whether he has the experience to manage the massive department of 360,000 employees serving 9 million military veterans. Senator Mike Rounds, a South Dakota Republican and a veterans affairs committee member, said Jackson’s small staff at the White House would be an issue.
“We’ve got 360,000 people there,” he said of the VA. “Are they going to manage the secretary or is the secretary going to manage the VA? That’s a good question to ask, and he needs to answer it. He needs to be the leader. A lot of folks want to be led and managed.”
Rounds said the committee still needed more paperwork from the White House on Jackson before the nomination can go forward.
White House and VA officials also discussed a delay with key allies outside the administration. A spokeswoman for Senator Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican and the committee chairman, did not return requests for comment.
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