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Trump Hints His Nominee for Veterans Affairs Secretary May Need to Withdraw

Bloomberg

President Donald Trump signaled White House physician Ronny Jackson should consider withdrawing his nomination as Veterans Affairs secretary as a Senate panel opened a review into “serious allegations” regarding his management and behavior.

Trump said at a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron Tuesday that if he were Jackson he would withdraw under the circumstances but nonetheless defended him.

“I’d let it be his choice,” said Trump, who called him “an extraordinary person.”

The president spoke hours after Senator Johnny Isakson, chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, said he and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Jon Tester, decided to delay a hearing on Jackson’s nomination that had been scheduled for Wednesday and sent a letter to Trump seeking more information.

“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 Tester said in a joint statement released Tuesday. “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 statement and the letter to the president didn’t detail what new information was brought to their attention about Jackson, a rear admiral who has served in the White House under three presidents. The New York Times and CBS News, citing unnamed officials briefed on the allegations, reported that allegations include allowing a hostile work environment as the chief White House doctor, overprescribing drugs and drinking on the job.

In their letter to Trump, Isakson and Tester requested all communications between the Defense Department and the White House Military Office “regarding allegations or incidents involving Rear Admiral Jackson from 2006 to present.”

They also are seeking any documents, “including those developed during the course of an investigation,” held by any office in the executive office of the president “that were never communicated to the Department of Defense or Offices of Inspector General.”

Several lawmakers said the allegations haven’t been substantiated, but they must be addressed.

Isakson, a Georgia Republican, declined to say anything more at the Capitol. He said he isn’t sure when, or whether, the hearing might be rescheduled. Tester, of Montana, said, “We’re still working on the vetting.”

Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said it was too soon to say whether that panel would become involved in reviewing or investigating the allegations.

“It may not be an issue shortly,” Inhofe said. “He may not progress further.”

The Trump administration is standing behind Jackson, who also faces questions about his qualifications to manage the federal government’s second-largest department.

White House Defense

“Admiral Jackson has been on the front lines of deadly combat and saved the lives of many others in service to this country,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement. “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.”

Several lawmakers from both parties criticized the White House for failing to do a thorough job investigating its own nominees.

“I just think the White House does not vet their nominees so it leaves us as members having to look at their personal and leadership and other qualities,” said Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington, a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “And they didn’t do a good job and now we’re doing it.”

Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who isn’t on the panel considering the nomination, said the allegations “raise questions about the White House vetting process,” and added that she had concerns about Jackson even before the new questions came to light.

She said she wants answers as to “whether he has sufficient experience to manage the second-largest department in the federal government.”

Jackson was nominated to replace Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, who Trump fired on March 28. Shulkin is a former hospital executive who was a holdover from the Obama administration and who initially won Trump’s favor for his efforts to overhaul the long-troubled system for veterans health care.

He was ousted after questions about his official travel and amid an internal administration fight over how much of the medical care delivered to veterans could be outsourced to private insurers.