WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s pick to head Veterans Affairs appeared to be in trouble Tuesday as a Senate panel delayed a confirmation hearing over allegations of misconduct by the nominee while serving as a White House physician.
Even Trump during a news conference hinted that Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson may withdraw as questions arose about drinking, management of office affairs and the amount of medicine prescribed by the White House medical unit.
The president said he would stand behind his nominee, but questioned whether Jackson should go through a confirmation hearing that would focus on his personal conduct.
“I wouldn’t do it. What does he need it for?” Trump asked. “I really don’t think, personally, he should do it. But it’s totally his — I would stand behind him — totally his decision.”
The president’s comments appeared to undercut an earlier White House statement backing the nominee.
Republicans and Democrats alike questioned Jackson’s nomination after allegations came to light over the weekend. The chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., called GOP members of the panel and discussed the claims against Jackson.
In a statement, Isakson and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the ranking Democrat on the committee, said Tuesday that a Wednesday confirmation hearing was postponed indefinitely.
“We take very seriously our constitutional duty to thoroughly and carefully vet each nominee sent to the Senate for confirmation,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement.
“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 said.
Heller made aware of allegations
Jackson visited with members of the Senate committee last week.
He met Thursday with Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who said he would wait until after the confirmation hearing to determine how he would vote on the nomination.
Heller, a member of the committee, said Tuesday that he was made aware over the weekend of “some serious accusations against Admiral Ronny Jackson.”
“If true, I have significant concerns about his ability to lead the VA, and that is why I support the Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s decision to gather more information in light of these allegations,” Heller said.
The VA serves about nine million veterans nationwide each year. There are 339,000 veterans in Nevada, according to the state Department of Veterans Services.
In a letter to Trump, Isakson and Tester requested documents pertaining to Jackson’s service in the White House Medical Unit and as physician to the president, as well as any communication with the Department of Defense or inspector generals for any branch of the armed services since 2006.
The letter was also sent to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Don McGahn, the White House counsel.
A Navy medical inspector general’s report, in 2012, recommended removing Jackson and another physician, Dr. Jeffrey Kulhman, because of a rivalry and unprofessional behavior in the White House Medical Unit, according to the Associated Press, which obtained a copy of the report.
Jackson meets with lawmakers
Jackson continued to meet with lawmakers Tuesday. He told reporters in the Senate Dirksen Office Building that he was disappointed the hearing was postponed, but looked forward to answering senators’ questions in a future hearing.
Jackson did not address allegations of over-prescribing medication or workplace misconduct.
And Jackson’s comments came before Trump appeared at a White House news conference and hinted that Jackson could withdraw his nomination.
Jackson has been the White House physician for Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Trump. He was nominated to be secretary after Trump fired Dr. David Shulkin last month.
Shulkin said the firing was the result of his reluctance to follow guidance to privatize the VA, but White House support for the secretary waned after a VA inspector general’s report questioned his ethics during a European trip Shulkin made with his wife, and his acceptance of Wimbledon tennis tickets.
Jackson’s nomination shocked many lawmakers because of his lack of management experience. The VA is the second largest government agency and employs more than 360,000 people.
Democrats were critical of the White House for failing to vet the nominee before sending him to the Senate for confirmation hearings.
Jackson told Heller and other lawmakers on the committee in private meetings last week that he had not been pressed by the Trump administration to push for privatization of the VA, a contentious issue among veterans groups who worry some services may be dropped by profit-motivated providers.
Democrats had planned to grill Jackson over privatization before the allegations became known this weekend.
Isakson, Tester Statement on VA Secretary Nomination Committee confirmation hearing postponed
Tuesday, April 24, 2018
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, today announced that the hearing to consider the nomination of Rear Admiral Ronny L. Jackson, M.D., to serve as secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is postponed subject to the call of the chair.
Isakson and Tester released the following joint statement regarding the committee’s decision:
“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. We take very seriously our constitutional duty to thoroughly and carefully vet each nominee sent to the Senate for confirmation. 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.”
Isakson and Tester sent a letter to President Trump today requesting all information regarding any improper conduct pertaining to Rear Admiral Jackson’s service in the White House Medical Unit and as physician to the president.
The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 115th Congress. Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate VA Committee since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the armed forces as well as more than 750,000 veterans.