WASHINGTON —President Donald Trump fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and named his replacement on Twitter Wednesday night — in a set of moves that seems to be becoming a habit.
Trump announced his intent to nominate “highly respected Admiral Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, MD” as VA chief before he got around to saying farewell to Shulkin.
The president followed the same pattern last week when he announced that former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton would become his national security adviser — as he thanked the incumbent, H.R. McMaster for an “outstanding job.” Trump’s positive spin on McMaster was meant to serve as the gentlemanly way to announce that McMaster had been canned.
Earlier in the month, Trump announced that he had chosen CIA Director Mike Pompeo to be his new secretary of state — which was how then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson learned he had been fired.
Shulkin was the one holdover from the Cabinet of President Barack Obama, and the first VA secretary who did not serve in the military. His ouster had been the subject of speculation for weeks, ever since the VA inspector general found serious improprieties in a trip to Europe that Shulkin took with his wife last year.
Shulkin had continued to insist he had the full confidence of the White House, but a fresh raft of watchdog reports documenting leadership failures and spending waste at the VA — as well as fresh allegations that Shulkin had used a member of his security detail to run personal errands — proved too much of a distraction.
“I appreciate the work of Dr. David Shulkin and the many great things we did together at Veterans Affairs, including the VA Accountability Act that he was helpful in getting passed. He has been a great supporter of veterans across the country and I am grateful for his service,” Trump said in a statement.
Jackson, a career naval officer, has served since 2013 as the physician to the president.
His profile rose after he conducted a sweeping press conference about the president’s medical exam in January in which he told reporters that the 71-year-old Trump was in “excellent” health. Jackson did divulge that at 239 pounds, the 6-foot, 3-inch tall president needed to drop 10 to 15 pounds.
Contributing factors to the president’s health, Jackson observed, were the facts that he doesn’t drink alcohol, and has a “very unique ability to just get up in the morning and reset.”
The president also announced that Robert Wilkie, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, will serve as acting secretary in the interim before Jackson’s confirmation.