Trump VA pick withdraws nomination
Navy Adm. Ronny Jackson on Thursday withdrew as President Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) amid mounting accusations of misconduct that raised new questions about the president’s personnel decisions.
In a lengthy statement, Jackson called the allegations “false and fabricated,” but said he pulled out to allow Trump to move forward with a new nominee.
“Unfortunately, because of how Washington works, these false allegations have become a distraction for this president and the important issue we must be addressing — how we give the best care to our nation’s heroes,” he said.
Jackson, the head White House physician, said he “did not expect to have to dignify baseless and anonymous attacks on my character and integrity.”
The decision caps off more than three days of controversy surrounding Jackson that virtually ended any chance he would be confirmed by the Senate as VA secretary.
The Navy doctor’s nomination was already in trouble when Senate Democrats on Wednesday released a new batch of allegations, including that he provided a “large supply” of opioid painkillers to a White House military staffer and wrecked a government vehicle after getting drunk at a Secret Service going-away party.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers had previously expressed concern over Jackson’s lack of experience leading a large organization and his views on whether to privatize veterans health-care services.
The VA is the second-largest Cabinet agency, employing roughly 360,000 people. Jackson manages a staff of 70 at the White House Medical Unit.
Trump called into the “Fox & Friends” morning show shortly after Jackson dropped out to praise him as a “highly respected” doctor who “runs a fantastic operation” at the White House.
The president blamed Democrats for sinking his nomination, even though many Republicans also wanted Jackson to withdraw.
“These are false accusations,” Trump said. “They’re trying to destroy a man. I did say, ‘Welcome to Washington. Welcome to the swamp.’”
The president also threatened political retaliation against the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Jon Tester (D-Mont.), for releasing the accusations against Jackson. Tester faces reelection in November.
“Jon Tester, I think this is going to cause him a lot of problems in his state,” he said. “I think Jon Tester has to have a big price to pay in Montana.”
Trump said he has a replacement in mind for Jackson, but declined to say who it is. He said his next nominee has more political experience than the former combat physician.
The White House said Jackson will continue to work at the White House Medical Unit, but it’s not clear whether he will still serve as the president’s lead physician.
“Admiral Jackson is a doctor in the United States Navy assigned to the White House and is here at work today,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
Jackson is just the latest Trump nominee whose confirmation was derailed by problems with their background.
The president’s original pick to lead the Labor Department withdrew amid allegations of spousal abuse and that he employed an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper.
Trump’s first nominee for drug czar pulled out last fall after it was revealed he helped author a bill that made it harder for federal law enforcement to go after opioid manufacturers.
Critics say such issues would have been uncovered earlier with a more stringent vetting process.
“It is really frustrating to me that this administration continues to not vet or sloppily send over a nominee that leaves us to really vet them and look at serious questions,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
Trump last month announced on Twitter he had selected Jackson before his own communications staff was informed, according to news reports. Many lawmakers complained they knew little about Jackson’s views on veterans issues, including privatizing health care.
Jackson heaped praise on Trump’s health during a January news conference, declaring the president has “incredible genes” and joking that he could live to be 200 years old if he improved his diet. The remarks are said to have endeared Jackson to Trump and played a role in his selection to lead the VA.
Jackson’s nomination became imperiled earlier this week when the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee indefinitely postponed his confirmation hearing.
Tester and the committee’s chairman, Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), jointly announced the postponement and sent a letter to the administration asking for “any and all communications” between the White House and Defense Department related to “allegations” about Jackson from 2006 to the present.
Isakson in a statement thanked Jackson for his service and said he will “work with the administration to see to it that we get a VA secretary for our veterans and their families.”
Staffers on the committee were looking into charges that Jackson created a “hostile work environment” and that he engaged in “excessive drinking on the job [and] improperly dispensing meds.”
The White House had defended Jackson against the allegations, which were detailed in a report released by Tester on Wednesday. Tester said the accusations came from 23 different current and former colleagues of Jackson, many of whom are still in the military.
Jackson has served as the White House physician to the president, a position he also held for both President Obama and President George W. Bush. The White House pointed to praise from Obama in defending Jackson.
Jackson allegedly wrote himself prescriptions, handed out drugs without prescriptions and kept a “private stock” of medication.
In addition to allegedly wrecking the car, the report said Jackson on another occasion “could not be reached when needed because he was passed out drunk in his hotel room.”
Following the release of the memo, Jackson denied that he ever wrecked a car and insisted his nomination would proceed as planned.
Trump on Tuesday had questioned why Jackson would want to go forward with the nomination and take “abuse” from politicians, comments that opened the door for the 50-year-old doctor to withdraw.
“It’s totally his decision, he’ll be making a decision,” Trump said this week.
Updated at 9:41 a.m.
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