White House signals it will fight on for Trump VA pick
The White House on Tuesday defended Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, President Trump’s embattled nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Jackson’s nomination is in jeopardy over allegations of misconduct as lead White House doctor, charges that the White House vociferously denied in a new statement.
“Dr. Jackson’s record as a White House physician is impeccable,” said a senior White House official. “He has improved unit morale, received glowing reviews and promotions under Republican and Democrat presidents, and has been given a clean vet from the FBI.”
The comments came after Trump met with Jackson in the Oval Office on Tuesday afternoon. Another White House official described it as a “positive” meeting that assuaged Trump’s concerns.
Just hours earlier, the president appeared to give the Navy admiral cover to withdraw.
“What does he need it for? To be abused by a bunch of politicians that aren’t thinking nicely about our country?” Trump told reporters at a news conference. “I really don’t think, personally, he should do it. But it’s totally his — I would stand behind him — totally his decision.”
It was difficult to see how Jackson would hang on after those comments, since they came as support for his nomination on Capitol Hill quickly eroded.
But the White House is demonstrating that it plans to stick by Jackson, at least for now, pointing to his record as White House doctor for Trump and President Obama.
The White House downplayed a 2012 inspector general’s report published by The Associated Press that showed Jackson and a colleague on the president’s medical team engaged in “unprofessional behavior” amid a power struggle.
The official noted the report said that the colleague, Dr. Jeffrey Kuhlman, was more to blame than Jackson, who requested the workplace review and acknowledged some fault for the situation.
The White House included handwritten notes from subsequent performance reports that were approved by Trump and Obama.
“Ronny does a great job — genuine enthusiasm, poised under pressure, incredible work ethic and follow through. Ronny continues to inspire confidence with the care he provides to me, my family and my team. Continue to promote ahead of peers,” Obama wrote in 2016.
Officials also pushed back on allegations that Jackson overprescribed medications, saying that Jackson stayed “within the official guidelines” of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and the Defense Health Agency.
Jackson still faces an uphill battle to be confirmed in the Senate.
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee postponed a confirmation hearing scheduled for Wednesday to further review the allegations against Jackson, who already faced widespread skepticism over whether he is qualified to lead the sprawling agency.
Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) asked the White House for a wide range of documents to try to assess the claims.
“I’m doing my job as chairman. I just want the truth to get out when it’s supposed to get out for the people that need to hear it, and that’s the committee,” Isakson said.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), the panel’s ranking member, said the charges also included being drunk on duty and that he found them to be credible.
“They’re credible enough that we need to vet it,” Tester said in an interview with NPR.
Nathaniel Weixel contributed.
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