Trump to nominate acting VA secretary to lead department

Trump to nominate acting VA secretary to lead department
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpAustralia recognizes West Jerusalem as Israeli capital, won't move embassy Mulvaney will stay on as White House budget chief Trump touts ruling against ObamaCare: ‘Mitch and Nancy’ should pass new health-care law MORE announced Friday he will nominate acting Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie to permanently fill the position. 

Trump made the surprise announcement during a White House summit on prison reform as news broke of a deadly school shooting in southeast Texas. 

After addressing the shooting, Trump informed Wilkie, who was sitting in the audience, that he would be the pick to lead the VA. The president said he had not shared the news with Wilkie before making it public.

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"He has done an incredible job at the VA. I’ll be informing him in a little while, he doesn’t know this yet, we’re going to be putting his name up for nomination to be secretary of the Veterans Administration," Trump said.

Wilkie walked to the podium and shook Trump’s hand as the audience stood and applauded. 

Wilkie, 55, is a longtime government official who took over as the acting head of the Veterans Affairs Department when former Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinEmails show top VA diversity official was told not to condemn Charlottesville violence  Mar-a-Lago trio reviewed confidential billion VA contract before its release: report Veterans have been deprived of their earned benefits for two decades MORE was ousted from his post. He is simultaneously serving as undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness.

Trump had nominated White House physician Ronny Jackson to replace Shulkin, but the nomination was withdrawn amid allegations he had created a hostile work environment, drank on the job and improperly handled prescription drugs. 

The Senate must confirm Wilkie before he can become the permanent VA secretary.

Trump was said to be considering Rep. Brian MastBrian Jeffrey MastThis week: Lawmakers return to mourn George H.W. Bush GOP limits Dem gains in Florida House seats GOP's Mast reelected to Florida House seat MORE (R-Fla.) and former Rep. Jeff MillerJefferson (Jeff) Bingham MillerVets can soon be thankful for Congress's interest in payment issues Veteran's GI Bill payments are a huge train wreck More veterans in Congress will mean more representation for our vets MORE (R-Fla.) for the post. Instead, he went with someone with years of administrative experience. 

Unlike Jackson, Wilkie has gone through the vetting process before when he was nominated for Pentagon posts under Trump and President George W. Bush.

Wilkie will face the challenge of taking over a sprawling agency that has struggled to move past a scandal surrounding wait times for patients at VA medical centers. He must also grapple with a fierce partisan battle over whether to privatize VA health-care services. 

Before serving in the Trump administration, Wilkie was a senior adviser to Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate votes to overturn IRS guidance limiting donor disclosure GOP tensions running high on criminal justice bill Trump tells McConnell to let Senate vote on criminal justice reform MORE (R-N.C.) and also worked under former national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.). 

Wilkie is the son of an Army artillery commander and is an officer in the Air Force Reserve, according to his Pentagon bio

Updated at 12:32 p.m.