Troubles rise for Trump's VA pick as Senate committee delays hearing

The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee has postponed indefinitely the confirmation hearing for President TrumpDonald John TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president MORE’s pick to run the Department of Veterans Affairs after committee leaders said they needed to look into "serious allegations" about nominee Ronny Jackson.

While the White House issued a statement Tuesday sticking by Jackson, the delay and an accompanying statement from the committee leaders underlined the problems Trump's pick may have in moving forward. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Chairman Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonTrump blasts Tester at Montana rally: 'He loves the swamp' Renaming Senate office building after McCain sparks GOP backlash GOP senator warns Trump: Anyone who trash-talks McCain 'deserves a whipping' MORE (R-Ga.) and Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterCBS Poll: Missouri, Montana Senate races in dead heats Dems play waiting game with Collins and Murkowski Watchdog groups to file complaint against Montana candidate alleging coordination with NRA MORE (Mont.), the panel's ranking Democrat, said in a statement that they were delaying the hearing because of "new information presented to the committee" about Jackson, who has been serving as the White House physician.

"We take very seriously our constitutional duty to thoroughly and carefully vet each nominee sent to the Senate for confirmation," the two said in a 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.”

While the statement did not offer details on the allegations faced by Jackson, CBS News reported that staffers are looking into chargers of a "hostile work environment," including "excessive drinking on the job [and] improperly dispensing meds.”

Jackson is on Capitol Hill meeting with members and expressed disappointment in a hallway interview with MSNBC about the postponement, saying he had been looking forward to it. But he did not comment on the allegations swirling around him.

 

 

"Kind of disappointed that it’s been postponed, but I’m looking forward to getting it rescheduled and answering everybody’s questions," he said in a response to a question about the allegations.

Asked if the charges about a hostile work environment, drinking on the job and overprescribing medicines are "categorically untrue," Jackson said he was "looking forward to the hearing, so we can sit down and I can explain everything to everyone and answer all the senators’ questions."

The White House stood by Jackson earlier Tuesday.

"Admiral Jackson’s record of strong, decisive leadership is exactly what’s needed at the VA to ensure our veterans receive the benefits they deserve," White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement.

Tester and Isakson sent a joint letter to the White House on Tuesday requesting more information about Jackson's service in the White House Medical Unit and as physician to the president.

Tester told NBC that he believed every member of the committee was standing by the decision to postpone the matter. 

The senators asked specifically for communications involving allegations about Jackson from 2006 to the present. 

When asked what information he was hoping to get, Isakson said, "The information we asked for."

He added that he was doing his "job as chairman" and that he just wants the truth to get out."

"Everything I've got to say has been said in the letter and the release," Isakson said. "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 also said he was "sure" he would meet again with Jackson.

Tester spoke later on Tuesday on the allegations against Jackson.

"Well, they fall in three different areas," the Montana senator said. "Improper dispensing of prescription drugs, repeatedly drunk while on duty while traveling and creating a toxic work environment."

He also spoke on Jackson allegedly being abusive toward staff.

"Some of the exact words that were used ... were abusive toward staff, very explosive personality," Tester said. "Belittles the folks underneath him. ... Basically creating an environment where the staff felt like they needed to walk on eggshells.

"I think we heard the same story from enough people repeatedly that there's a lot of smoke there."

Tester said he spoke with White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE who denied the allegations against Jackson.

"[Kelly] said, you know, these are just claims," Tester said. "There's no truth to it."

When Trump announced on Twitter that he was nominating Jackson, it took many in Washington by surprise.
 
The Senate only received paperwork from the Trump administration formalizing Jackson’s nomination last week, and he has been meeting privately with senators to try to convince them of his qualifications. Jackson's policy views on a range of subjects are unknown.

Jackson is a rear admiral in the Navy who has served as physician to three different presidents, including Trump. But his lack of experience in running an organization as large as Veterans Affairs had already drawn questions about his qualifications. Many believed he needed a solid hearing to ensure his confirmation in the closely divided Senate, where the GOP has a tenuous 51-49 majority.

Jordain Carney contributed.

Updated at 5:38 p.m.