Republicans want Trump’s VA nominee to withdraw

Senate Republicans are hoping that President TrumpDonald John Trump5 things to know about Boris Johnson Conservatives erupt in outrage against budget deal Trump says Omar will help him win Minnesota MORE’s pick to head the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) withdraws his name and spares them a messy confirmation fight.

While some GOP lawmakers are characterizing the allegations of improper conduct against Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson as “cheap shots,” they have serious concerns about his lack of management experience.

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“He’s totally unqualified,” said one Republican senator who expressed disbelief that Trump picked his personal physician, who now oversees a staff of 70, to head the federal government’s second-largest agency.

The lawmaker expressed hope that Jackson would pull out, or that a few GOP colleagues would publicly announce their opposition, making it clear the nominee can’t win a confirmation vote.

Republican senators say they aren’t eager to spill blood defending a nominee against a barrage of allegations of unprofessional conduct when they already have serious questions about his ability to manage a vast and complicated federal bureaucracy.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has 360,000 employees and a $186 billion budget.

Poor treatment of military veterans has been a potent issue in past campaigns, and one that Trump talked about extensively during his run for the presidency in 2016. 

GOP lawmakers are concerned that brushing aside complaints from nearly two dozen current and former colleagues of Jackson’s could come back to bite them, especially if performance at Veterans Affairs fails to improve.  

So far, most Republican lawmakers are waiting to see what their colleagues on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee conclude about Jackson’s fitness before passing their own judgment on the nominee.

But the early signals that Republicans on the panel are sending to the rest of the GOP conference are not positive.

“A few members of the committee have shown great reluctance,” said a second Republican senator, who requested anonymity to discuss Jackson’s prospects frankly.

A third Republican senator raised doubts about Jackson’s credentials.

“He’s really going to have to demonstrate that he has the managerial experience to take this on,” said the lawmaker. 

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” the lawmaker added, expressing hope that colleagues “figure it out quickly.”

“VA is huge and it has been troubled for years. They need a real manager,” the lawmaker added.

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi looks to squash fight with progressives MORE (D-Mont.), the ranking member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, released a detailed memo on Wednesday of allegations against Jackson that his panel has heard from 23 of the nominee’s current and former colleagues.

The complaints allege Jackson, who has served as physician to the president under Trump and former Presidents Obama and George W. Bush, routinely handed out prescription medication without the proper paperwork, earning the name “Candyman” from White House staff.

They also accuse him of seeming drunk while on duty, wrecking a government vehicle while drunk and exhibiting an “explosive” temper in the workplace.

Jackson is also alleged to have kept a personal stash of controlled substances.

He is said to have once provided a large supply of Percocet — an addictive painkiller — to a White House staffer, prompting a panic over missing pills within the White House Medical Unit.

Jackson on Wednesday denied that he crashed a car and said his nomination is “moving ahead as planned.” 

“I never wrecked a car," Jackson told reporters at the White House, adding that he has "no idea where that is coming from." 

Trump on Tuesday indicated that he was ready to drop support from Jackson, telling reporters at a press conference that he didn’t want to put “one of the finest people I have met” through the wrenching process of having to defend his reputation during a hostile Senate confirmation process.

“What does he need it for?” Trump asked.

But then Trump shifted course after meeting with Jackson later in the day, and White House officials started mounting a vigorous defense of his nomination.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Jackson’s record on Wednesday as “impeccable” and declared he “has received more vetting than most nominees.”

Sanders said four separate background checks did not raise any problems.  

Faced with intensifying attacks on the nominee from Democrats, some Republicans are stepping up their defense of Jackson.

Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynTrump, Democrats clinch two-year budget deal Overnight Energy: Senators push back on EPA's new FOIA rule | Agency digs in on rule change | Watchdog expands ethics probe of former EPA air chief Bipartisan senators fight 'political considerations' in EPA's new FOIA rule MORE (R-Texas) argued that Jackson’s alleged practice of handing out the sleep aid Ambien and the stimulant Provigil to help White House staff regulate their sleep cycles during overseas trips isn’t a big deal.

“On overseas travel, people take Ambien to help them transition through time zones,” Cornyn told reporters. “It’s pretty common, I’m led to believe.”

Even so, Cornyn warned that GOP leaders might not have enough votes to confirm Jackson, admitting there is “some uncertainty” about his prospects.

GOP Conference Chairman Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP rattled by Trump rally GOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal Poll: McConnell is most unpopular senator MORE (R-S.D.) told reporters on Tuesday that Jackson’s nomination didn’t appear to be ready for Senate scrutiny.

Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump applauds two-year budget deal with 0 billion spending hike Republicans scramble to contain Trump fallout McConnell says Trump is not a racist, but calls for better rhetoric MORE (R-N.C.), a member of the Veterans’ Affairs panel, has warned that Jackson’s nomination would be a “vetting mess” if the allegations are true.

Jackson met with Tillis on Wednesday. 

He met with another key member of the committee, Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranEpstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse Bottom Line Senate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown MORE (R-Kan.), on Tuesday to deny the allegations against him. 

Right now the nomination is in limbo.

Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonGeorgia senator discharged from hospital after fall Georgia senator hospitalized after fall Senate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown MORE (R-Ga.), the chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs panel and the head of the inquiry into the Jackson allegations, has indefinitely postponed his confirmation hearing, which was supposed to take place Wednesday.

Isakson said he has not yet decided on when to reschedule it.

Most Republican members of the committee met with Jackson last week before the allegations of improper behavior became public.

Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerThis week: Barr back in hot seat over Mueller report Trump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary MORE (Nev.), the chamber’s most vulnerable incumbent Republican and a member of the committee, said in a statement Tuesday morning he would have “significant concerns” about Jackson’s ability to lead the VA if the allegations turned out to be true.