Senate confirms Trump's VA pick despite opposition from some Dems

Senate confirms Trump's VA pick despite opposition from some Dems
© Greg Nash

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Senators voted 86-9 on Robert Wilkie's nomination to be the VA secretary. 
 
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The nine "no" votes make Wilkie the first VA secretary to have senators vote against their nomination since the post was elevated to a Cabinet-level position in 1989.
 
Trump applauded the vote on Twitter:Wilkie's confirmation gives the VA its first Senate-confirmed secretary since Trump fired David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinVA inspector general says former top official steered M contract to friend Schumer demands answers in use of unproven coronavirus drug on veterans Former Trump VA secretary says staffer found plans to replace him in department copier MORE in March amid months of controversy over allegations of misusing taxpayer funds. 
 
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“I am confident that Robert Wilkie is the right leader because he has the expertise, the judgement and the character to take on the challenges that lie ahead and will bring stability and leadership to the VA. I look forward to working with him to help transform the VA into a department worthy of our veterans," Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonThe Hill's Campaign Report: Is Georgia reaching a tipping point? Democrats hope for tidal moment in Georgia with two Senate seats in play GOP senators voice confidence over uphill Senate battle MORE (R-Ga.) said after the vote. 

 
Trump announced Shulkin's firing in a tweet on March 28 and tapped White House physician Ronny Jackson to be his successor.
 
But Jackson withdrew his nomination in April amid a firestorm of accusations of professional misconduct that publicly surfaced days before his confirmation hearing, including allegations that he provided a “large supply” of opioid painkillers to a White House military staffer. Jackson called the allegations "false and fabricated." 

By comparison, Wilkie's nomination was relatively drama-free.

Questions were temporarily raised about his nomination when The Washington Post reported that Wilkie has worked throughout his career for polarizing lawmakers and officials, whose controversial views he has defended.
 
But Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterInternal poll shows tight battle in Montana House race Bipartisan Senate group offers bill to strengthen watchdog law after Trump firings Senate confirms Trump's watchdog for coronavirus funds MORE (Mont.), the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans' Affairs panel, defended Wilkie, saying at the time that the nominee is qualified and a "good guy." 
 
Wilkie was subsequently approved by the Veterans' Affairs Committee in a near-unanimous vote
 
Wilkie previously ran military personnel policy at the Pentagon for the Trump administration before serving as acting VA secretary. He stepped down as acting VA secretary after being nominated for secretary.
 
The VA has been under the congressional microscope since a 2014 scandal that found department clinics across the country were manipulating data to downplay how long a veteran had been waiting for a health-care appointment.
 
 
As Trump's new VA secretary, Wilkie will find himself at the center of a fight over privatization that spun out of the 2014 scandal. 
 
Wilkie told the Veterans' Affairs Committee during his hearing that he would push back on privatization even if it ran counter to the White House's stance. 
 
"My commitment to you is I will oppose efforts to privatize," Wilkie said, adding that while the VA should be "central" to veterans' health care there was room for balance with private providers. 
 
Shulkin's ouster in March reignited speculation that the White House wanted to expand veterans' access to private-sector health-care providers. Shulkin also blamed his firing on forces within the administration who he said are pushing hard for greater privatization.
 
—Updated at 9:39 p.m.