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

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

The Senate easily cleared President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoaquín Castro: Trump would be 'in court right now' if he weren't the president or 'privileged' Trump flubs speech location at criminal justice conference Comey reveals new details on Russia probe during House testimony MORE's nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on Monday. 

Senators voted 86-9 on Robert Wilkie's nomination to be the VA secretary. 
 
Democratic Sens. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSanders to Colbert: 'You will be my vice presidential candidate!' Sanders: Trump said midterms were about him, and he lost Boston Globe pans Warren as ‘divisive figure’ ahead of potential 2020 run MORE (N.J.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenators want assurances from attorney general pick on fate of Mueller probe Mattis: Investigation into killing of Khashoggi is ongoing Senators introduce resolution saying Saudi crown prince 'complicit' in Khashoggi slaying MORE (Calif.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandNRA's Loesch: Gillibrand’s 'future Is female’ tweet 'is pretty sexist' Would-be 2020 Dem candidates head for the exits Rubio mocks Gillibrand tweet saying the future is ‘female’ and ‘intersectional’ MORE (N.Y.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisWarren fell for ‘Trump trap’ with DNA test, says progressive Swalwell: Open to Swalwell-Biden or Biden-Swalwell ticket Boston Globe pans Warren as ‘divisive figure’ ahead of potential 2020 run MORE (Calif.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyMattis: Investigation into killing of Khashoggi is ongoing Senators introduce resolution saying Saudi crown prince 'complicit' in Khashoggi slaying Overnight Defense: Washington bids farewell to George H.W. Bush | Senators offer resolution calling Saudi prince 'complicit' in Khashoggi killing | US Navy sails near Russia-claimed waters MORE (Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyDem senator accuses Trump of aiding 'cover up' over Khashoggi Criminal justice reform splits 2020 Democrats White House jumps into fight over energy subsidies MORE (Ore.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDemocrats wise to proceed cautiously on immigration Strategist behind Warren's political rise to meet with O'Rourke: report Warren fell for ‘Trump trap’ with DNA test, says progressive MORE (Mass.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care: House set to vote on bill targeting drug companies for overcharging Medicaid | Dems press Trump officials on pre-existing conditions | Tobacco giant invests .8B in Canadian marijuana grower House set to vote on bill cracking down on drug companies overcharging Medicaid Manchin’s likely senior role on key energy panel rankles progressives MORE (Ore.) and independent Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersChildren's singer Raffi on criticizing Trump: 'You have to fight fascism with everything you’ve got' Sanders to Colbert: 'You will be my vice presidential candidate!' Sanders: Trump said midterms were about him, and he lost MORE (Vt.) voted against the nomination. 
 
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 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 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 IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonGeorgia’s midterm elections reveal historic voter realignment Veterans have been deprived of their earned benefits for two decades US firm goes on lobbying blitz in fight with Angola 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) TesterSchumer gets ready to go on the offensive Criminal justice reform splits 2020 Democrats Farmers sticking with Trump, says GOP senator 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.