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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 TrumpTrump: 'I don't trust everybody in the White House' JPMorgan CEO withdraws from Saudi conference Trump defends family separations at border 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 BookerNoisy democracy, or rude people behaving like children? Georgia gubernatorial candidate confident election will be fair despite allegations of voter suppression Biden leads crowded field of Dems in potential 2020 matchup: poll MORE (N.J.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTop Judiciary Dems call for unredacted 'zero tolerance' memo MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace: I told Jeb Bush 'he should have punched' Trump 'in the face' Kavanaugh tensions linger after bitter fight MORE (Calif.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandOvernight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Senators seek US intel on journalist's disappearance | Army discharged over 500 immigrant recruits in one year | Watchdog knocks admiral over handling of sexual harassment case Pentagon watchdog knocks top admiral for handling of sexual harassment case Gillibrand backs Manchin, Bredesen despite their support of Kavanaugh MORE (N.Y.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden leads crowded field of Dems in potential 2020 matchup: poll Kamala Harris to campaign in Iowa for first time Harris accuses GOP of ‘weaponizing’ 2020 Census MORE (Calif.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyEPA chief calls racist Facebook post he liked ‘absolutely offensive’ Senate sends bill regulating airline seat sizes to Trump Ben Shapiro slams both parties for partisan treatment of FBI MORE (Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyEPA chief calls racist Facebook post he liked ‘absolutely offensive’ Dem senators urge Pompeo to reverse visa policy on diplomats' same-sex partners Overnight Defense — Presented by The Embassy of the United Arab Emirates — Missing journalist strains US-Saudi ties | Senators push Trump to open investigation | Trump speaks with Saudi officials | New questions over support for Saudi coalition in Yemen MORE (Ore.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenBiden leads crowded field of Dems in potential 2020 matchup: poll Trump attacks Democrat in Ohio governor's race Warren responds to 'arrogant woman' insult: 'Was I tough on John Kelly? ... You bet I was' MORE (Mass.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenCollusion judgment looms for key Senate panel Hillicon Valley: Facebook deletes accounts for political 'spam' | Leaked research shows Google's struggles with online free speech | Trump's praise for North Korea complicates cyber deterrence | Senators want Google memo on privacy bug On The Money: Jobless rate hits 49-year low | Officials face legal obstacles to pursuing tax charges against Trump | Tax story prompts calls to revise estate rules MORE (Ore.) and independent Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSenators pledge action on Saudi journalist’s disappearance Senators concerned as Trump official disputes UN climate change warning Jake Tapper hits Trump over 'Medicare for all' op-ed: ‘It’s only an hourlong show, we can’t get into every lie’ 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 ShulkinVeterans group sues to block advisers known as ‘Mar-a-Lago Crowd’ from influencing VA Mar-a-Lago insiders provided input on VA policy, personnel decisions: report Ahead of speech, Kansas City newspaper urges Trump to listen to veterans 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 IsaksonHouse conservatives want ethics probe into Dems' handling of Kavanaugh allegations Senate eyes Kavanaugh floor vote next week Trump blasts Tester at Montana rally: 'He loves the swamp' 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) TesterTrump adds campaign stops for Senate candidates in Montana, Arizona, Nevada Democrats hold fading odds of winning Senate this November Senate heads home to campaign after deal on Trump nominees 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.