Biden to nominate Denis McDonough for VA secretary

Greg Nash

President-elect Joe Biden has tapped Denis McDonough, who served as former President Obama’s White House chief of staff, as his pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The Biden transition team announced the pick on Thursday, along with a slew of other official nominations, including Susan Rice for director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Tom Vilsack for Agriculture secretary, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) for Housing and Urban Development secretary and Katherine Tai for U.S. trade representative.

This dedicated and distinguished group of public servants will bring the highest level of experience, compassion, and integrity to bear, solving problems and expanding possibilities for the American people in the face of steep challenges,” Biden said in a statement. 

“The roles they will take on are where the rubber meets the road — where competent and crisis-tested governance can make a meaningful difference in people’s lives, enhancing the dignity, equity, security, and prosperity of the day-to-day lives of Americans,” he added. 

McDonough is among several Obama alumni with national security experience to be tapped for the incoming Biden administration, along with Rice and Antony Blinken, Biden’s pick for secretary of State.

Rice served as a national security adviser and ambassador to the United Nations under Obama while Blinken worked as a deputy national security adviser and deputy secretary of State. McDonough also served as a deputy national security adviser and as chief of staff of the National Security Council.

McDonough, who if confirmed will be the second nonveteran to hold the top Veterans Affairs post, oversaw staffing changes and policy response to the VA’s 2014 wait time scandal that led to the resignation of then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, the Military Times noted.

Former VA Secretary David Shulkin, the only other nonveteran to serve as VA secretary, on Thursday took to Twitter to praise Biden’s reported selection of McDonough. 

He is an experienced leader who has helped #DeptVA through its’ toughest days in 2014 and cares deeply about #veterans,” Shulkin wrote. “He will do a great job.” 

Still, some indicated their surprise with the selection.

“We are surprised by this pick, no way to deny that,” Joe Chenelly, national executive director of AMVETS, a congressionally chartered veterans service organization, told the Military Times. “We were expecting a veteran, maybe a post-9/11 veteran, maybe a woman veteran, or maybe a veteran who knows the VA exceptionally well.”

The director added, “We are looking forward to hearing from President-Elect Biden on his thinking behind this nomination.”

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) said in a statement it was “concerned that the nominee does not meet the criteria long championed by the organization” but said it was “cautiously optimistic” about his nomination. The group’s CEO Jeremy Butler called the pick “unexpected but also encouraging.”

“IAVA has long championed three critical criteria for any VA Secretary: a veteran, a medical professional, and experience managing large bureaucratic organizations. Denis McDonough arguably meets one of those criteria at best,” Butler said in the statement.

“However, he does bring senior leadership, policy, and Congressional expertise as well as a strong personal connection to the President-Elect,” the CEO said, adding that while McDonough has “an incredibly steep learning curve in front of him,” he has “the ear and respect of Joe Biden as well as the ability to bring about policy reforms and attention by the White House and senior leaders that are needed for the improvement of VA and ensuring that it meets the needs of all veterans who use it.”

Updated: 3:12 p.m.

Tags Antony Blinken Associated Press Barack Obama Biden Cabinet picks Biden transition Cabinet David Shulkin Denis McDonough Eric Shinseki Joe Biden Marcia Fudge Politico Susan Rice Tom Vilsack Veterans Affairs White House

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