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Senate confirms Denis McDonough to lead VA under Biden

Senate confirms Denis McDonough to lead VA under Biden
© Bloomberg/Pool

The Senate on Monday confirmed Denis McDonoughDenis Richard McDonoughOvernight Defense: Biden officially rolls out Afghanistan withdrawal plan | Probe finds issues with DC Guard helicopter use during June protests Congress must address the toxic exposure our veterans have endured Veterans shouldn't have to wait for quality care MORE to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The Senate confirmed McDonough in a 87-7 vote. The "no" votes came from GOP Sens. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyCheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts Pollster Frank Luntz: 'I would bet on' Trump being 2024 GOP nominee Why isn't Washington defending American companies from foreign assaults? MORE (Mo.), Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Opposition to refugees echoes one of America's most shameful moments White House defends CDC outreach to teachers union MORE (Ark.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstConservative Club for Growth PAC comes out against Stefanik to replace Cheney A bipartisan effort to prevent the scourge of sexual assault in the armed forces Ernst defends Cheney, calls for GOP unity MORE (Iowa), Roger MarshallRoger W. MarshallFauci vs. Rogan: White House works to stomp out misinformation Kris Kobach files paperwork to run for Kansas AG Kansas senator blames misinformation, bureaucrats for vaccine hesitancy MORE (Kansas), Rick Scott (Fla.), Bill Hagerty (Tenn.) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts Pollster Frank Luntz: 'I would bet on' Trump being 2024 GOP nominee Tim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls MORE (Texas).

Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranBottom line Hawley votes against anti-Asian hate crime bill Senate passes anti-Asian hate crimes bill MORE (R-Kan.), who has voiced his support for McDonough, was unable to vote due to flight delays caused by weather, preventing him from traveling to Washington, D.C.

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McDonough is only the second non-veteran to be voted into the post, which oversees health care for some 9 million veterans, provides pensions and life insurance, helps with housing assistance and education, and oversees national cemeteries. The VA is one of the federal government’s largest departments, with nearly 400,000 employees and a budget of $243 billion.

Prior to the vote, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterAmericans for Prosperity launches campaign targeting six Democrats to oppose ending filibuster Overnight Defense: Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform | US troops begin leaving Afghanistan | Biden budget delay pushes back annual defense policy bill Gillibrand makes new push for military sexual assault reform MORE (D-Mont.) spoke in favor of McDonough, telling lawmakers that “veterans need someone like Denis fighting in their corner.”

“Now more than ever, veterans need a strong leader who will prioritize delivering timely and quality health care and benefits over making political points. I am confident that as VA secretary Denis will be squarely focused on serving these needs,” Tester said.

McDonough, a former White House chief of staff under former President Obama, was an unexpected choice to lead the VA. There was early concern that as a non-veteran his limited firsthand experience with the VA would kneecap him in leading what is considered one of the most difficult federal agencies to run due to its sheer size and scope.

But President BidenJoe BidenAtlanta mayor won't run for reelection South Carolina governor to end pandemic unemployment benefits in June Airplane pollution set to soar with post-pandemic travel boom MORE said he chose McDonough due to his experience in crisis management and his in-depth knowledge of government operations.

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McDonough also takes on the role as the department must contend with the massive undertaking of administering COVID-19 vaccines to millions of veterans and VA employees across the country. 

More than 9,300 veterans and 125 VA staffers have died as a result of COVID-19.

McDonough is expected to be officially sworn into the new role as early as Tuesday.