Senate confirms Denis McDonough to lead VA under Biden
The Senate on Monday confirmed Denis McDonough 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 Hawley (Mo.), Tom Cotton (Ark.), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Roger Marshall (Kansas), Rick Scott (Fla.), Bill Hagerty (Tenn.) and Ted Cruz (Texas).
Sen. Jerry Moran (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.
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 Tester (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 Biden said he chose McDonough due to his experience in crisis management and his in-depth knowledge of government operations.
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.