Trump's nominee for the VA is on the ropes

Trump's nominee for the VA is on the ropes
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump opens new line of impeachment attack for Democrats Bloomberg to spend 0M on anti-Trump ads in battleground states New witness claims first-hand account of Trump's push for Ukraine probes MORE's pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs was in the spotlight Tuesday as allegations of workplace misconduct swirled, and the president opened the door to his nominee's withdrawal.

Staffers on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee are looking into charges Adm. Ronny Jackson created a hostile work environment, excessively drank on the job and improperly dispensed medications.

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The allegations have roiled Jackson’s nomination, which was already facing skepticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. They have also raised questions about the Trump administration's vetting of Jackson.

A Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing scheduled for Wednesday has been indefinitely postponed while panel leaders investigate.

Chairman Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonVeterans face growing threat from online disinformation Eleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid Juan Williams: Republicans flee Trump MORE (R-Ga.) and Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterTester: Our forefathers would not have tolerated Trump asking Ukraine to investigate Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Fallout from day one of Trump impeachment hearing Veterans face growing threat from online disinformation MORE (D-Mont.), the panel's ranking member, asked the White House for a wide range of documents to try to assess the claims.

“I'm doing my job as chairman. I just want the truth to get out when it's supposed to get out for the people that need to hear it, and that's the committee," Isakson said.

Tester, in an interview with NPR Tuesday, elaborated on the allegations. Allegedly, Jackson was "repeatedly drunk while on duty" and screamed at and belittled his staff. He added that “more than 20” military personnel have come forward to speak about Jackson’s conduct. 

Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsHillicon Valley: Facebook launches 'News Tab' | Senate passes bill to take on 'deepfakes' | Schumer outlines vision for electric cars Senate passes legislation to combat 'deepfake' videos America's newest comedy troupe: House GOP MORE (R-S.D.), who also sits on the committee, said the allegations were made last week, but members were not made aware of them until they had a phone call with Isakson over the weekend.

The Veterans' Affairs Committee typically operates in a bipartisan fashion, and Rounds noted that when Isakson floated the idea of delaying the hearing, members said they would support him “whichever way he decided.”

Tester told reporters that even though the allegations are unsubstantiated, he finds them credible.

“They're credible enough that we need to vet it,” Tester said, and added the soonest a hearing could be rescheduled was within 10 days.

Tester said he thinks Jackson’s nomination is still salvageable.  

Yet it is difficult to see how Jackson will remain as the nominee after Trump, who acted alone to pick him for the job, effectively told him he would be better off if he stepped aside.

"If I were him, I wouldn't do it,” Trump said on Tuesday.

During a press conference at the White House with French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump said he is standing by Jackson, but suggested that Jackson should drop out rather than confront “abuse” from politicians.

“This is a vicious group of people that malign. What do you need this for? … You’re too fine a person,” Trump said he told Jackson.

Later on Tuesday, Trump met with Jackson at the White House for what was described as a positive meeting. News reporters after the two met said Jackson intended to fight for his confirmation.

When Trump announced on Twitter last month that he was nominating Jackson, it took many in Washington by surprise. The nomination process moved quickly.

The Senate only received paperwork from the Trump administration formalizing the nomination last week, and Jackson's policy views on a range of subjects are unknown.

Jackson, 50, is a rear admiral in the Navy who has served as a White House physician for the past three administrations, and was the physician for both President Obama and Trump. But his lack of experience in running an organization as large as the VA had already drawn questions about his qualifications.

Many believed he needed to impress members at his hearing to ensure his confirmation in the closely-divided Senate, where the GOP has a tenuous 51-49 majority.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Trump asks Supreme Court to block Dem subpoena for financial records | Kudlow 'very optimistic' for new NAFTA deal | House passes Ex-Im Bank bill opposed by Trump, McConnell Top House Democrats ask for review of DHS appointments Warren promises gradual move toward 'Medicare for All' in first 100 days MORE (R-Ky.) declined to say on Tuesday if Jackson should withdraw his nomination, deferring to Isakson and the Trump administration. McConnell sidestepped a question on whether he knew about the allegations when he met with Jackson late last week.  

Jackson met with committee members on Capitol Hill Tuesday, and expressed disappointment in a hallway interview with MSNBC about the postponement of the hearing, saying he had been looking forward to it. But he did not comment on the allegations.

Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranMicrosoft embraces California law, shaking up privacy debate It's time for Congress to establish a national mental health crisis number Overnight Defense: Top diplomat changes testimony to indicate quid pro quo | Dem offers measure on Turkish human rights abuses in Syria | Warren offers plan to address veteran suicide rates MORE (R-Kan.) told reporters after his meeting with the nominee that he had yet to see any of the allegations against Jackson, and that Jackson himself denied the allegations.

“He does deny he’s done anything wrong in the service to the country,” Moran said. “He indicated he knows of nothing that would prohibit him from being qualified, capable and the right person to be the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Moran said it’s important not to jump to conclusions, and wondered aloud why nobody raised these concerns before.

“In some ways you start with the premise that a member of the military ... has gone through review after review in his promotions,” Moran said. “I think it’s very premature to reach any conclusions about any so-called allegations that are out there.”

Democrats seized on the allegations as a failure of the White House to properly vet nominees.

“The administration has been abysmal in vetting and the lapses and failures regarding Ronny Jackson are only the latest example,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told reporters. “These failures in vetting are a profound disservice to our nation’s veterans as well as to Adm. Jackson himself.”

“It is really frustrating to me that this administration continues to not vet, or sloppily send over a nominee that leaves us to really vet them and look at serious questions,” said Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySenators press FDA tobacco chief on status of vaping ban Retirement bill blocked in Senate amid fight over amendments Senate Democrats call on White House to abandon plan to collect DNA from migrants MORE (D-Wash.).

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOn The Money: Trump asks Supreme Court to block Dem subpoena for financial records | Kudlow 'very optimistic' for new NAFTA deal | House passes Ex-Im Bank bill opposed by Trump, McConnell Warren, Brown press IRS on study reviewing Free File program Sunday shows — New impeachment phase dominates MORE (D-Ohio) said there have been a “significant” number of people coming forward to talk to the committee about Jackson.

“People that knew him, or know him, have worked with him, in the military and former military that are willing to talk to investigators about him,” Brown said.

“And why wasn't the White House doing that?" he added.

Alexander Bolton, Jordan Fabian and Jordain Carney contributed.