VA nominee pledges to oppose privatization

VA nominee pledges to oppose privatization
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald John TrumpCould Donald Trump and Boris Johnson be this generation's Reagan-Thatcher? Merkel backs Democratic congresswomen over Trump How China's currency manipulation cheats America on trade MORE’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs on Wednesday said he doesn't believe in privatizing the agency and pledged to oppose privatization efforts.

"My commitment to you is I will oppose efforts to privatize," even if it runs counter to the White House agenda, Robert Wilkie told a Senate panel.

Under questioning from Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBiden leads, Warren and Sanders tied for second in new poll Analysis: Harris, Buttigieg and Trump lead among California donations The Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants MORE (I-Vt.), Wilkie said he would keep the VA "central" to the care of veterans, but indicated there can be a balance.

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Democrats and some veterans service organizations believe the White House is being influenced by Charles and David Koch, conservative billionaires who back the group Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), which is pushing to loosen current restrictions on veterans receiving private-sector care.

Trump has made reforming the VA a major political goal, and the ousting of former secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinPress: Acosta, latest to walk the plank Senior Trump administration official to leave post next week Trump sent policy pitch from Mar-a-Lago member to VA secretary: report MORE in March stoked speculation that the White House wanted to drastically expand veterans’ access to private-sector health-care providers.

Shulkin blamed his ouster on forces within the administration that he said are pushing hard for unfettered privatization.

Wilkie breezed through Wednesday's confirmation hearing with scant opposition from Democrats.

Aside from privatization, committee Democrats pressed him lightly about his record on treatment of women and minorities following a news article about statements he made as a congressional aide.

Senators expressed hope that Wilkie would be confirmed quickly. No committee vote has been scheduled, and Congress will be in recess next week.

Updated at 5:11 p.m.