Republican lawmakers have knocked President Donald Trump from behind the veil of anonymity, but several of them have gone on the record to criticize his handling of the Veterans Administration leadership.
Several GOP senators blamed the president for impulsively nominating White House physician Ronny Jackson to lead the VA without checking into his background or qualifications, and said the episode was part of a wider pattern of poor decision making, reported Politico.
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), the chairman of the Senate’s Veterans Affairs Committee, urged the president not to fire VA Secretary David Shulkin, but Trump ousted him anyway and quickly tapped Jackson as his replacement — which angered White House chief of staff John Kelly and other aides.
“I had my doubts from the beginning,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). “To run an agency this big, with so much responsibility, you want to make sure you vet it properly … I’m not sure that was done here.”
The White House lacked a coordinated response once the whisper campaign against Jackson went public, and Trump hinted the nominee should step aside over allegations of workplace drinking and other unprofessional behavior are revealed.
“The president says, ‘Oh yeah, I wouldn’t move forward with it.’ I mean, what does that say? If the president is going to put forward somebody’s name, he needs to have the confidence in that individual,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) told Politico. “And if it’s just like kind of a knee-jerk, here’s a warm body? Then his team needs to work to make sure that the president sees the short-sightedness of that.”
The website quoted several Democratic senators who faulted the president for his handling of the agency and its leaders, but four GOP senators and a former Trump administration official agreed to offer criticism on the record.
“They haven’t vetted the guy,” said Darin Selnick, a former Veterans Affairs adviser for the White House Domestic Policy Council under Trump. “They’re vetting while trying to confirm him and they honestly don’t know — is there substance to the allegations?”
Jackson denied the allegations during a private meeting with Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), who praised the physician as “impressive” and cast doubt on the claims against Trump’s nominee — while subtly knocking the White House vetting process.
“Someone in the military in a leadership position has an annual review. The proper thing to do is to not reach any conclusions,” Moran said. “He’d like to respond to the allegations, but my impression is he doesn’t know what they are, either.”
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) said the claims were serious, and he said the White House should have conducted more background investigation before picking Jackson to lead the agency.
“If it is true, then that is a vetting mess,” Tillis said.
Murkowski blamed the president for the mess, saying he acted in haste to name a replacement for Shulkin.
“Sometimes it’s like: ‘Gotta fill it, gotta fill it, gotta fill it right away,’” Murkowski said. “If the president wasn’t satisfied with Shulkin, he could have put someone in as acting [secretary] and done a more fulsome vetting.”