Shulkin Out as VA Secretary, White House Physician Tapped to Replace Him

Move follows latest string of West Wing, Cabinet departures

Rear Adm. Ronny L. Jackson, seen here at a January press briefing, is President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace David Shulkin as Veterans Affairs secretary. (Alex Wong/Getty Images file photo)

President Donald Trump announced Wednesday evening on Twitter that he has fired embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and will nominate his military physician, Adm. Ronny L. Jackson, to replace him.

Jackson is a rear admiral in the Navy, and has appeared at the White House briefing room podium in his uniform. He gave Trump a clean bill of health after his latest physical. He also was the military physician for former President Barack Obama and served in the 2003 Iraq War as an emergency medicine physician.

Jackson’s prospects for confirmation by the Senate are murky given that he has never before been in a command or political post.

Still, his nomination shows how the president values those in his inner circle. The announcement comes after a New York Times report alleging the president’s former personal lawyer, John Dowd, talked to Micheal Flynn and Paul Manafort’s lawyers about pardons last year.

Shulkin won unanimous confirmation from the Senate last year but fell out of favor with Trump and senior White House aides following a scathing report from VA’s inspector general about a trip to Europe on taxpayers’ dime. He also, at times, clashed with the White House over policy matters.

The Defense Department’s Robert Wilkie will serve as acting secretary, the president continued via Twitter.

Shulkin’s firing follows that of national security adviser H.R. McMaster, whom Trump is replacing with John Bolton, a controversial hawkish conservative who worked for President George W. Bush and pushed for the 2003 Iraq War.

In recent weeks, Trump confidante and White House communications director Hope Hicks, and his chief economic adviser Gary Cohn have stepped down. Earlier this month, his personal assistant Johnny McEntee resigned amid allegations of financial missteps. Those departures followed a slew of others, including multiple Cabinet secretaries and two deputy chiefs of staff, another national security adviser, two other communications directors, a press secretary, his longtime security director, and others.

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As Shulkin leaves, Trump and surrogates pushed back on a widely held view that his White House and administration have again become chaotic.

“The president told me he’s perplexed by all of these reports, there’s chaos at the White House, or mass staff changes. He told me that he thinks the White House is operating like a smooth machine, in his words,” Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy, who speaks with Trump regularly, said Sunday.

“He did say that he’s expecting to make one or two major changes … to his government very soon, and that’s going to be it,” Rudy told ABC News before Shulkin’s firing. 

Ruddy shot down talk that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly might be on the way out, as well. He called the reports of turmoil and chaos “fake news.”

Yet, several recent days at the White House have suggested otherwise. For instance, on Friday, Trump shellshocked his senior staff by threatening to veto a massive spending bill a day after his budget director and chief legislative liaison were dispatched to assure lawmakers and reporters that he would sign it. Many aides had no answers after his abrupt announcement on Twitter, and then scrambled to talk him into signing the bill.

Senate Veterans’ Affairs member Bernie Sanders said Sunday that the situation at the department is mostly “about Trump’s desire to privatize the VA and his belief that Secretary David Shulkin is not moving fast enough in that direction.”

“The veterans organizations, representing millions of those who put their lives on the line to defend us, want us to strengthen the VA, not dismember it,” Sanders said in a statement. “The Senate Veterans Committee, on which I serve, must stand with the veterans of our country and oppose all efforts to privatize the VA.”

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