Ousted Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on Friday would not say Ronny Jackson, President Donald Trump’s military doctor and pick to replace him, is qualified for the position.
Shulkin said Jackson, a Navy rear admiral who has no command or management experience, has the “right values” to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. But during an interview on MSNBC he stopped short of calling Jackson qualified to bring about the reforms needed to repair the agency and improve military veterans’ care.
The outgoing VA secretary reiterated his claims that Trump aides who favor privatizing the department manufactured a controversy surrounding alleged travel abuses by Shulkin, who says the trip in question was handled by the books and he did nothing wrong. He told the network that he was pushed out by a group wanting to privatize the VA, and warned that such a move would hinder veterans’ care.
But after Shulkin first floated that notion in an op-ed published Thursday morning, the White House tried to knock it down.
“No, there is no intent at this point to privatize the VA,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters told reporters on Air Force One.
Shulkin said White House chief of staff John F. Kelly called to notify him he was being fired shortly before Trump announced it via a late-afternoon tweet on Wednesday.
The fired secretary, an Obama administration holdover, took a shot at Trump, saying Washington during his presidency has become “too chaotic.”
“And that,” he added, “has me very concerned about what’s going to happen in the future.”
Shulkin did not say if he was told why the president chose his military doctor over candidates who have worked on veterans’ issues for years. But Walters offered one explanation on Thursday.
“The status quo has clearly failed, and we need somebody who understands health care,” the spokeswoman said.
“Admiral Jackson is a distinguished physician who has bipartisan respect,” Walters said, despite some skepticism on Capitol Hill. “The president has full confidence in his pick, in Admiral Jackson, and trusts his abilities, and believes he will be able to give our veterans the care they deserve.”
The pick shows just how much the president values his inner circle. Earlier this year, Jackson briefed reporters on Trump’s first physical exam as president, noting he sees Trump every day. Jackson gave the 71-year-old president a glowing health assessment in January, which reportedly thrilled Trump.
On Veterans Affairs problems and potential solutions, Jackson is a blank slate. That makes his Senate confirmation prospects murky, though no groundswell of staunch opposition has emerged.
Shulkin also called Trump “engaged” on the myriad issues plaguing the VA, and “inquisitive” during meetings about overhaul efforts. But he did not say the president has a firm grasp of all the problems within the agency.
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