Trump's pick to lead Veterans Affairs courts a skeptical Senate

President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs is meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill...

Posted: Apr 18, 2018 10:21 AM
Updated: Apr 18, 2018 10:21 AM

President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs is meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and has told several key Democratic senators that he is committed not to privatize veterans' health care.

The meetings, detailed in interviews Tuesday, provide the first insights into Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson's policy views ahead of an expected confirmation hearing next week, and place the White House physician squarely in the middle of a heated debate over how to best care for the United States' 20 million veterans.

"He assured me in tough questions back and forth that he will oppose privatization, that he will tell the President he's opposed to privatization," Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown told CNN after meeting with Jackson.

President Donald Trump's dismissal of David Shulkin, and announcement that Jackson, the White House physician, was his pick to serve as the head of the VA caused alarm among Democrats on Capitol Hill and major veterans groups like the Disabled American Veterans and American Legion. Those groups have worried that the change in leadership at VA would lead to a stark change in veterans' health care that they have long opposed, but that has the support of the advocacy group Concerned Veterans for America, which is funded by the billionaire conservative Koch brothers.

Shulkin has said that he believes he was fired because he was seen as an obstacle to expanding private care for the nation's veterans.

"He said all the right things, seems to have the same position on privatization as Shulkin had," Montana Sen. Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Committee, said of his meeting with Jackson on Tuesday. "I asked him if the President knew that and he said he hadn't had a conversation about privatization with the President."

"I said, 'You need to do that and then come back and tell me what the President says about you,'" Tester added.

A White House spokesman on Tuesday reiterated that the administration has had "no discussions" about privatizing care for veterans.

"President Trump is committed to ensuring our nation's veterans receive the care they rightfully deserve. This administration has taken several unprecedented steps to transform and modernize the VA, and there are no discussions about privatizing it," deputy press secretary Raj Shah said. "We look forward to continuing our work with Congress to reform and strengthen the VA Choice program to provide our veterans with more choice in their healthcare."

But as a candidate, Trump campaigned on the idea that he would fix the VA by allowing veterans more access to private doctors and, as recently as last month, he said veterans should be allowed to "run to a private doctor" if they wanted, a statement that revived concerns that drastically expanding private care was the end goal.

Brown said that while there is pressure in the White House to privatize care for the nation's veterans, Jackson "sounds like he'll push back."

"I know that the President wants to privatize. I know the Koch brothers and the funders of the Republican Party want to privatize. I know that a whole lot of Republican senators in leadership want to privatize, I'm counting on him to stand up," Brown said.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have also expressed concerns about whether Jackson has the right management and leadership experience to manage the sprawling, troubled agency.

"Ultimately, I need to reach the conclusion that I have confidence in this person to lead a huge organization that desperately needs strong leadership," Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran said. "I've said before one would think experience in other big operations would be important. We've had that with Sec. McDonald who came from Proctor and Gamble."

Jackson, whom Moran has yet to meet with, "doesn't have the experience that you traditionally would think would be required at the VA, but that doesn't preclude me from reaching the conclusion that he could be a good secretary," he added.

Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the second-most senior Democrat on the Veterans committee, met with Jackson on Tuesday and said that he said "all the right things about not privatizing the VA," but added that she still has questions about his "management and leadership of a large organization.

"Look, he has some issues with management, he hasn't really overseen a large group, and so, we'll sort through that," Tester said.

But South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican who will introduce Jackson at his confirmation hearing next week, said that the VA's problems aren't about management.

"The VA is not a management problem, it's an attitude problem. You don't need a manager to run an organization. You need somebody with the right attitude that the VA is going to better serve our veterans," said Graham, who added that he met with the "hard charging fella" on Tuesday. "You need a military sort of going to get this done attitude."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 265146

Reported Deaths: 5777
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17741191
Hinds16891332
Harrison14279204
Rankin11239220
Jackson10917190
Lee9071145
Madison8599169
Jones6731118
Forrest6208124
Lauderdale6121192
Lowndes5544120
Lafayette520598
Lamar505865
Washington4933125
Bolivar4126109
Oktibbeha408382
Panola386981
Pontotoc377460
Monroe3686110
Warren3685103
Marshall357170
Union356864
Pearl River3495106
Neshoba3490154
Leflore3118109
Lincoln306788
Hancock294262
Sunflower291975
Tate280662
Alcorn273154
Pike270181
Itawamba269363
Scott260048
Yazoo256756
Prentiss253754
Coahoma249755
Copiah249749
Tippah249750
Simpson242872
Leake238167
Marion224273
Grenada223972
Covington221073
Adams215171
Wayne213734
Winston207671
George204739
Newton199946
Attala197064
Tishomingo194961
Chickasaw189344
Jasper181138
Holmes172068
Clay166837
Tallahatchie157235
Stone152525
Clarke148162
Calhoun141322
Smith130026
Yalobusha123335
Walthall114537
Greene113729
Noxubee113026
Montgomery112036
Carroll106822
Lawrence106817
Perry105131
Amite102126
Webster96824
Tunica89021
Claiborne88825
Jefferson Davis88430
Benton85823
Humphreys84724
Kemper80920
Quitman7139
Franklin70617
Choctaw63713
Wilkinson59825
Jefferson56821
Sharkey45217
Issaquena1606
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 441170

Reported Deaths: 6660
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson646811007
Mobile31620572
Madison28310217
Tuscaloosa21525275
Montgomery19954332
Shelby19335132
Baldwin17256189
Lee13205107
Morgan12639142
Etowah12107181
Calhoun11521206
Marshall10471123
Houston9009164
Limestone834981
Cullman8274124
Elmore8214110
DeKalb7894107
Lauderdale7871107
St. Clair7854130
Talladega6481112
Walker6036183
Jackson601545
Colbert549994
Blount547386
Autauga537662
Coffee462464
Dale410785
Franklin374950
Russell357515
Chilton345473
Covington339680
Escambia335444
Tallapoosa3149109
Dallas313296
Chambers304270
Clarke300236
Pike262531
Lawrence254155
Marion253761
Winston233642
Bibb222348
Geneva211547
Marengo209331
Pickens199631
Hale185244
Barbour182738
Fayette178629
Butler174460
Cherokee165731
Henry159925
Monroe152421
Randolph146436
Washington142327
Clay130546
Crenshaw124045
Macon122337
Cleburne121825
Lamar120222
Lowndes115536
Wilcox107922
Bullock103528
Perry100018
Conecuh97922
Sumter90527
Greene77923
Coosa63618
Choctaw51924
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