- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Tuesday ordered the White House to turn over potentially embarrassing information on presidential doctor Ronny Jackson, a Navy rear admiral whose nomination to be the next VA secretary is stumbling.

President Trump said he is standing by his man and complained that Adm. Jackson is the latest of his picks to be railroaded by a minority party bent on obstruction. But he also left open the door, saying he would understand if Adm. Jackson wanted to drop out of a process that just got a lot rougher.

Senators postponed a confirmation hearing planned for this week, saying they needed more time to get to the bottom of reports of bad management at the White House medical office, where Adm. Jackson has been the doctor to President Obama and Mr. Trump.

In a letter to Mr. Trump, they asked for inspector general reports detailing “allegations or incidents involving Rear Admiral Jackson from 2006 to present” from his time at the White House. They also asked for evidence of any other problems Adm. Jackson may have encountered at the White House.

“It is our duty to ensure that the individual who serves as secretary of Veterans Affairs is qualified, capable and appropriate for the position,” Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican, and Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the ranking Democrat, said in their letter to Mr. Trump.

The Associated Press reported that a 2012 inspector general’s report recommended removing Adm. Jackson and a rival doctor from their jobs after finding they exhibited “unprofessional behaviors.”

Democrats hinted at accusations of a hostile work environment and inappropriate prescribing of drugs. Mr. Tester, speaking to NPR late Tuesday evening, said they had also heard reports that Adm. Jackson was “repeatedly drunk” on duty.

“President Trump, who paid a whole lot of lip service to veterans while he was out on the campaign trail, either didn’t care or didn’t bother to take the time to ensure he was sending over a fully vetted nominee,” said Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat and a member of the committee reviewing Adm. Jackson’s nomination.

The VA itself has been under fire since reports during the Obama administration of veterans dying while stuck on secret wait lists. Congress and the administration have tried to make changes, but reports of mismanagement have continued to mount.

The slow pace of progress, combined with a clash over vision for the VA, led to the ouster of Mr. Trump’s original secretary, David Shulkin, last month. He was a senior VA official under the Obama administration and had been kept on for continuity.

Mr. Trump then delivered his surprise pick of Adm. Jackson, who just months earlier had delivered a glowing public report on the president’s health — drawing negative reactions from some doctors and pundits.

On Capitol Hill, it was Adm. Jackson’s lack of experience running anything close to the size and scope of the bureaucracy of the VA that had drawn scrutiny. This week, reports of mismanagement added to those concerns.

Guests for Mr. Trump’s state dinner Tuesday night with French President Emmanuel Macron were pestered with questions from the press about Adm. Jackson’s fate, and Mr. Trump was asked about his VA nominee during a press conference at the White House with Mr. Macron.

Mr. Trump said he wasn’t aware of “the particular allegations” but called his doctor “one of the finest people that I have met.” He did, however, acknowledge that his nominee might struggle to run an agency as large as the VA.

“There’s an experience problem,” the president said — though he later added that there is no training that can prepare someone for the sprawling VA, with more than 35,000 employees charged with delivering health care to more than 9 million veterans and overseeing disability benefits for nearly 5 million.

Mr. Trump said he would understand if Adm. Jackson wanted to drop out of consideration and that he wouldn’t go through the process if he were the nominee.

“The fact is, I wouldn’t do it,” he said. “What does he need it for? To be abused by a bunch of politicians that aren’t thinking nicely about our country? I really don’t think personally he should do it, but it’s totally his — I would stand behind him — totally his decision.”

Later Tuesday, the president met with Adm. Jackson, and they appeared to regroup for a fight against accusations that they thought were overblown.

Still, key Republican senators were noncommittal.

“Look, it’s up to the administration to do the vetting. And I think those are the kinds of questions you ought to direct to them,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, told reporters.

He said he is waiting for signals from Mr. Trump and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee on whether to move forward.

Mr. Isakson, the committee chairman, told CNN earlier Tuesday that the doctor deserves a chance to answer the accusation.

“I’m concerned that the press is making up far too many stories that aren’t true before we even get a chance to have a meeting,” the Georgia Republican said.

Mr. Isakson has not set a new date for a confirmation hearing.

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