President Trump on Saturday called on Sen. Jon Tester to resign, blaming the Montana Democrat for “false” allegations that sank the nomination of the White House doctor to lead the Veterans Affairs Department.
In a series of Twitter posts, Mr. Trump said the allegations against Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson released by Mr. Tester, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, were “slander.”
“Tester should resign. The great people of Montana will not stand for this kind of slander when talking of a great human being,” the president said.
Mr. Tester is running for reelection to a third term this year, in a state Mr. Trump won easily in the 2016 election.
The usually low-profile senate shot to the front pages this week after he led the push against Dr. Jackson, who has served in the White House Medical Office for President George W. Bush and President Obama and now Mr. Trump, and who received high ratings from all of them.
Even before the new allegations many Democrats and some Republicans had questioned Dr. Jackson’s qualifications to lead the VA, saying he’d never run anything close to the size of one of the government’s most massive departments.
SEE ALSO: Trump: Failure of VA nominee Ronny Jackson exposed Washington ‘disgrace’
And an inspector general’s report on the White House Medical Office in 2012 found a hostile workplace. Both Mr. Tester and Sen. Johnny Isakson, the Republican chairman of the committee, had requested more documents from the White House on those matters.
This week Mr. Tester offered more claims, saying Dr. Jackson’s employees and colleagues came forward to talk of overprescription of sleeping pills to White House staffers on foreign trips, of drunken loutish behavior, and of an incident in which he allegedly crashed a government vehicle while drunk.
The Secret Service has said it can’t find any record of the drunken behavior alleged.
Still, Dr. Jackson said this week he would withdrew his name from consideration.
Mr. Trump, who is clearly a personal fan of the doctor who delivered a memorable clean bill of health for the president last year, has taken the failure of the nomination hard. He blasted Mr. Tester during a press conference Friday, then repeated many of the charges again on Twitter Saturday.
“Admiral Jackson is the kind of man that those in Montana would most respect and admire, and now, for no reason whatsoever, his reputation has been shattered. Not fair, Tester!” the president said.
Mr. Tester has yet to respond officially to Mr. Trump, but after Dr. Jackson said he would bow out of the running for the VA job the senator thanked “service members who bravely spoke out over the past week” to derail the nomination.
“It is my constitutional responsibility to make sure the veterans of this nation get a strong, thoroughly vetted leader who will fight for them,” Mr. Tester said.
Underpinning the fight over the next VA secretary is a much bigger battle over the direction of the troubled department, which under Mr. Obama saw veterans die while stuck on secret waiting lists. In the wake of that scandal Congress approved legislation letting veterans go outside of the VA clinic network and seek care from private doctors, reimbursed by the government, if they were stuck waiting for appointments.
Democrats were reluctant partners in that effort and are now determined to stop any more drift toward private care, insisting the government can deliver better outcomes.
Ousted Secretary David Shulkin, who’d been a senior department official in the Obama administration before Mr. Trump elevated him to the top post, claimed he was pushed out by the Trump White House over the issue.
He also, however, faced criticism that he didn’t move quickly enough to fix the management scandals the plague the department.