Update 4/26/18: Dr. Ronny Jackson has withdrawn his nomination in light of the allegations. Original story below.
WASHINGTON—Dr. Ronny Jackson, a Navy Rear Admiral and President Trump’s pick to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, has been accused of drinking on the job, writing illegal prescriptions and of anger issues that create an unhealthy work environment. Those allegations, which Dr. Jackson denies, have indefinitely delayed Jackson’s Senate confirmation hearing, originally slated for this week. The reports are causing Republicans and Democrats alike to further question the Trump administration’s judgment when it comes to personnel decisions.
“This one seemed to happen pretty quickly, and somebody who’s going to run an agency this big, with so much responsibility, you want to make sure you’ve vetted properly,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) tells Rolling Stone. “I’m not sure that was done here.”
More than 20 current and former military personnel have come forward to accuse Dr. Jackson of being unfit to lead the roughly 350,000 staffers who make up the VA’s sweeping health network, as noted by Sen. Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. With an array of whistleblowers now airing their complaints, Tester says the White House needs to answer for its own vetting process.
“I don’t know what they would think. I don’t know what they did,” Tester tells RS.
The allegations against Dr. Jackson first surfaced late last week. This past weekend, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), the chair of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, convened his GOP members for a conference call and alerted them that it seemed likely they’d have to delay Dr. Jackson’s confirmation hearing – a delay he announced this week.
Democrats were previously concerned with Dr. Jackson’s lack of private sector and managerial experience. They also pressed him on whether he would go along with efforts inside the White House to privatize the VA. But now those concerns have become secondary to the reports about Dr. Jackson’s character, practices and personal habits that are pouring into the committee.
“I don’t know what’s true, but I do know that all kinds of people are coming forward, and that should have given the White House some pause on this nomination,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) tells RS.
Some Republicans maintain the problem with White House nominees rests not with the screening process, but with Democrats who are slowing down the confirmation process.
“I think vetting is generally not the problem. I don’t think that’s the issue that we’re concerned about,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) told reporters.
More than 10 Trump nominees have had to remove themselves from consideration after they either couldn’t answer simple questions pertaining to the position they were tapped for, or after scandals emerged that critics say should have prevented them from ever being nominated in the first place.
“The lapses and failures regarding Ronny Jackson are only the latest example,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who serves on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, vented to reporters Tuesday. “These failures in vetting are a profound disservice to our nation’s veterans, as well as to Admiral Jackson himself. And the questions that are festering and expanding now need to be addressed right away, literally today. The viability of his nomination depends on the administration’s ability to provide answers quickly, thoroughly, accurately and honestly.”
Later Tuesday, President Trump appeared to express his support for Dr. Jackson, while simultaneously putting distance between himself and the nominee. As reported by CNN, Trump told reporters: “He is a high-quality person. It’s totally his decision. So he’ll be making a decision. I don’t want to put a man through a process like this. It’s too ugly and too disgusting.”