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United States

US senators delay confirmation hearing for Trump’s Veterans Affairs nominee amid new allegations

Ronny Jackson, Trump’s White House doctor, is facing questions about his workplace practices and ability to manage a huge federal department

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2018, 1:31am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 April, 2018, 3:23am

Senate leaders have delayed the confirmation hearing for US President Donald Trump’s pick to be Veterans Affairs (VA) secretary amid late-surfacing allegations about the nominee’s workplace practices and questions about his ability to manage the government’s second-largest department.

The hearing for Ronny Jackson, Trump’s White House doctor and a Navy rear admiral, which had been set for Wednesday at the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, was indefinitely postponed.

“We take very seriously our constitutional duty to thoroughly and carefully vet each nominee sent to the Senate for confirmation,” said the chairman, Republican Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, and the top Democrat on the committee, Senator Jon Tester of Montana.  

“We will continue looking into these serious allegations and have requested additional information from the White House to enable the committee to conduct a full review.”

Isakson told fellow Republican senators over the weekend about the new allegations, including claims of inappropriate behaviour and overprescribing prescription drugs, according to two aides granted anonymity to discuss the situation. The claims prompted those on the panel to give their support for delaying the hearing, one senator said.

“Chairman Isakson had a phone conversation with a lot of us around the committee over the weekend, indicated that there had been some unsubstantiated allegations made, and he wants to do it right,” said Republican Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota.

“We told him that if he wanted to delay the meeting, that was fine with us. We most certainly want to get all the facts out,” he said.

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Democrats on the committee assembled privately late on Monday. Tester reiterated to the other senators that the allegations were out there, one aide said. But no specific evidence of wrongdoing was offered.

Trump selected Jackson to head the VA last month after firing former Obama administration official David Shulkin following an ethics scandal and mounting rebellion within the agency. 

But Jackson, who has worked as a White House physician since 2006, has faced numerous questions from Republican and Democratic lawmakers as well as veterans groups about whether he has the experience to manage the huge department of 360,000 employees serving 9 million veterans.

White House and VA officials were quietly discussing a delay with key allies outside the administration, even as White House spokesman Hogan Gidley on Tuesday praised Jackson’s nomination.

“Admiral Jackson has been on the front lines of deadly combat and saved the lives of many others in service to this country. He’s served as the physician to three Presidents, Republican and Democrat, and been praised by them all,” he said. “Admiral Jackson’s record of strong, decisive leadership is exactly what’s needed at the VA to ensure our veterans receive the benefits they deserve.”

Late Monday, Jackson was still pursuing support, and held a late-afternoon conference call with veterans groups from West Virginia and the state’s Democratic senator, Joe Manchin, a member of the committee, whose vote could be vital for support.

Rounds said Jackson’s small staff at the White House would be an issue as he prepares to lead the VA.

“We’ve got 360,000 people there,” he said. “Are they going to manage the secretary or is the secretary going to manage the VA? That’s a good question to ask, and he needs to answer it. He needs to be the leader. A lot of folks want to be led and managed.”

Rounds said the committee still needed more paperwork from the White House on Jackson before the nomination could go forward.