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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 11:21 AM
Updated: Apr 18, 2018 11:21 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."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1118335

Reported Deaths: 17712
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1455892240
Lake724831254
Allen67063882
Hamilton51060487
St. Joseph49820649
Elkhart40268546
Vanderburgh34714497
Tippecanoe30808276
Johnson27696467
Hendricks26313385
Porter25657386
Madison21131455
Clark20238279
Vigo19059309
LaPorte17192261
Howard16770314
Delaware16761303
Monroe16628220
Kosciusko14293167
Hancock13113186
Bartholomew12983190
Warrick12210190
Wayne12090269
Floyd12011226
Grant11998245
Morgan10409192
Boone9869124
Noble9316122
Henry9177169
Marshall9152147
Dearborn8970100
Dubois8835140
Shelby8281130
Cass8167128
Lawrence8057185
DeKalb7817109
Jackson770793
Huntington7661115
Gibson7102118
Montgomery7101123
Harrison6954100
Knox6915116
Steuben669089
Whitley659660
Miami6595113
Putnam645085
Clinton627179
Wabash6221111
Jasper613192
Jefferson5856105
Ripley557294
Adams542281
Daviess5076117
Scott491580
Wells4836105
White478469
Greene4701101
Clay464662
Decatur4611110
Fayette452496
Jennings452067
LaGrange427491
Posey410044
Randolph3944107
Washington390956
Fountain375964
Fulton364874
Spencer362247
Starke355574
Owen353577
Sullivan348555
Orange331372
Jay331050
Rush309533
Carroll296239
Franklin292744
Perry290553
Vermillion283658
Tipton251167
Parke250130
Pike248644
Blackford222144
Pulaski210359
Newton182452
Brown177550
Crawford169129
Benton168417
Martin152120
Switzerland147612
Warren135816
Union122616
Ohio92413
Unassigned0595

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1731003

Reported Deaths: 26851
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1803711843
Cuyahoga1698662655
Hamilton1144371544
Montgomery810251405
Summit726231210
Lucas636141027
Butler57225814
Stark543091183
Lorain42754645
Warren36183417
Mahoning36035788
Lake32696501
Clermont31523369
Trumbull27614620
Delaware27394185
Licking26829344
Medina26290353
Fairfield24812287
Greene24540373
Clark22327390
Portage21504283
Richland21257342
Wood20300248
Allen19119326
Miami17456352
Columbiana17014335
Muskingum16873207
Wayne15873307
Tuscarawas14579362
Marion13440196
Ashtabula12927237
Erie12790199
Scioto12556188
Pickaway12308155
Ross11780226
Hancock11623175
Geauga11042179
Lawrence10698172
Belmont10509234
Huron9867159
Jefferson9687228
Union963775
Sandusky9428166
Seneca8993161
Knox8869176
Washington8714159
Darke8435181
Athens841897
Ashland8102152
Auglaize8018120
Shelby7551135
Defiance7418117
Crawford7356150
Fulton7262113
Brown7217116
Logan7061111
Guernsey700586
Mercer6959100
Highland6807120
Clinton6547106
Williams653899
Madison652590
Preble6334140
Putnam6288122
Champaign585187
Jackson584597
Perry570579
Ottawa5689102
Coshocton5688108
Morrow521765
Fayette497272
Hardin4947100
Gallia474278
Van Wert469395
Pike467678
Adams4619110
Henry439280
Hocking412493
Holmes4035141
Wyandot379275
Carroll371178
Paulding326351
Meigs307561
Monroe236861
Noble221549
Morgan219039
Harrison215253
Vinton189138
Unassigned06
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