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White House poised for more chaos over Veterans Affairs pick

The White House is in an increasingly familiar place: Facing down a chaotic nomination process.As the Trump ad...

Posted: May 2, 2018 10:19 AM
Updated: May 2, 2018 10:19 AM

The White House is in an increasingly familiar place: Facing down a chaotic nomination process.

As the Trump administration seeks to move past the failed nomination of Ronny Jackson to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, there's no clear front-runner to lead the massive agency and the process is far from finished, multiple sources tell CNN.

A White House official said five candidates are under consideration to lead the VA, a number that could fluctuate. The official didn't detail the names on the list, though speculation about potential candidates is rampant. West Wing staffers met Tuesday to discuss how to move forward, the official said.

The fact that there's no clear plan B -- rumored candidates range from chief of staff John Kelly to a former Florida congressman who has never served in the armed forces and has been previously passed over for the job -- suggests the administration is poised for another tumultuous nomination process even as it tries to learn lessons from the Jackson debacle.

"It is a total mess," one source close to the process told CNN.

The White House didn't respond to a CNN request for comment. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday that President Donald Trump would meet with "a number of individuals over the next couple of weeks," to name a replacement for Jackson. The White House doctor withdrew his name from consideration last week after allegations from his current and former colleagues related to his professional conduct were made public by a memo from Democrats on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

One potential candidate, former Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, will meet with Trump at the White House this week, according to two sources familiar with the plans.

But three sources familiar tell CNN there is less urgency to name a new nominee quickly because the White House is happy with the job acting secretary Robert Wilkie is doing.

"Robert Wilkie is doing such a great job," a senior administration official told CNN, giving the administration more time to thoughtfully vet a new nominee.

"I think he's very competent and was a great choice for acting secretary," another source familiar with White House thinking told CNN. "He has the right mindset and is approaching things in a very responsible way."

Wilkie, an undersecretary at the Defense Department, is taking his time to "learn the agency" the source added. Wilkie is meeting with veterans groups individually this week, the source said.

The administration is also taking steps to show it has learned lessons from Jackson's failed nomination, including getting opinions from the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. The panel will hold a confirmation hearing for an eventual nominee and the White House hopes to make sure committee members feel included in the process. A senior White House official told CNN the Senate committee has already submitted a list of prospective names to the White House for consideration.

A committee spokesperson didn't comment on such a list.

Lessons learned?

That level of engagement between the White House and Capitol Hill would mark a departure from the dysfunctional process that led to Jackson's withdrawal, as lawmakers in both parties complained about the administration's refusal to consult the committee both before and after officials submitted the nomination to the Senate.

The source said that, in hindsight, the White House should have more quickly reached out to members of Congress in support of Jackson's nomination.

Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, took the charge in raising concerns about Jackson's nomination. He released a two-page document detailing serious, but uncorroborated, allegations that the senator said were brought to the committee by Jackson's former and current colleagues. Tester and Georgia GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson, the committee's chairman, delayed Jackson's confirmation so that the committee could investigate.

"What we failed to do is tell his story and that left a blank slate that Tester could paint whatever he wanted on it," the senior White House official said, referring to the two week gap between the announcement of Jackson's nomination and Tester's move to go public with the allegations.

Isakson told CNN's Gary Tuchman Tuesday he's "sure the next nominee will be vetted in a different way and be handled in a different way by all of us."

On Wednesday, members of the Trump administration will meet with members of veterans groups at the White House, a routine gathering between the groups and White House officials, two sources tell CNN.

While the meeting's purpose is not to explicitly discuss the leadership at VA, one source at a veterans' group expected to attend said it "would be a really good relief" if a discussion about the vacancy occurred.

"That would be the first time that the White House signaled any interest in engaging (veterans service organizations) in this," the source said, adding that "nobody that I'm aware of in the veterans community was sought for advice, counsel or even input of any kind" before Jackson was nominated.

Potential candidates

Multiple sources told CNN that Trump had floated to allies the possibility of naming White House chief of staff John Kelly to run the VA, a move the White House has flatly denied but is a suggestion that has intrigued the President.

The idea that Kelly could move from chief of staff to leading the sprawling VA is relatively new. Trump and Kelly huddled frequently earlier this spring as the President prepared to oust former secretary David Shulkin, trying to come up with someone to nominate as a successor, sources familiar with their meetings told CNN.

A Kelly move to the VA wasn't among the scenarios raised at that time, the source said. If Trump asked Kelly to go to Veterans Affairs, several people believe he would do so out of a sense of duty.

Sanders told reporters Tuesday that Kelly was not being considered, and that "both the President and the Chief of Staff are very happy with the position he holds."

Miller, a former Republican congressman from Florida who chaired the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, is another significant name in the mix, multiple sources inside and outside the White House told CNN. While Trump considered Miller for the position last year, officials ultimately ruled against the pick because he lacks a military background and past secretaries have typically been veterans.

As the leader of the House veterans panel, Miller was a sharp critic of the VA under the Obama administration and oversaw a number of tense hearings that focused on the agency's failings. Miller, who was instrumental in coming up with the Trump campaign's VA reform plan, has been a lobbyist since retiring from the House last year.

"There are a lot of people pushing Jeff Miller," said one source close to the White House. "I do know that there are people inside the White House who are receptive to it."

Miller declined to comment.

A senior administration official who has spoken to Trump about the search said Trump was not considering either Kelly or Miller -- though that didn't mean people on staff weren't considering it -- and that the President hasn't expressed a preference for any of the names being floated.

A White House aide said two other names in the mix for VA secretary are Ike Perlmutter, CEO of Marvel Entertainment, and Toby Cosgrove, former CEO of the Cleveland Clinic. But several aides acknowledged the search remains relatively open because Trump, ultimately, could surprise staffers at any moment with the selection of any name in contention -- or an outside pick of his own design.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 703345

Reported Deaths: 13194
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion959691716
Lake51222940
Allen38926670
Hamilton34288404
St. Joseph33770539
Elkhart27117431
Vanderburgh22034393
Tippecanoe21671212
Johnson17451374
Porter17206297
Hendricks16735310
Clark12657190
Madison12302337
Vigo12155244
Monroe11385166
LaPorte10800204
Delaware10312184
Howard9617211
Kosciusko9068113
Hancock7939139
Bartholomew7854153
Warrick7675155
Floyd7542176
Wayne6880198
Grant6773170
Boone6524100
Morgan6370138
Dubois6071117
Marshall5753108
Dearborn568075
Cass5671102
Henry5563100
Noble537983
Jackson492369
Shelby477795
Lawrence4332118
Gibson427389
Harrison426570
Montgomery416486
Clinton416053
DeKalb406684
Huntington376980
Whitley375539
Miami371465
Knox365389
Steuben362657
Putnam351960
Wabash346677
Jasper346146
Adams337652
Ripley333368
Jefferson311579
White307354
Daviess288899
Wells285180
Decatur278592
Fayette277062
Greene270385
Posey268333
Scott260553
Clay252244
LaGrange251470
Randolph234480
Washington230431
Spencer227431
Jennings224647
Fountain207745
Sullivan207342
Starke201952
Owen191856
Fulton190839
Carroll185620
Jay185529
Perry179536
Orange176553
Rush170324
Vermillion165743
Franklin165435
Tipton160943
Parke143816
Blackford132831
Pike130134
Pulaski113145
Newton102934
Brown99640
Crawford97014
Benton96213
Martin82415
Warren78915
Switzerland7698
Union69610
Ohio55511
Unassigned0405

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1048109

Reported Deaths: 18917
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1217031352
Cuyahoga1063982060
Hamilton779451165
Montgomery49883989
Summit45144907
Lucas39826760
Butler37638568
Stark31348894
Lorain24090472
Warren23835291
Mahoning20822583
Lake19915362
Clermont19397228
Delaware17972130
Licking16089206
Fairfield15646196
Trumbull15521459
Medina14815259
Greene14613236
Clark13576288
Wood12709184
Portage12313194
Allen11303229
Richland11017198
Miami10511212
Muskingum8688127
Wayne8543209
Columbiana8527226
Pickaway8421120
Marion8360135
Tuscarawas8359239
Erie7540153
Ross6692145
Hancock6683123
Geauga6527146
Ashtabula6458164
Scioto6280100
Belmont5591158
Union556247
Lawrence5458102
Jefferson5283147
Huron5270113
Darke5264121
Sandusky5164119
Seneca5093118
Washington5074107
Athens499454
Auglaize474884
Mercer470384
Shelby455089
Knox4371108
Madison421058
Putnam420298
Ashland412086
Fulton407966
Defiance399996
Crawford3858100
Brown385555
Logan372276
Preble369598
Clinton359659
Ottawa355478
Highland346059
Williams323274
Champaign318556
Jackson306951
Guernsey305848
Perry289349
Fayette276948
Morrow274439
Hardin263563
Henry263166
Coshocton258257
Holmes252699
Van Wert238662
Gallia233246
Pike232431
Adams227552
Wyandot226353
Hocking208958
Carroll188947
Paulding168538
Meigs141438
Noble132737
Monroe128841
Morgan106423
Harrison105336
Vinton81414
Unassigned02
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Temperatures start to climb back up on Friday as we'll see mostly sunny skies return to northeast Indiana and northwest Ohio.
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