VA Nominee Ronny Jackson Withdraws Amid Conduct Allegations

Apr 26, 2018
Originally published on April 26, 2018 4:26 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump is without a nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. The man he chose, White House physician Ronny Jackson, pulled himself out of consideration amid a pile of allegations surrounding his workplace behavior, allegations that Jackson called completely false and fabricated. Trump agrees with that assessment and defended Jackson today during a photo op with some young White House visitors on Take Your Child to Work Day.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He's a great man, and he got treated very, very unfairly. He got treated really unfairly. And he's a hell of a man, too.

SHAPIRO: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us from the White House. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: How did Trump explain Dr. Jackson's withdrawal?

LIASSON: He blamed the Democrats. And in particular, he blamed the ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Montana Democrat Senator Jon Tester, who was the one who disclosed the allegations that he said came from current and former military members who worked with Jackson. Here's what Donald Trump said on "Fox & Friends" this morning about Tester and Jackson.

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TRUMP: He's an admirable, highly respected, a real leader. And I watch what Jon Tester of Montana, a state that I won by, like, over 20 points. So, you know, really, they love me, and I love them. And I want to tell you that Jon Tester - I think this is going to cause him a lot of problems in his state.

LIASSON: What's interesting about that is Tester is one of the senators in red states that is running for re-election, but he's considered one of the safest, and he's certainly not acting like someone who's afraid of going up against the president. And the other point to make is that even though the president zeroed in on Democrats, several Republicans said they were very concerned about the allegations against Jackson, and they thought it was unlikely that he could be confirmed.

SHAPIRO: So now what happens with this vacant position? Does the president have someone else in mind?

LIASSON: He suggested that he does this morning on "Fox & Friends." He wouldn't say who it is. He treated it as a teaser for a reality television episode, saying only that it will be someone with, quote, "political capabilities," whatever that means. But the VA is an extremely important Cabinet position for Donald Trump. Veterans are a key constituency for him. He considers veterans and members of the active military part of his political base, and he made reforming the VA - decreasing wait times and getting better care to veterans - as a core campaign promise. He does a lot of events with veterans in the military. Even today he held a Wounded Warrior event where he made remarks but didn't mention Jackson or the problems he's been having filling that position.

SHAPIRO: So what are the lessons to learn here? What are the big takeaways from this failed nomination?

LIASSON: One of the biggest takeaways is just this is how the president rolls.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

LIASSON: This is not the first time the White House has had to backtrack from a decision that the president made by going with his gut and his instincts and not going through a traditional vetting process. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. He's had a higher-than-average rate of staff turnover. He has a higher-than-average rate of Senate-confirmed positions that have to be withdrawn.

In this case, he went with someone - instead of going with someone who had experience running large organizations, he went with someone he knew, someone he was comfortable with and someone who had also maybe not incidentally given him an extremely glowing personal health report.

But we have seen this on the policy front where the president likes to move fast and break things. Like one of those Silicon Valley founders, he's a disrupter. And, for example, on the travel ban - worked very fast on it and then had to revise it twice to get it close to judicial approval. So this is how he likes to work, and he doesn't mind the chaos.

SHAPIRO: And just briefly, what does this mean for the reputation and future of White House doctor Ronny Jackson, who has really been raked across the coals in the last week?

LIASSON: That's a good question. Despite the president's words of support, the White House issued a statement today that was pretty noncommittal. They just said that he's here at work today - nothing about his future. And it is possible that the Navy will be investigating the allegations against him, so it's possible he ends up with his reputation sullied.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Mara Liasson speaking with us from the White House. Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.