He says he got a courtesy call from John Kelly very shortly before Trump tweeted out the news that Ronny Jackson would replace him, but it’s anyone’s guess if Trump waited for the call to be made before tweeting or if Kelly ran to the phone to deliver the news personally knowing that a tweet was imminent.
According to Politico, some of Trump’s own senior aides had to find out about the shake-up on Twitter:
The timing of President Donald Trump’s announcement to name Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson to lead Veterans Affairs was a snap decision that surprised his own chief of staff and knocked the government’s second-largest agency, already bedeviled by scandal, deeper into disarray.
White House chief of staff John Kelly had spoken with David Shulkin by phone Wednesday morning, reassuring the now-former VA secretary that he wouldn’t be fired by tweet that afternoon. Hours later, Kelly had to phone Shulkin again telling him plans had changed.
Trump declared Jackson’s nomination on Twitter at 5:31 p.m. The tweet was big news — not just to the public, but to some senior aides, according to one White House official.
It wasn’t just Kelly who led Shulkin to believe that he was staying put, either. Watch:
— All In w/Chris Hayes (@allinwithchris) March 30, 2018
Trump himself allegedly called him the day of his firing, checked in with him on how things were going, and said not a word about his termination. A few hours later, he was gone. That seems so far-fetched that I’d dismiss it as Shulkin’s own self-serving spin if not for the fact that Politico claims Kelly was under the same impression. Shulkin was staying! And then, just like that, he was going. It’s a replay of the Rex Tillerson clusterfark, in which a disfavored cabinet secretary lingers for weeks or months (or years, in Jeff Sessions’s case) until one day the mood strikes POTUS that there needs to be a change right now and you find out you’re out just hours or minutes before the public does. Silver lining for Shulkin: At least he wasn’t taking a dump when he got the word. We assume.
It will never stop being weird that a guy who became mega-famous for firing people on TV can’t seem to fire top officials in the U.S. government in a professional way. (McMaster’s departure was handled semi-professionally, I suppose.) Even weirder, Trump was perfectly justified in wanting both Shulkin and Tillerson out. You could understand him feeling reluctant to confront someone who’d been doing a good job but had to be removed for some sort of political reason, but both T-Rex and Shulkin were headaches. He could have called them in, spoken frankly to them about how things weren’t working out, then given them a few days to tie up loose ends before breaking the news. Nope.
Weirdest of all, despite the fact that Shulkin’s been on thin ice for weeks, the succession plan at the VA inside the West Wing was also chaotic. “As recently as two weeks ago, the Trump White House was still making overtures to potential candidates for the top job,” notes Politico, with Trump reportedly “changing his mind several times.” Shulkin’s interim replacement is coming over from the Pentagon and doesn’t know the VA, which is bad news for an agency that’s already understaffed in top positions. (The health and benefits department apparently hasn’t had a position requiring Senate confirmation filled for Trump’s entire presidency.) Shulkin’s *permanent* replacement, Ronny Jackson, is coming over from the White House physician’s office and also doesn’t know the VA, or have any bureaucratic management experience.
Here’s Obama flunky Jim Messina, who knows Jackson well, summarizing the Hopenchange take on him. Wonderful human being. Excellent doctor. Bananas choice to lead a major federal agency. Maybe we’ll luck out and Jackson will sit back as conservative underlings at the VA work on privatizing care.