Did Donald Trump give his embattled VA Secretary nominee a vote of confidence — or permission to withdraw? A little of both, actually, while taking a big swipe at members of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and the press too. Trump hailed Admiral Ronny Jackson, currently the White House’s official physician, as “one of the finest people that I’ve met.” Trump said that he wasn’t familiar with any allegations of misconduct against Jackson and that he’s prepared to back him all the way to confirmation.
Unless Jackson decides he’s had enough on his own. “If I were him,” Trump said, “I wouldn’t do it”:
BREAKING: President Trump says that he wouldn't proceed with the nomination process if he were VA secretary-nominee Ronny Jackson, but the decision on whether to proceed is "totally [Jackson's] decision" and Jackson will be making a decision. pic.twitter.com/D2Q1rGeuSW
— NBC News (@NBCNews) April 24, 2018
“He is a high-quality person. It’s totally his decision. So he’ll be making a decision,” he said. “I don’t want to put a man through a process like this. It’s too ugly and too disgusting.”
Trump said if he was Jackson making the decision, he would step aside.
“If I were him, I wouldn’t do it,” Trump said.
“He’ll be making a decision” would normally sound rather portentous, and perhaps a little instructive. One would assume that this kind of leak might cause a nominee to reconsider, but Jackson hadn’t actually said he was rethinking the post at all. In fact, he told NBC News Garrett Haake earlier in the day that he was still looking forward to a confirmation hearing:
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) April 24, 2018
HAAKE: Dr. Jackson, can you say anything at all about these allegations that have come out against you in the last few days?
JACKSON: No, I’ll just say that I was looking forward to the hearing tomorrow. Kind of disappointed that it’s been postponed, but I’m looking forward to getting it rescheduled and answering everybody’s questions.
HAAKE: You’ve seen the allegations, a hostile work environment, the allegations about potentially drinking on the job, over-prescribing medication. Are you saying those are categorically untrue?
JACKSON: I’m saying: I’m looking forward to the hearing, so we can sit down and I can explain everything to everyone and answer all the senators’ questions.
Both Reuters and Roll Call saw Trump’s remarks as a door-opener to a withdrawal. In a more traditional White House, these kind of remarks would undoubtedly be a signal for retreat. For Trump, though, it feels more like his usual kind of extemporaneous reaction, especially since Trump notoriously despises retreats by his subordinates. He’s spent almost a year castigating Jeff Sessions for a well-reasoned decision to recuse on an investigation of a campaign in which he took part, for instance. Trump has succeeded — or at least he clearly sees himself as having succeeded — by defying critics and convention to do exactly what it is he wants to do.
If Trump wants Jackson out, he’ll pull the nomination himself, but it’s pretty clear that Trump at least won’t resent Jackson if he decides to withdraw on his own. It will give Trump even more ammunition against his preferred bêtes noires — the DC ‘swamp’ and the media. And with the timing of these complaints after years of widely heralded service in two administrations, there may be some reason to suspect the smell of this story.
Update: And the hits just keep on coming:
A watchdog report ordered in 2012 by Dr. Ronny Jackson — President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs — found that he and a rival physician exhibited “unprofessional behaviors” as they engaged in a power struggle over the White House medical unit.
The report, reviewed Tuesday by The Associated Press, suggested the White House consider replacing Jackson or Dr. Jeffrey Kuhlman — or both. Kuhlman was the physician to President Barack Obama at the time, and had previously held the role Jackson held at the time: director of the White House Medical Unit. …
The report stated that the “vast majority” of those interviewed said Kuhlman had “irrevocably damaged his ability to effectively lead.” It added that “many also believe that CAPT Jackson has exhibited poor leadership,” but attributed those failures to the relationship with Kuhlman.
The report quoted unnamed members of the White House medical unit who, while participating in a focus group, used phrases like “Worst command ever,” ″No one trusts anyone” and “The leaders are child-like.”
The fact that this precedes all other complaints by several years is not a point in Jackson’s favor. However, the fact that the IG never found any of the alleged hostile work environment issues or other issues floating around today suggests that the problems ended with Kuhlman’s departure. Barack Obama certainly must have agreed, since he promoted Jackson in 2013 and kept him in place for the rest of his term.
This, on the other hand, might be tougher to get around:
— Jessica Taylor (@JessicaTaylor) April 24, 2018
Er, not to be too glib, but maybe we can see why Trump likes Jackson so much?