WaPo: Hegseth may be next VA secretary after all

Not Rick Perry? Apparently, the current Energy Secretary likes where he’s at for now, and reportedly demurred when Donald Trump brought up the idea of replacing David Shulkin at the Veterans Administration. That puts Pete Hegseth at the top of Trump’s list of potential replacements, according to the Washington Post, but it may not be easy to pull that off:

Fox News personality Pete Hegseth, a conservative voice on veterans’ policy, has emerged as a leading candidate to replace embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, who has fallen from favor with the Trump administration, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Hegseth, 37, is co-host of “Fox & Friends Weekend,” a platform he has used to push his vision of a health-care system with a drastically smaller government footprint and a larger share of private care. He has railed against Shulkin and members of Congress in both political parties for their moderate approach to offering veterans access to private doctors.

The Post’s Callum Borchers sniffs a bit at the consideration of Hegseth as a celebrity hire, along with other rumored moves:

On Wednesday, he plucked Larry Kudlow from CNBC to succeed Gary Cohn as director of the National Economic Council.

On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that Trump has decided to remove H.R. McMaster as national security adviser and is considering Fox News contributor John Bolton for the job.

Another Fox News personality, Pete Hegseth, is a leading contender to replace David Shulkin at the helm of the Department of Veterans Affairs. …

But there is a difference between being interested in the medium and being influenced by it, and the president is clearly the latter. He pledged to “hire the best people” and, in many cases, seems to think the best people can be found on his TV screen. Where other viewers might see talking heads bloviating about various policies, Trump sees people who should be making the policies in real life — or, at least, pushing his in a telegenic way.

That’s a pretty facile take. All of the above had careers before television, especially Kudlow and Bolton. Both served in previous administrations (Kudlow for Reagan at OMB, Bolton for Reagan and both Bushes), and their television careers are based on their expertise in their fields. While their television careers obviously give them a higher profile and probably do push them higher on Trump’s radar, their qualifications exist independently of the boob tube.

Pete (who, for full disclosure, is a friend of mine) doesn’t have a track record inside an administration. However, he ran the advocacy group Concerned Veterans for America for several years, focusing their mission on the War on Terror and on reform of the VA.  Under Pete’s leadership, CV4A developed an in-depth reform plan for the Veterans Administration that emphasized patient choice and competition. All of that took place before Pete became a full-time Fox host and contributor. And given the entrenched and chronic issues that have plagued the VA for more than a decade, having an outsider come in with fresh ideas on structural reform sounds pretty attractive whether the outsider has been on television or not.

That’s not to say that his Fox career might not have an impact on his chances for landing this job. His emphasis on opening up the system to choice already had made some opponents in the Senate, and his rhetoric hasn’t endeared him to other Republicans, either:

Hegseth has been critical of some senators whose votes he would need for confirmation. As the Senate debated legislation to expand the Choice program in November, he tweeted about Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.): “Worst part about this is that so-called Republican @SenatorIsakson voted WITH socialist @SenSanders to block MORE health care choice for veterans. Sanders wants to trap vets in @DeptVetAffairs and so do Swamp creature ‘Republicans’ like Isakson.”

At least as far as the Post reports, the only other named candidate for the job is former Rep. Jeff Miller, who at one time chaired the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. Miller sponsored the House version of the 2014 VA Accountability Act that gave more authority to VA leadership to fire people for misconduct and incompetence on the job, in the wake of the waiting-list falsification scandal. Miller would likely sail to confirmation, but it’s not clear how much more he would push for sweeping reform.

Pete, on the other hand, might have trouble getting to the necessary 50-plus-Pence in the Senate, which has resisted calls to “privatize” the VA. Even if Pete does get nominated and confirmed, much of his reform plan requires Congress to pass legislation in support of it, and it’s very unlikely that he can get enough votes for passage in the Senate, let alone get past the inevitable cloture vote. Regardless of whom Trump selects, the best we’ll get for a while is incremental fixes, not reform, and Pete may not be terribly interested in being a manager rather than a reformer. For the latter, he might be more effective where he is now.