President Trump announced Wednesday that he has replaced Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and has tapped White House physician Ronny Jackson as the replacement.
I am pleased to announce that I intend to nominate highly respected Admiral Ronny L. Jackson, MD, as the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2018
Trump made the decision this afternoon, and the news was delivered by Chief of Staff John Kelly in a phone call to Shulkin, according to a White House official.
In a statement, Trump said he appreciate Dr. Shulkin work and “the many great things” done at the Veterans Affairs, including getting the VA Accountability Act passed.
“I appreciate the work of Dr. David Shulkin and the many great things we did together at Veterans Affairs, including the VA Accountability Act that he was helpful in getting passed,” Trump said. “He has been a great supporter of veterans across the country and I am grateful for his service.”
Shulkin led the Veterans Health Administration for two years under Obama and was confirmed as Trump‘s nominee to head the VA on a 99-0 Senate vote. Veterans groups and congressional leaders from both parties have praised his efforts to increase accountability, improve health care and overhaul the agency’s IT infrastructure.
However, the President considered replacing Shulkin for weeks, following an inspector general’s report that came out last month that found the secretary was misspending taxpayer money during an official trip to Europe last year. In a 97-page report released last month, the VA’s inspector general found that Shulkin made “misleading statements,” “improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets” and turned an aide into a “personal travel concierge” to plan “high tea” and “Roman baths” at the request of Shulkin’s wife.
During a hearing last month before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Schulkin acknowledged “the optics” of his travel expenses were not good, but made “the decision” to reimburse
“I do recognize the optics of this are not good,” Shulkin said at a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing last month. “I accept responsibility for that. I made the decision to reimburse the Treasury to follow the IG recommendations and I’m committed to doing what we have to do to focus on veterans and make this better.”
The news of Jackson came as a mix surprise in Capitol Hill, with Republicans reserving judgment as Democrats unleashing attacks to the news.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat on the VA Committee, said in a tweet that he “will seriously scrutinize the President’s nominee.”
I will seriously scrutinize the President’s nominee, Ronny Jackson. Our nation’s veterans deserve the best.
— Richard Blumenthal (@SenBlumenthal) March 28, 2018
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she found Shulkin’s dismissal troubling.
“The abrupt dismissal of Secretary Shulkin is a troubling step in the Trump Administration’s ultimate goal of VA privatization,” she said in a statement. “From day one of this administration, the president has openly encouraged and embraced Koch brothers-led forces as they work around Congress and behind closed doors to dismantle veterans’ health care. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle must defend VA’s mission as the chief coordinator, provider and advocate for those who have bravely served, and must remain vigilant against any effort to privatize VA.”
Until Jackson is confirmed by the Senate, Trump said Robert Wilkie of the Department of Defense will serve as the interim secretary. Wilkie was previously a senior adviser to North Carolina Senator, Thom Tillis and helped Trump’s transition team as a “sherpa” for Defense Secretary James Mattis during his confirmation process.
“The Honorable Robert Wilkie will serve as the Acting Secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Trump said in a statement. “Mr. Wilkie is currently the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness at the Department of Defense and overseas health affairs, welfare and quality of life for military families.”
Shulkin’s departure is the latest shake-up of Trump’s top officials this past month. Two weeks ago, the president fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and tapped CIA Director Mike Pompeo as his replacement and just last week, Trump replaced National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster with former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.