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Trump's pick to lead Veterans Affairs courts a skeptical Senate

President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs is meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill...

Posted: Apr 18, 2018 10:21 AM
Updated: Apr 18, 2018 10:21 AM

President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs is meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and has told several key Democratic senators that he is committed not to privatize veterans' health care.

The meetings, detailed in interviews Tuesday, provide the first insights into Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson's policy views ahead of an expected confirmation hearing next week, and place the White House physician squarely in the middle of a heated debate over how to best care for the United States' 20 million veterans.

"He assured me in tough questions back and forth that he will oppose privatization, that he will tell the President he's opposed to privatization," Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown told CNN after meeting with Jackson.

President Donald Trump's dismissal of David Shulkin, and announcement that Jackson, the White House physician, was his pick to serve as the head of the VA caused alarm among Democrats on Capitol Hill and major veterans groups like the Disabled American Veterans and American Legion. Those groups have worried that the change in leadership at VA would lead to a stark change in veterans' health care that they have long opposed, but that has the support of the advocacy group Concerned Veterans for America, which is funded by the billionaire conservative Koch brothers.

Shulkin has said that he believes he was fired because he was seen as an obstacle to expanding private care for the nation's veterans.

"He said all the right things, seems to have the same position on privatization as Shulkin had," Montana Sen. Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Committee, said of his meeting with Jackson on Tuesday. "I asked him if the President knew that and he said he hadn't had a conversation about privatization with the President."

"I said, 'You need to do that and then come back and tell me what the President says about you,'" Tester added.

A White House spokesman on Tuesday reiterated that the administration has had "no discussions" about privatizing care for veterans.

"President Trump is committed to ensuring our nation's veterans receive the care they rightfully deserve. This administration has taken several unprecedented steps to transform and modernize the VA, and there are no discussions about privatizing it," deputy press secretary Raj Shah said. "We look forward to continuing our work with Congress to reform and strengthen the VA Choice program to provide our veterans with more choice in their healthcare."

But as a candidate, Trump campaigned on the idea that he would fix the VA by allowing veterans more access to private doctors and, as recently as last month, he said veterans should be allowed to "run to a private doctor" if they wanted, a statement that revived concerns that drastically expanding private care was the end goal.

Brown said that while there is pressure in the White House to privatize care for the nation's veterans, Jackson "sounds like he'll push back."

"I know that the President wants to privatize. I know the Koch brothers and the funders of the Republican Party want to privatize. I know that a whole lot of Republican senators in leadership want to privatize, I'm counting on him to stand up," Brown said.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have also expressed concerns about whether Jackson has the right management and leadership experience to manage the sprawling, troubled agency.

"Ultimately, I need to reach the conclusion that I have confidence in this person to lead a huge organization that desperately needs strong leadership," Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran said. "I've said before one would think experience in other big operations would be important. We've had that with Sec. McDonald who came from Proctor and Gamble."

Jackson, whom Moran has yet to meet with, "doesn't have the experience that you traditionally would think would be required at the VA, but that doesn't preclude me from reaching the conclusion that he could be a good secretary," he added.

Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the second-most senior Democrat on the Veterans committee, met with Jackson on Tuesday and said that he said "all the right things about not privatizing the VA," but added that she still has questions about his "management and leadership of a large organization.

"Look, he has some issues with management, he hasn't really overseen a large group, and so, we'll sort through that," Tester said.

But South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican who will introduce Jackson at his confirmation hearing next week, said that the VA's problems aren't about management.

"The VA is not a management problem, it's an attitude problem. You don't need a manager to run an organization. You need somebody with the right attitude that the VA is going to better serve our veterans," said Graham, who added that he met with the "hard charging fella" on Tuesday. "You need a military sort of going to get this done attitude."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Reported Deaths: 6131
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin941381495
Ramsey40509748
Dakota33463350
Anoka31283368
Washington20471234
Stearns18051190
St. Louis13916247
Scott1213098
Wright11756107
Olmsted1073975
Sherburne827868
Carver703139
Clay657684
Rice621170
Kandiyohi556772
Blue Earth546833
Crow Wing489178
Otter Tail463167
Chisago458138
Benton423288
Winona394248
Douglas378466
Nobles374447
Mower372129
Goodhue355362
Polk330660
McLeod327947
Beltrami315048
Morrison314145
Lyon304738
Becker288839
Itasca287143
Isanti284842
Carlton283543
Steele278510
Pine269614
Freeborn253623
Todd233130
Nicollet227938
Brown217434
Mille Lacs215045
Le Sueur213516
Cass210524
Meeker201233
Waseca192816
Wabasha17413
Martin171726
Roseau166317
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Renville138040
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Fillmore12646
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Rock111912
Aitkin111233
Sibley10947
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Kanabec99318
Pipestone96423
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Murray9096
Jackson87310
Swift84418
Pope7465
Stevens7078
Marshall70315
Clearwater68714
Lake66315
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Wilkin6349
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Lincoln4892
Big Stone4693
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Grant4388
Norman4258
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Red Lake3204
Traverse2613
Lake of the Woods1961
Cook1150

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 310915

Reported Deaths: 4432
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk46760465
Linn18037279
Scott15838172
Black Hawk14076243
Woodbury13111181
Johnson1228552
Dubuque11615159
Pottawattamie9146115
Dallas907772
Story879438
Cerro Gordo472572
Webster472077
Sioux459657
Warren458039
Clinton457768
Marshall430762
Buena Vista396230
Muscatine395878
Des Moines394943
Plymouth352870
Wapello349898
Jasper331659
Lee324132
Marion308953
Jones274650
Henry267331
Carroll258234
Bremer249848
Crawford234324
Washington222933
Boone222717
Benton213050
Mahaska197637
Jackson194932
Tama190159
Dickinson188329
Kossuth178544
Delaware176036
Clay172021
Wright166624
Fayette165924
Hamilton162230
Buchanan162024
Winneshiek160820
Harrison158162
Hardin156931
Cedar155519
Clayton153849
Butler150924
Page146415
Floyd141436
Cherokee140027
Mills138517
Lyon137533
Poweshiek134924
Hancock131524
Allamakee130930
Iowa127722
Madison123610
Calhoun12349
Grundy122528
Jefferson122125
Winnebago121729
Mitchell116837
Louisa116230
Cass114843
Chickasaw113712
Appanoose112440
Sac112015
Emmet111232
Union111023
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Shelby105427
Guthrie104224
Franklin103318
Unassigned10110
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Keokuk86326
Howard85519
Monroe82220
Clarke8108
Pocahontas78111
Ida75930
Davis70121
Greene6977
Adair69620
Monona67018
Lucas66610
Osceola64711
Worth6184
Taylor5999
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Van Buren50215
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Ringgold44811
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