Confirmation Hearing Postponed Indefinitely For VA Nominee
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
So what exactly is the background of White House doctor Ronny Jackson? A Senate committee is vetting him now after President Trump nominated him to run Veterans Affairs apparently without much vetting. Senator Jon Tester told NPR's All Things Considered that 20 people have come forward to complain of Jackson drinking on the job as White House doctor and more.
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JON TESTER: Some of the exact words that were used by the folks who we talked to are abusive toward staff, very explosive personality, belittles the folks underneath him - staff that he oversaw - screamed towards staff, basically creating an environment where the staff felt that they need to walk on eggshells when around him.
INSKEEP: Now, Jackson and his supporters have, broadly speaking, denied all of this. He says he's looking forward to a hearing where he can explain everything. That hearing has been postponed indefinitely while lawmakers look at the facts. Hawaii senator Mazie Hirono is on the Veterans' Affairs Committee, and she's on the line from her office. Senator, good morning.
MAZIE HIRONO: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: What is driving people to come forward with complaints now?
HIRONO: I would hope that is because they are very concerned that the next secretary of the VA is someone who won't be able to do the job for our veterans. I think that's a very important aspect of whoever's our secretary.
INSKEEP: You would hope that that is the reason, but there's a lot of political significance to the complaints coming at this moment.
HIRONO: My understanding is that these people came forward on their own. And so as John Tester said in this interview, where there's smoke, there's fire. So he considered these people to be credible because there were multiple examples of behavior that does not comport with someone who should be the next secretary of the VA.
INSKEEP: Is there a documentary record to back up the allegations, by which I mean complaints made at the time, emails that have been sent and received, inspector general's investigations, that sort of thing?
HIRONO: I know that there is an IG, report which ironically the White House released. And this was after - my understanding is - that Dr. Jackson said there was no IG report. So the IG report as - there were two of them, apparently. And I have not seen them, but there have been others who have seen them, reported to - as to the contents. And it has to do with some altercations or some relationship issues that Dr. Jackson had with another doctor, leading to the IG recommending that one or both of them be relieved of their posts.
INSKEEP: Relationship issues?
HIRONO: Well, yes, that they did not get along. They were in competition. They would - apparently the behavior was such as to cause the IG to say - you know what? - these people are not - they should not be in the medical office of the president.
INSKEEP: Just - I want to be clear, we're talking about a professional rivalry or something more along the lines of harassment? What are we talking about?
HIRONO: Yes. Professional personal rivalry.
INSKEEP: OK. As you know, I'm sure, Senator, the White House has been defending Dr. Jackson. And there is a statement out from Hogan Gidley, White House spokesman - who we're hearing from elsewhere in today's program, by the way. And the statement says, (reading) Admiral Jackson has been on the frontlines of deadly combat - true - and saved the lives of many others in service to his country and has also been praised by three presidents that he worked for.
What's he missing there?
HIRONO: I think what's happening is that the White House is doing what they can, although, you know, they could have avoided all this by vetting him properly. Do what they can at this point to try and save the situation. But, you know, the fact that three presidents are OK with Ronny Jackson just says to me that Dr. Jackson certainly knows how to treat the president. We all know about employees putting their best foot forward. So I think what's concerning for this committee is the kind of information that's come forward. And we need to find out more about his ability to handle the second-largest agency in the entire government with over 350,000 people and a $200 billion budget.
INSKEEP: Well, there we go.
HIRONO: There's always been a concern.
INSKEEP: I wonder, yeah, if We're missing the biggest question here, which is whether you think he is qualified for the job for which he has been nominated. What do you think about that?
HIRONO: At this point, when we hear things such as he overprescribed medications, where he has - what seems like anger issues and people having to walk on eggshells, how is a person like this going to be able to handle an agency with already so many challenges? And the bottom line is we want to make sure that whoever is the VA secretary gets unanimous consent from the - our committee because we are very committed to having the best VA person possible. That means the person should get a unanimous vote from the committee. And at this rate, with the kind of information coming out and the kind of questions we have about Dr. Jackson, I'm not sure that he's going to get that kind of consent. And at this point, when the president himself says, well, it's all up to you, Dr. Jackson, if I were you, I wouldn't do it, what kind of endorsement is that for his own nominee?
INSKEEP: This hearing has been postponed indefinitely, we're told, would you expect that there actually will be a hearing for Dr. Jackson at some point?
HIRONO: I think that if he wants to go forward, then the committee is going to have to decide whether or not there is enough evidence for the committee to decide that either - either way, we can go forward with a hearing and grill Dr. Jackson and get to the bottom of all of these allegations. Or the committee may decide that we're not going to do it. I'm not sure. That decision has not been made. But you know what? I think ultimately, Dr. Jackson is going to have to decide whether this kind of information is too damaging. And while he can put a best face on it and say I'm looking forward to the hearing, notice that he never denied any of these allegations.
INSKEEP: Senator, thank you very much, really appreciate it.
HIRONO: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's senator Mazie Hirono, Democrat of Hawaii. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.