The White House physician, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, has decided to continue his fight to win Senate confirmation to take over the country’s huge Veterans Affairs agency, even as lawmakers investigate allegations of professional misconduct and excessive drinking.
President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he was leaving it up to Jackson to decide whether to walk away from his nomination to the Cabinet position, while appearing to nudge him toward withdrawing. But Jackson later met with Trump and told him he was not ending his bid to head the department that oversees health care for 13 million U.S. veterans and has 377,000 employees.
The White House pushed for his confirmation Wednesday, with Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders calling Jackson a “very highly qualified, highly respected person in the military and the medical community.” She said Jackson had discussed the allegations with Trump.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers indefinitely postponed Jackson’s scheduled Wednesday confirmation hearing as they investigate so-far unsubstantiated charges he has overseen a toxic work environment at his White House office and drank on the job.
Several news outlets reported that Jackson was known as the “candy man” for over-prescribing drug prescriptions, while CNN said in one 2015 incident, during President Barack Obama’s presidency, Jackson drunkenly banged on the hotel room door of a female employee in the middle of the night on an overseas trip. The U.S. Secret Service intervened to stop Jackson, according to the report, so then-President Obama would not be awakened.
Senator Jon Tester, the lead Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee considering Jackson’s nomination, told National Public Radio the lawmakers have heard complaints about Jackson from more than 20 current and former military members.
“We were told stories where he was repeatedly drunk while on duty, where his main job was to take care of the most powerful man in the world,” Tester said. “That’s not acceptable.”
Jackson has declined to publicly comment on the accusations, but has rejected some of the claims to senior aides and says he is being unfairly attacked.
Trump said at a Tuesday news conference he continues to support Jackson’s nomination, but he had asked Jackson, “What do you need it for?”
“The fact is I wouldn’t do it,” Trump said. “What does he need it for? To be abused by a bunch of politicians that aren’t thinking nicely about our country, I really don’t think personally he should do it, but it’s totally his decision.”
“I don’t want to put a man through — who’s not a political person — I don’t want to put a man through a process that’s too ugly and too disgusting,” Trump said.
Jackson, who currently serves as Trump’s physician, already was facing scrutiny over his lack of experience managing an agency as large as the VA, the government’s second biggest.
Trump scoffed at that concern, saying, “You could run the biggest hospital system in the world and it’s small time compared to the Veterans Administration. So nobody has the experience.”
Jackson gained a degree of fame unusual for White House physicians earlier this year when he took questions from the White House press corps on national television, gushing at length about Trump’s health after conducting the president’s physical exam.
Trump, the oldest first-term president in American history, was plagued at the time by questions about his physical health, weight and mental stability. But Jackson gave the president a top rating. “The president’s overall health is excellent,” Jackson declared at the time.
Trump unexpectedly picked Jackson to replace a holdover from the administration of former President Obama, David Shulkin, whom Trump fired. Several lawmakers have complained that the White House did not properly vet Jackson’s background before Trump announced Jackson’s appointment.