2. Scoop: Trump finally losing patience with VA Sec. Shulkin
It took a few weeks to land on his radar, but President Trump now views Veterans Affairs Sec. David Shulkin as a major problem. Trump has been telling associates he doesn't know what's happened at the VA, but he doesn't like what he's hearing and he may have to fire Shulkin if the situation further deteriorates.
The short version: After the VA's inspector general reported that Shulkin used taxpayer dollars to pay for his wife to go to Europe, the VA secretary has been telling anyone who will listen that Trump appointees in his agency are conspiring to undermine him. He started handling his own media relations because he doesn't trust the agency's communications staff.
Behind the scenes last week, chief of staff John Kelly met with Shulkin at the White House on Monday afternoon. Shulkin brought along his deputy Tom Bowman and his chief of staff Peter O'Rourke, according to three sources with direct knowledge.
- Kelly told Shulkin he's got to end the drama at the VA and stop fighting with his staff. Kelly's sick and tired of Shulkin freelancing and talking directly to the press. He wants Shulkin to just shut up and stop causing drama, those sources say.
- Kelly's bottom line message to Shulkin: Continue your mission and get back to work. We can't keep going on like this. (But Kelly did tell Shulkin he'd help him deal with the personnel problems at the VA.)
Right after his meeting with Kelly, Shulkin was brought into the Oval Office to talk to Trump. The conversation quickly turned to discussing important legislation to reform the VA health care system.
- Trump surprised Shulkin by dialing in Fox & Friends host Pete Hegseth on speaker phone to get his opinion of the legislation, according to two sources with knowledge of the conversation.
- The Trump administration is debating a few different bills and trying to reconcile them. Conservatives prefer a bill pushed by Sen. Jerry Moran, while moderates prefer legislation pushed by Sen. Johnny Isakson.
- The Hegseth call put Shulkin in an awkward spot, according to those sources. Hegseth competed for Shulkin's job and favors more aggressive reform for the VA. Trump talks to Hegseth regularly and enjoys watching him on Fox and Friends.
What came next shocked Kelly: After visiting the White House, Shulkin spoke to The New York Times. He declared victory, announced he had the power to can insubordinate political appointees, and said he had the White House’s full support.
From the WH's perspective: They agreed to work with Shulkin on fixing his staff problems, but he went directly to the media and declared victory.
- In response to my questions, Shulkin's Strategic Communications Advisor Ashleigh Barry emailed the following quote from the Secretary: "The meeting with the President and VA Chief of Staff was productive, supportive and focused solely on moving forward in the best interest of our Veterans." Barry added: "we will not be providing further comment."
Go deeper: Read my full report.