Apr 22, 2018

White House fears VA secretary will get denied

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Senior administration officials and senators from both parties on the Veterans Affairs Committee are growing increasingly concerned about Ronny Jackson's prospects to be confirmed as Trump's Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Between the lines: Sources with direct knowledge of the private deliberations on Capitol Hill and inside the White House tell me the White House is well aware of these widespread concerns about Jackson.

  • In fact, Trump's chief of staff John Kelly thought it was unwise for Trump to nominate Jackson so quickly without going through all the due diligence that a normal cabinet nomination process would involve. Though since then, I'm told Kelly has aggressively defended Jackson.
  • Jackson is well liked at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in his role as the White House doctor, but some senior officials question whether he has the management experience necessary to run the second largest agency in the federal government.

Why this matters: Jackson has his confirmation hearing this week, and expects to testify before the Veterans Affairs' committee on Wednesday afternoon. Senators from both parties share the skepticism — and that includes some Republicans on the VA Committee.

  • Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who sits on the VA Committee, told The Hill this week that Jackson “doesn’t have the experience you’d think would traditionally be required at the VA.”
  • Sen. Mike Rounds (S.D.), another Republican on the committee, told The Hill that Jackson knows about health care, but "has very limited background in terms of managing groups."
  • White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short pushed back against these criticisms telling me: "Ronny Jackson is a small town kid who went to medical school, volunteered to serve our nation in uniform, has risen all the way up to Admiral, treated wounded soldiers in combat, has a dad who's a veteran and a son who's a Navy SEAL, has personally served multiple presidents, and yet members of Congress who have never managed a thing outside of their own congressional office have the audacity to say he's not qualified before he even has a hearing."

Veterans groups have mostly declined to give Jackson ringing endorsements; and the White House is also aware of specific concerns about Jackson's professional conduct in the Navy that have been taken to Jon Tester in his capacity as ranking member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee.

  • A source briefed on the situation told me the White House is looking into these complaints to see whether they are legitimate or simply politically-motivated slurs on his character.

Behind the scenes: While these concerns about Jackson metastasize on the Hill, administration officials are trying to intensely prepare Jackson for his hearing. They're doing murder board sessions this weekend in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building beside the White House, and sources briefed on these sessions tell me they have been going on pretty aggressively for the last couple of weeks.

Go deeper

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Brazil on Monday recorded for the first time more deaths from the novel coronavirus in a single day than the United States, Reuters notes. Brazil reported 807 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, compared to 620 in the U.S. for the same period.

By the numbers: Almost 5.5 million people have tested positive for the virus as of Monday, and more than 2.2 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 14.6 million tests). The U.K. is reporting over 36,900 deaths from the coronavirus — the most fatalities outside the U.S.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 8:30 p.m. ET: 5,490,954 — Total deaths: 345,962 — Total recoveries — 2,228,915Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 8:30 p.m. ET: 1,662,250 — Total deaths: 98,218 — Total recoveries: 379,157 — Total tested: 14,604,942Map.
  3. World: Italy reports lowest number of new cases since February — Ireland reports no new coronavirus deaths on Monday for the first time since March 21 — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: New York stock exchange to reopen its floor on Tuesday — White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 55 mins ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: Authorities issue warning as Americans venture out for Memorial Day weekend

Ocean City in New Jersey on May 25. Photo: Donald Kravitz/Getty Images

Authorities urged Americans to maintain social distancing and wear masks to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus amid reports of packed beaches and bars during the Memorial Day weekend.

Details: Law enforcement stepped up beach patrols, and there were crowded scenes in several places, notably at Lake of the Ozarks bars in Missouri and at Daytona Beach and on the Gulf Coast in Florida, per AP. Police dispersed crowds in some places, ABC notes. But many Americans did take precautions against COVID-19 as they ventured outside for the long weekend, some three months after the pandemic began in the U.S.