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Sen. Joe Manchin talking on a cell phone. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Joe Manchin hosted a conference call with Ronny Jackson, President Trump's pick for Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and West Virginia veterans on Monday to learn more about his plans for the VA, Manchin's Communications Director Jonathan Kott told Axios.

Why this matters: The White House is afraid Jackson won't get confirmed, Axios' Jonathan Swan reported, so this call could be Jackson's last-ditch effort to convince Democrats he's worthy.

The details: Sen. Manchin pitched the call to Jackson to hear his stance on privatization (Manchin is against it) and learn more about his managerial experience (the VA has more than 300,000 employees). A person familiar with the call said Jackson "talked about the fact that he'd be overseeing an agency that his son would be using one day."

  • Manchin also wanted Jackson to answer questions directly from his state's veterans, which were represented by seven different groups on the call.

The backdrop: One of Trump's main campaign promises was to improve veterans' care by allowing more access to private doctors. He's also recently advocated for vets to be able to "run to a private doctor," which could signal he's considering privatizing VA health care.

  • David Shulkin, Jackson's predecessor, didn't support privatization and wanted to take a more moderate approach to health care for the millions of vets in the U.S. He was ousted from his position after serving just over a year.

Between the lines: The conference call with Jackson was a savvy political play for Manchin. Both Democrats and Republicans are skeptical of Jackson, especially after recent allegations of improper conduct. Hosting a call is one way Manchin, a vulnerable Democratic senator, can appear helpful to Trump with little personal cost.

The bottom line: Although Jackson maintains that he doesn't support privatization, Sen. Manchin still has concerns about his stance after the call, according to a person familiar. And simply saying he's against it won't be enough to convince Manchin, who recognizes that Trump could have sway with the nominee.

Go deeper

Updated 46 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Dominion files $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit against Rudy Giuliani

Photo: Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems filed a defamation lawsuit against Rudy Giuliani on Monday seeking $1.3 billion in damages for his "demonstrably false” allegations about the company's voting machines.

Why it matters: Giuliani led former President Trump's efforts to overturn the results of the election and spread the baseless conspiracy theory that Dominion's voting machines flipped votes from Trump to Joe Biden.

Mike Lindell moves the goalposts on a run for Minnesota governor

MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell waits outside the West Wing of the White House before entering on Jan. 15. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The will-he-or-won't-he speculation surrounding a possible gubernatorial run by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell is destined to continue at least a bit longer.

What he's saying: Lindell told Axios that his focus is currently on proving his (baseless) claims of election fraud. He won't make a decision until that fight is resolved.

Wall Street pencils in virus variants as latest economic risk

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Wall Street is pinning its bets of an economic rebound this year on mass vaccinations and a virus brought under control, but new coronavirus strains threaten that sunny outlook, a number of firms are warning.

Why it matters: None downgraded growth forecasts because of the variants, but they’re acknowledging there’s a new asterisk to the anticipated economic recovery.

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