White House Sends Mixed Signals on VA Nominee Amid Accusations

(Bloomberg) -- The White House continued to send conflicting signals Wednesday on its nominee to head the Veterans Affairs Department, Ronny Jackson, even as it defended him against allegations of improper behavior and management lapses.

Asked by reporters whether Jackson had offered to withdraw, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded, “We’re looking at all the options and we’ll keep you posted when there’s an update or an announcement.”

The administration mobilized to rebut allegations against Jackson of repeated drunkenness on the job, over-prescribing of drugs and creating a hostile work environment following a meeting late Tuesday in the Oval Office between Jackson and President Donald Trump. Jackson, the White House physician, told Trump he wanted to fight for confirmation, two people familiar with the matter said.

Hours before, Trump repeatedly said at a press conference that he had advised Jackson to withdraw from consideration, a remarkable public signal for a president to send while a nominee is under fire.

Overnight, CNN reported an allegation that Jackson was intoxicated and repeatedly banged on the hotel room door of a female employee during an overseas trip in 2015, quoting four unidentified sources. The incident became so noisy the Secret Service intervened to stop him for fear he would wake then-President Barack Obama, CNN reported.

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Tuesday postponed a confirmation hearing on Jackson’s confirmation scheduled for this week amid bipartisan concern about the allegations. Some veterans advocates and senators already had raised concerns that Jackson lacked sufficient management experience to lead the federal government’s second-largest agency.

One Republican senator, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said persisting with Jackson’s nomination was politically unwise and that some other GOP senators aren’t sure whether to support the nominee and are waiting for further information on the allegations.

Senator Jon Tester, the ranking Democrat on the Veterans Affairs Committee, said in an NPR interview that the panel had received allegations against Jackson, a Navy rear admiral, from 20 current and retired military personnel.

Jackson was portrayed as “abusive toward staff” and as someone who “belittles” people, Tester said. “Basically creating an environment where the staff felt they needed to walk on eggshells around him.”

A 2012 Navy Medical Inspector General’s assessment of the White House medical office reported poor morale because of a “bitter relationship” between Jackson, then head of the White House Medical Unit, and Captain Jeffrey Kuhlman, then the president’s physician. Jackson was later promoted to be the president’s physician.

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