'MediaBuzz' host Howard Kurtz weighs in on the backlash over conduct allegations with Ronny Jackson, Trump's pick to head the VA.
Ronny Jackson may have declared Donald Trump to be in fantastic health, but his own nomination is seriously ailing.
The president's White House physician always seemed like an odd pick to run the VA because he has no management experience that would prepare him to take over such a massive bureaucracy.
But now the Senate has indefinitely delayed the doctor's confirmation hearing, scheduled for today, and the prognosis is not good.
The president, responding to a news conference question from Fox's John Roberts, praised Jackson but seemed to open the door for him to withdraw.
"I told Admiral Jackson, 'What do you need this for? This is a vicious group of people that malign,'" he said at a news conference with the French president.
At another point he said that while Jackson will make the decision, "I don't want to put a man through the process like this. It's too ugly and too disgusting ... I really don't think, personally, he should do it," and if it were him, "I wouldn't do it."
Was that a signal to his embattled nominee?
Since Trump also noted that Democrats are being "obstructionists," and tied the Jackson process to the Mike Pompeo nomination, it's worth noting that Republicans control the confirmation process in the Senate. It was the GOP chairman of the Veterans Committee, Johnny Isakson, who decided to postpone the hearing. And the Senate is doing its advise-and-consent duty by probing Jackson's background.
"The White House did little or no vetting of his background before announcing his nomination on Twitter," says the New York Times.
Trump did call Jackson "a great doctor" and "one of the finest people that I have met." He acknowledged that "there's an experience problem, because of lack of experience," but said the VA was so massive that even the head of the country's largest hospital chain wouldn’t have experience on that scale.
The committee is examining new allegations against Jackson, first reported by CBS and confirmed by other news outlets. These allegations are that he oversaw a hostile work environment at the White House, allowing the overprescribing of drugs, and drank too much on the job. Trump said he wasn't familiar with the accusations.
Jackson told reporters yesterday that he looks forward to answering the panel’s questions but declined to address the substance.
Jackson, who was tapped after the president fired David Shulkin, is known by the public mainly for the effusive news conference in which he declared Trump so healthy that if he had a better diet he could live for 200 years. Jackson has drawn much media mockery over his performance.
Now it's possible that the allegations will prove baseless, and that Jackson, who has worked for three presidents, will get his confirmation hearing and wind up running the VA. But there was little enthusiasm for the president's pick even before these obstacles emerged, given the deep management problems with a $177-billion bureaucracy serving 9 million patients.
Trump obviously chose Jackson because he feels comfortable with him. But inadequate vetting by the White House has been a problem since the election. The president's picks for Labor secretary, Army secretary, Navy secretary, deputy Treasury secretary, deputy Commerce secretary and many other positions have withdrawn after they were announced.
And there's been a record-setting degree of turnover at the White House itself.
Some of this is inevitable with a president who came from outside government, lacking a cadre of Beltway veterans and determined to make some unconventional picks.
Whether Jackson survives the process or not, this has developed into a significant management problem.
Footnote: "White House officials are cautioning Republican lawmakers and other conservative allies to temper their defense of Scott Pruitt, according to two people familiar with the discussions, in a sign that administration support for the embattled EPA chief may be waning," Bloomberg reports.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author "Media Madness: Donald Trump, The Press and the War Over the Truth." Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.
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