Washington (AFP) – Donald Trump opened the door Tuesday for his embattled nominee for veterans affairs to step aside, saying that while Ronny Jackson is “a wonderful man,” the US president himself would not abide the current congressional scrutiny.
“I will always stand behind him,” Trump said of Jackson, his White House physician who faces allegations of misconduct that have prompted the Senate to indefinitely delay his confirmation hearing.
But Trump also clearly offered an out to the nominee, saying during a White House press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron that “if I were him… the fact is I wouldn’t do it.”
“What does he need it for, to be abused by a bunch of politicians that aren’t thinking nicely about our country?” he said of Jackson.
And while he said it is “totally” Jackson’s decision to make, Trump suggested it might be too much for someone who is not steeled to such political pressures.
“They question him about every little thing,” Trump said of senators and staff who research presidential nominees.
“I don’t want to put a man through a process like this. It’s too ugly and too disgusting. So we’ll see what happens.”
Hours earlier the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee postponed Jackson’s confirmation hearing that had been set for Wednesday, citing concerns about “serious allegations” facing the controversial nominee.
The announcement threw Trump’s pick into deep jeopardy as allegations surfaced that he oversubscribed medications while in the US Navy and at the White House, struggled with alcohol use, and created a hostile work environment.
The panel’s top members chairman Johnny Isakson and ranking Democrat Jon Tester, released a joint statement announcing the delay “in light of new information presented to the committee” about the nominee.
“We will continue looking into these serious allegations and have requested additional information from the White House to enable the committee to conduct a full review.”
No new hearing date has been set.
The damning allegations about Jackson’s conduct were reported by CBS News and The New York Times.
Trump picked Jackson, 50, to replace sacked veterans affairs secretary David Shulkin, who was accused of lavish spending on a nine-day trip to Europe that included sightseeing at castles and taking in Wimbledon tennis matches.
Jackson’s stock with Trump rose after he pronounced in January that the 71-year-old president was in “excellent” health.
But Democrats and Republicans alike expressed concerns about Trump’s choice, fearing Jackson lacks the management experience to lead such a sprawling agency.
The VA has 360,000 employees and an annual budget of $186 billion.
Trump himself acknowledged Jackson’s “lack of experience,” but he appeared to dismiss that concern, saying the VA system, which oversees nine million military veterans, is so sprawling that no one has enough experience to manage it.
Congress has spent years struggling with how to reform the agency, which has been under fire for health care lapses, equipment shortfalls, and what an inspector general’s scathing investigative report described as “a culture of complacency and sense of futility” within VA facilities.
The Jackson controversy comes as two other Trump nominees face Senate grillings: Mike Pompeo, who could be confirmed later this week as secretary of state to replace Rex Tillerson; and Gina Haspel to replace Pompeo as CIA director.