The Senate on Monday evening confirmed Robert Wilkie as the next secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) in a largely bipartisan 86-9 vote.
President Donald Trump said in a statement:
I applaud the United States Senate for confirming Robert Wilkie as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Mr. Wilkie has dedicated his life to serving his country with honor and pride. He has displayed great patriotism and a commitment to supporting and empowering America’s armed forces and veterans. Under his leadership, I have no doubt that the Department of Veterans Affairs will continue to make strides in honoring and protecting the heroic men and women who have served our Nation with distinction.
Wilkie currently serves in the Air Force Reserve and was previously in the Navy Reserve.
Trump first nominated Wilkie as undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness last July. Prior to that, he served as an adviser to Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC). Before that, he served as vice president for strategic initiatives for CH2M HILL, one of the world’s largest engineering and program management firms.
He served during the George W. Bush administration as assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs and as a special assistant to the president for national security affairs at the National Security Council. He also served as counsel and aide to Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS).
During his confirmation hearing last month, Wilkie pledged to try to improve morale at the VA and to make it more adaptive in the face of long-time bureaucratic struggles.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, said he is “confident” Wilkie will do an excellent job.
“He will be an excellent leader at the VA and I look forward to working with him to ensure Oklahoma veterans receive the care and benefits they have earned,” he said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said he supported Wilkie’s nomination but urged him to oppose the attempts to privatize the VA.
“Secretary Wilkie must now keep his promise to provide all veterans with world-class health care, eliminate the unconscionable backlog for veterans’ claims, and assure housing and job training. He has an obligation to put veterans before political interests by opposing the privatization of the VA and updating its capability for the next greatest generation,” he said.
The nine who opposed Wilkie’s confirmation were all Democrats and independents: Sens. Cory Booker (NJ), Dianne Feinstein (CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Kamala Harris (CA), Ed Markey (MA), Jeff Merkley (OR), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Ron Wyden (OR), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who caucuses with Democrats. Five of those members of the opposition have either run for president or are eyeing runs in 2020.
According to Leo Shane, deputy editor for Military Times, it was the first time a VA secretary nominee has ever gotten a single opposition vote. Trump’s first VA secretary nominee, David Shulkin, was an Obama holdover and received a 100-0 confirmation vote.