UPDATE: Since the publishing of this article, Ronny Jackson, President Trump's nominee to run the Department of Veterans Affairs, has withdrawn his name from consideration for the post due to multiple scandals.
Charges of inappropriate behavior continue to mount against Ronny Jackson, President Trump's nominee to run the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Administration officials are scrambling to defend Jackson from allegations that he was often drunk while serving as the White House physician in the Obama and Trump administrations. The doctor is also accused of freely doling out “uppers” and “downers” to the president's staffers. He reportedly fostered a “toxic work environment.”
Jackson “wants to have a chance to answer some of those questions, and we’re going to continue moving forward in this process,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday on Fox News. “At this point, as the president said yesterday, he’s a great man. He hates to see him go through this process.”
The doctor's critics point out that in addition to his alleged ethical lapses, he is unqualified to succeed recently fired VA chief David Shulkin. Jackson has no background in veterans issues, and has never managed a large agency.
Trump appears to be wavering in his support of his nominee. “I'd let it be his choice,” the president said, in response to whether Jackson should withdraw his name from consideration for the position. “But he’s a man who has just been an extraordinary person. His family, extraordinary success, great doctor, great everything, and he has to listen to the abuse that he has to. I wouldn’t, if I were him — actually in many ways I’d love to be him — but the fact is, I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it. What does he need it for?”
Republican leaders canceled a Senate confirmation hearing for Jackson that had been set for Wednesday, as a growing number of lawmakers voiced doubts that the president's pick is the right person for the job. In an interview with National Public Radio, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana revealed that more than 20 members of the armed forces recently sent a letter to senators expressing their reservations about Jackson.
“We were told stories where he was repeatedly drunk while on duty where his main job was to take care of the most powerful man in the world," said Tester, a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee. “That's not acceptable.”
In an appearance on CNN, the senator described Jackson as the White House “candy man” because of his willingness to dispense drugs. Tester said that on some airplane trips abroad, the doctor gave out pills to staffers to “put them to sleep, and then give them the drugs to wake them back up again.” The senator continued: “If you are drunk and something happens with the president, it's very difficult to go in and treat the president. That's what multiple people told us this was the case on several different trips.”
The nominee's chances of being confirmed in the Senate were already in doubt before the allegations surfaced. As a military officer and doctor, Jackson appears to lack the expertise to lead the federal government's second-largest agency. Of course, he would not be the only inexperienced Cabinet-level official in the Trump administration. For instance, the president appointed Ben Carson, a brain surgeon, to head the Housing and Urban Development Department; and Betsy DeVos, a private-school advocate, to be in charge of public education.
Sanders pushed back against those who claim Jackson is poorly suited to run the VA. “There's probably not a person around that has managed a department of over 300,000 (employees),” she told reporters. “And certainly he’s a very highly qualified, highly respected person in the military and in the medical community, and that's something that we strongly feel that veterans need in the VA.”
The latest salacious story to emerge about Jackson is that he allegedly was under the influence of alcohol when he “banged on the hotel room door” of a female aide during an overseas flight in 2015. CNN cited four witnesses who confirmed the account. One of the sources said Secret Service officers had to restrain Jackson, in fear that he would awaken a sleeping President Obama.
The doctor's actions were “definitely inappropriate, in the middle of the night,” according to a member of the White House Medical Unit, who said the incident upset the woman. The source claimed that it was not the only time Jackson got drunk and behaved badly on a plane trip.
The controversial nomination may have never happened if the administration had properly vetted Jackson to ensure that he had no skeletons in his closet. The doctor's alleged indiscretions came to light only because the news media acted as a “watchdog.”
As usual, Trump is responding by lashing out at reporters. “This is a vicious group of people that malign — and they do,” he declared during a press conference. “You people are getting record ratings because of it, so, congratulations.” The president argued that the scrutiny of Jackson is another example of the media and Democrats attempting to “malign” the administration.