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White House prized loyalty of Ronny Jackson more than what’s best for veterans, says Sen. Sherrod Brown

Shocking new allegations emerged on Wednesday about Dr. Ronny Jackson, President Trump's nominee for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the White House stepped up its defense. John Yang explores the claims, the president’s process for picking Cabinet members and what’s at stake for veterans with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    New details raise further questions about President Trump's pick to head Veterans Affairs Department.

    John Yang explores some of the sticking points.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, today, the White House stepped up its defense of Dr. Ronny Jackson.

    Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said he had been fully checked out before President Trump chose him, even as shocking new developments emerged today.

    We are now joined by Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat of Ohio who is a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

    Senator Brown, thanks for joining us.

    I know, late this afternoon, the Senate — the committee's Democratic summary of what they have been told about the allegations against Dr. Jackson emerged.

    What to you is the most troubling on it? What's the most surprising on it?

  • Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio:

    Well, I would emphasize, it may have been the Democratic staff putting this out, but it's the bipartisan move by the committee, the Republican chair, to delay the hearing on Dr. Jackson, Admiral Jackson, because they want to know, too, what exactly happened.

    And Senator Tester, the senior Democrat, and I are — and others on the committee are talking a lot to individual Senate Republicans of what they're hearing and what they're thinking.

    Perhaps the most troubling — the most troubling thing to me is that the White House prized loyalty and likability of Dr. Jackson more than they did the ultimate issue here, and that is what's best for veterans.

    And this started with firing Dr. Shulkin, because Dr. Shulkin opposed the privatization, the politicization of the VA coming out of White House.

    I think probably the most troubling single thing about Dr. Jackson — and this is corroborated by enough people — 23 people have come forward, military or former military, talking to us, that he was so inebriated one night, he even went out — or one day — and wrecked a government car.

    Things like that, the president clearly didn't ask questions about. His staff didn't before he was nominated. And this just creates chaos. And the most important job here is, how do you take care of nine million veterans? And they have injected this chaos into the whole upper management of the VA.

    And there is — you know, there is — it is a leaderless institution now, a leaderless agency that takes care of nine million veterans.

  • John Yang:

    I should point out that Dr. Jackson told reporters at the White House this afternoon that he denies wrecking a car, and he also said that that is easy to check, and he's moving forward with his nomination, he said.

    There's also allegations in the summary that he was prescribing Percocet, an opioid, to people on the White House staff, and that they were having trouble tracking it in the White House Medical Office.

  • Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio:

    Yes.

    I mean, we hear all these things. We see this corroborated by a number of people. Again, 23 people, military, active-duty, or retired military or veterans who have moved on to other things have spoken about these issues, this whole host of issues. They have credibility. We want to get to the bottom of it.

    But what's clear here is, the White House, first, they fire Dr. Shulkin because they wanted to politically — they want to politicize the VA and privatize it. And the president seems to go along with the Koch brothers and others, against what every veterans group that has spoken out about it says, and the veterans groups, whether they're the Legion, the VFW, the AMVETS, the Disabled American Vets, the Paralyzed Vets.

    All of them oppose the privatization of VA, because they know the people on top that make money from this private company, that veterans' health services and morale at the agency always suffers when you do that.

    So, you start with that, but now then there's more chaos injected here, because there's no backup plan. And, I mean, I talk to people that work at the Cincinnati VA, or the Dayton VA, or the Chillicothe or Cleveland VAs, or the community-based outpatient clinics in Lima and Mansfield, Ohio, and they tell you, we just want a VA that has got a stable management, that does predictable things, instead of this chaos with no end in sight, as Dr. Jackson continues to flounder and people in both parties keep asking questions that the White House never asked.

  • John Yang:

    Well, you say the White House never asked.

    Do you have a question about the — or your concerns about how well the White House is vetting some of these nominees?

  • Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio:

    No, I'm concerned that they're vetting at all.

    From my observations up close — I have been in the White House a number of times. I have watched them up close. I have seen their nomination process up pretty close. I mean, I'm not at the White House watching them do the nominations.

    But what happens is, the president finds — has an idea of somebody, usually based on likability and loyalty, loyalty to the president, not necessarily to the people this Cabinet agency person might — person they might serve, like veterans.

    He likes them. He finds them loyal. He says he wants to nominate them, and they move without staff saying, wait a minute, Mr. President, like they always say in every other White House, wait a minute, we need to make a lot of calls to find out his background, if there's any problems, if he's had management issues or substance abuse issues or performance issues.

    These 23 people we talked to, apparently, none or very few of them were ever called by the White House.

  • John Yang:

    Quickly, Senator, Dr. Jackson says he wants a hearing so he can address these allegations.

    Do you think he deserves a confirmation hearing, so he can speak?

  • Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio:

    Sure. I just want something to happen quickly, and I want to get this resolved.

    I think, though, the deal should be, if there's a hearing, that the president should have a backup plan in place now, somebody that really is well-vetted, that could come and run the VA.

  • John Yang:

    Senator Brown, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, thanks so much for joining us.

  • Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio:

    Thank you so much.

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