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David Shulkin fired as VA chief after mounting controversy

President Trump fired Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, who had been the subject of criticism over travel expenses and poor care at VA health centers. Judy Woodruff learns more from Lisa Rein of the Washington Post about Shulkin’s relationship with the president and the pressures he faced.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump has fired his secretary of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin. He had faced criticism over travel expenses and poor care at VA health centers.

    The president tweeted this evening that he is nominating his personal physician, Navy Rear Admiral Ronny Johnson, to be the new secretary of the department.

    For more on this breaking story, I'm joined now by Lisa Rein of The Washington Post.

    Lisa, thank you for joining us. We just learned about this just about half-an-hour ago.

    What do we know about what problems had arisen with Secretary Shulkin?

  • Lisa Rein:

    So, Judy, this ousting of Dr. Shulkin was widely expected. It had been expected for weeks, because, while Dr. Shulkin had been a favorite Cabinet member of the president's for many, many months, he fell out of favor after an inspector general report criticized a trip that he took to Europe that that was lavish, that involved his accepting of a gift of improper Wimbledon tickets.

    And then Dr. Shulkin did himself no favors by pushing back hard against the report, and also by going to the press repeatedly and talking about an insurrection that was afoot inside VA to oust him over his policy differences on private care for veterans.

    So that's really what tipped the scales for Dr. Shulkin.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, he had been, if I remember correctly, the only holdover from the Obama administration, and I think we have been reading that he and the president had developed a good relationship.

  • Lisa Rein:

    They had.

    In fact, a number of months ago, the president, who famously says, "You're fired," at the Oval Office, at an appearance said, oh, we will never say that about our David, meaning Secretary Shulkin.

    But this president is volatile often in his opinions of who serves him. And Dr. Shulkin, by all accounts, you know, was a very, very competent former hospital administrator who had run big hospital system. But when you fall out of favor with the president, it is hard to get your footing back. And that's what happened here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just quickly what, do we know about Dr. Ronny Jackson?

  • Lisa Rein:

    Right.

    So the choice of Dr. Jackson was, really, I think, a surprise to most of us. There were — the people who this president was considering, the names were tightly held. We know that Jackson is a rear admiral, and the president really likes people in the military.

    It's actually unclear, though, whether he — he's still on active duty, so the question is, will he retire? Because VA is a civilian job. Will he retire? Or will he seek a waiver, as former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster did, from the Congress to continue serving in an active-duty capacity?

    He has not run a large organization like VA. Few people have. It's 370,000 employees. And the other thing we don't know about Admiral Jackson are his views on privatization of VA, which I think is kind of the biggest hot-button policy issue now that is really under debate, which is how much private care should veterans in the system be allowed to seek outside the system?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, a number of questions which we will all be seeking answers to. Again, this news just broke within the hour.

    Lisa Rein with The Washington Post, thank you so much for joining us.

  • Lisa Rein:

    Thank you.

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