President Trump just dumped White House physician Ronny L. Jackson, his ill-chosen nominee to become the Veterans Affairs secretary. Oh, Trump still insists he supports the well-liked doctor, but make no mistake about it: Jackson has been shown the door.
When Trump was asked about the troubled nomination during a joint news conference alongside French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump claimed: “I said to Dr. Jackson, what do you need it for?”
“The fact is I wouldn’t do it. 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? I really don’t think personally he should do it but it’s totally his — I would stand behind him — totally his decision,” Trump said.
Jackson, a Navy rear admiral, was a poor selection from the start, given his lack of experience at running anything that resembles the gargantuan agency that features more than 375,000 employees and a budget that exceeds $185 billion. Then came word late Monday that his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs was being delayed because of allegations the panel received regarding Jackson’s oversight of the White House medical staff, as well as his conduct while in that job.
The president did not pretend to make an argument that Jackson is actually qualified for the job of running a department that Trump has insisted is one of his top priorities. Instead, he said pretty much the opposite: “I know there’s an experience problem, because lack of experience. But there’s an experience problem — the Veterans Administration is very important to me.”
Trump should not blame the ugliness of the confirmation process, when the real fault is entirely his own. Again and again, this president has made personnel decisions the way he did on “Celebrity Apprentice”: based on his own whims, rather than anything that resembles a conventional vetting process.
In this case, it was Trump’s impulsive decision to abruptly fire David Shulkin, the previous VA secretary, with a tweet, and replace him with a doctor known mostly for an effusively rosy public assessment of the president’s own health.
At the news conference, Trump repeated — no fewer than six times — the question he claimed to have put to Jackson: What does Jackson need this job for?
But if the president had actually posed that question, the nominee apparently did not get the message. On Tuesday afternoon, Jackson was still making the rounds of Senate offices on Capitol Hill. Pulled aside in a hallway by NBC News, Jackson expressed disappointment that the committee had postponed his appearance, and said, “I’m looking forward to the hearing, so we can sit down and I can explain everything to everyone and answer all the senators’ questions.”
Now, it looks like that opportunity may never come.
So yes, in one sense, it was reasonable that Trump would ask why Jackson would want a post for which he was completely unqualified, or be willing to endure the process of getting it. The problem is, Trump should have done that before he offered it.