Ronny L. Jackson's nomination to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs appeared to be nearing an unceremonious end Tuesday afternoon. But not before President Trump decided to make a spectacle out of it.
Appearing at a news conference alongside French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump repeatedly said he had asked Jackson, in light of serious new allegations against him, why he even wanted to go through with the whole thing. The pretty clear subtext: “Please withdraw.”
“I told Admiral Jackson just a little while ago, I said, 'What do you need this for?' " Trump said.
He added later: “What do you need it for? ... I don't want to put a man through a process like this that is too ugly and too disgusting.”
And: “I wouldn't do it. What does he need it for? To be abused by a bunch of politicians?”
And: “If I were him, I wouldn't do it.”
Curiously, despite imploring his pick to reconsider whether this was worth his time, Trump also insisted he hadn't even reviewed the New York Times report involving an allegedly hostile work environment under Jackson, drinking on the job and over-prescription of drugs.
“I haven’t heard of the particular allegations,” Trump said. And yet, somehow Trump knew this was undeserved — that it was “abuse”?
It has all been rather bizarre from the start. This was a president who had plucked his personal White House doctor out of relative obscurity to head up perhaps the most troubled and bureaucratically unwieldy department of the federal government. Jackson's previous claim to fame was delivering a literally unbelievably positive review of Trump's health this year. His nomination was so obviously questionable that many Republican senators declined to even praise his selection. The White House, meanwhile, appeared to eschew any real vetting process. And now here we are.
But Trump, being Trump, wasn't about to let this whole embarrassment pass without trying to leverage it. He cast Jackson's embattled nomination as the latest example of obstructionism in the Senate — likening it to Democrats' efforts to block secretary of state nominee Mike Pompeo. Never mind, of course, that neither Jackson nor Pompeo even need one Democratic vote in the 51-49, Republican-controlled Senate. The only reason that either would be in any trouble is because of Republicans. And the only way Trump and his White House could have messed up his VA pick was to select someone who was so broadly unpalatable that even Republicans would balk.
And yet, the notoriously firing-averse Trump doesn't even appear to want to end the charade himself. He said Tuesday that “it's totally his decision” — meaning Jackson's. Yep, Jackson is free to press forward with an apparently doomed nomination that the president clearly doesn't think is worth pursuing and on live TV practically begged him to abandon.