In March, Donald Trump nominated Navy officer and White House physician Ronny Jackson to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.* Given Jackson’s relative lack of relevant experience—he’s never led a large organization, for one—he seemed like a choice borne of personal familiarity who may not have been subjected to the usual level of scrutiny given to Cabinet nominees. Monday, a Washington Post report seemingly confirmed those suspicions: Jackson’s confirmation, it said, has been put on hold over bipartisan concerns about his “qualifications and oversight of the White House medical staff.” Later reports indicated that Jackson has also been accused of drinking excessively in work settings and “improperly” prescribing medication.
On Tuesday, Trump was asked whether he intended to “stand behind” Jackson’s nomination at a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron. His answer, in sum, was “sort of.” The transcript, with some tangents about Mike Pompeo’s secretary of state nomination elided:
I haven’t heard of the particular allegations but I will tell you, he is one of the finest people I have met. … I told Admiral Jackson just a little while ago, I said, “What do you need this for?” This is a vicious group of people that malign, and they do, and I lived through it, we all lived through it, you people are getting record ratings because of it, so congratulations. But I said, “What do you need it for?” He’s a great leader, admiral, and they question him about every little thing. … This person, Admiral Jackson, Dr. Jackson, he’s a wonderful man, I said to him, “What do you need it for?” And as far as experience is concerned, the Veterans Administration, which is approximately 13 million people, is so big, you could run the biggest hospital system in the world and it’s small-time compared to the Veterans Administration. So nobody has the experience. What he is is a leader and a good man. But I told him, I said, “You know what, doc? You’re too fine a person.” His son is a top student at Annapolis. He’s a high-quality person. I said, “What do you need it for?” So, it’s totally his decision, but he’ll be making a decision. … I said to Dr. Jackson, “What do you need it for?” So, we’ll see what happens. I don’t want to put a man through, who’s not a political person, I don’t want to put a man through a process like this, it’s too ugly and too disgusting. So, we’ll see what happens. He’ll make a decision. … I would definitely stand behind him. He’s a fine man. I’ll always stand behind him. I’d let it be his choice. But here’s a man who has just been an extraordinary person. His family, extraordinary success, great doctor, great everything, and he has to listen the abuse? 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? 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.
So, there you have it. What does he need it for? He can make up his own mind. Who even cares?
Correction, April 24, 2018: This post originally misidentified the Department of Veterans Affairs as the Veterans Administration.