President Donald Trump announced today that he has fired Veterans Affairs secretary David Shulkin in the latest shakeup in his cabinet. The President nominated Dr. Ronny Jackson as his replacement. The President shared the announcement on Twitter.
“I am pleased to announce that I intend to nominate highly respected Admiral Ronny L. Jackson, MD, as the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs….” the President wrote. “….In the interim, Hon. Robert Wilkie of DOD will serve as Acting Secretary. I am thankful for Dr. David Shulkin’s service to our country and to our GREAT VETERANS!” he added.
Speculation was rampant that Shulkin was set to be replaced by the President. Longtime Trump friend and confidant Chris Ruddy, the Newsmax CEO, put Shulkin chances of being pushed out this week at “50/50,” during an interview Sunday.
Shulkin had been under fire for months as scandals have clouded his tenure and high-ranking officials at the VA have staged an unprecedented rebellion.
Shulkin’s Chief of Staff announced her resignation in February after it was learned she lied to investigators about doctoring an email that allowed Shulkin’s wife to accompany him on a trip to Europe last year at taxpayer’s expense. Vivieca Wright Simpson had been with Veterans Affairs for thirty-two years and spent two years working for Shulkin.
An investigation by the VA’s inspector general found Simpson doctored an email sent to an ethics lawyer to show that Shulkin was getting special recognition or an award during a trip to Denmark and London last year. The statements allowed Shulkin’s wife to accompany him on the taxpayer funded trip.
It is unclear what caused Wright Simpson to doctor the email. She declined to comment at the time.
Shulkin apologized and reimbursed the government more than $4,000 for his wife’s airfare in that case. He is also seeking to reimburse a British veterans’ advocate for tickets to the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament that he and wife improperly accepted while on that trip.
A second internal investigation due out in the next couple of weeks was looking into complaints that Shulkin ordered a member of his round-the-clock security detail to accompany him to Home Depot store and carry furniture items into his home.
Shulkin was also facing what appeared to be an extraordinary mutiny from VA officials serving under him. He had refused to comment on events he’d called “subversive,” but political appointees installed by Trump had openly discussed terminating Shulkin. A top communications official has taken an extended leave in the wake of a secret and failed attempt to turn lawmakers against him.
Shulkin had drawn the ire of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly as well, for repeatedly turning to the media to talk about problems at the VA as well as claiming unwavering support from the White House in internal battles at the agency. Kelly has made it clear that is something Shulkin did not have.
The President came to view Shulkin’s tenure as a distraction and began weighing replacements, officials said. Among the names that were being floated were former Service member and CEO of the conservative Concerned Veterans for America Pete Hegseth, and retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg.
But Jackson’s nomination was welcomed by some on Capitol Hill. “If there ever was a homerun pick, Admiral Jackson fits the bill – combat surgeon, career military officer who loves his country and will provide the highest quality health care and services to our wonderful veterans,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wrote on Twitter.
Jackson has served as physician to the president since 2013.
Several Cabinet members have been fired or have resigned in recent weeks including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster. The President hinted at changes earlier this month when he said, “I have gotten to know a lot of people very well over the last year and I’m really at a point where we’re getting close to having the cabinet and other things that I want.”