HELENA – U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said Tuesday lawmakers must determine the validity of “concerning” allegations against President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, before taking further action on his confirmation.
“We are in the process of running down those claims to see if they’re real or not,” said Tester, a Montana Democrat. “We think the accusations are serious enough that it was important we postpone the nomination hearing.”
Tester and Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, announced Tuesday they were postponing Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson’s confirmation hearing, originally scheduled for Wednesday. They also sent a letter to the White House, asking for documentation regarding Jackson’s service in the White House medical unit and as the president’s official physician.
“This review is being done in a bipartisan way, to make sure that we end up with a person running the VA that would be suited for that job,” said Tester.
Tester told MTN if the allegations against Jackson are proven to be true, he would view them as disqualifying.
Tester would not give any specifics regarding the accusations, but called them “workforce issues.” National news outlets, including The New York Times, have reported there are claims that Jackson allowed a hostile work environment.
In addition to those allegations, Tester said he has concerns about Jackson’s experience, since he has never overseen an organization approaching the scale of the VA.
“There’s literally hundreds of thousands of people in the VA that he’s going to have to manage,” he said.
During a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron Tuesday, President Trump defended Jackson, saying he had not heard the allegations against him. But he also said he would leave it to Jackson to decide whether to continue with what he called the “ugly” nominating process.
Tester said, as of Tuesday afternoon, he had not heard any indication that Jackson’s nomination might be withdrawn.
Congress will be in recess next week. Tester said he expects a resolution to this investigation in the first or second week following that.
“We’re working hard to get another secretary of the VA,” said Tester. “It’s critically important. It’s the second-biggest agency in the federal government. And we need to make sure that the person running the VA is fit to run the VA and will be able to run it for many years to come.”