Former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin isn’t going anywhere.
In the hours since President Donald Trump fired Shulkin, announcing in a signature tweet that he planned to replace him with White House physician Ronny Jackson, the former secretary has waged a scorched earth campaign, sitting for a slew of TV interviews and penning a blistering New York Times op-ed in which he described the environment in Washington as so “toxic, chaotic, disrespectful and subversive that it became impossible” for him to do his job.
To hear Shulkin tell it, he was forced out of the White House amid a bitter policy dispute that hits right at the core of the agency’s mission: how to best care for the more than 9 million veterans who receive healthcare from VA. The inspector general report that faulted him and senior VA staffers for the handling of a summer trip to Europe? Just noise.
Since the President announced on Wednesday that he was firing Shulkin – a move that had been expected for weeks – Shulkin has spoken with CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, NPR, and the PBS NewsHour, a highly unusual move for a departing cabinet secretary.
He told MSNBC that he talked with the President the day that he was fired and that Trump made no mention of the fact that he would soon lose his job. (That message would be delivered later, in a phone call from White House chief of staff John Kelly.) He told NPR that his time at VA started strong but that “political appointees” in and outside the agency were trying to “undermine” his efforts to improve care for the nation’s veterans.
Notable even after factoring in how he was fired is that Shulkin has not commented negatively about the President himself.
And asked by multiple news outlets, he hasn’t said whether he believes the President’s pick to replace him is up for the task of running a sprawling agency that has roughly 370,000 employees.
“He’s a friend of mine, I have considerable respect for him, he’s a great public servant,” Shulkin told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “I will do everything I can to help Dr. Jackson succeed in this position.”
“This is a tough position, there’s no doubt about it,” he added. “This is one of the most complex organizations anywhere to run.”
In many ways, Shulkin’s decision to go public with his side of the story is unsurprising. Shulkin was at odds with a group of Trump administration appointees within his department and at the White House who he says were working to plot his ouster. The officials included two top VA aides in charge of communication at the agency.
With Shulkin at odds with the men charged with managing his agency’s message, he was working a one-man crisis communications effort from his personal cell phone, speaking with reporters to illuminate his side of the story, and describing what he saw as a calculate effort to force him out.
But that, as CNN and other news organizations have reported, is one of the things that put Shulkin on the wrong side of White House officials, who were frustrated with Shulkin’s public comments.
Shulkin may be out of a job now, but he’s indicated that his campaign is far from over, and he’s putting his critics on notice.
“I can assure you that I will continue to speak out against those who seek to harm the V.A. by putting their personal agendas in front of the well-being of our veterans,” he wrote in the Times.