Some lawmakers fear White House vetting isn't good enough on nominees

Trump defends VA pick, leaves opening for exit
Trump defends VA pick, leaves opening for exit


    Trump defends VA pick, leaves opening for exit


Trump defends VA pick, leaves opening for exit 02:30

(CNN)Capitol Hill was once again flung into damage control mode Tuesday as Republicans and Democrats attempted to understand the severity of allegations being made against Ronny Jackson, the President's pick to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

It's a scenario that some lawmakers argue has become all too familiar in the Trump era, a side effect of a President who prizes loyalty above all else in nominees and a White House that they say doesn't vet nominees thoroughly enough before sending them to the Senate for consideration.
"It would be advisable for them, I think, to do all that stuff ahead of time so they don't have to go through what they're going now with the VA nominee," the Senate's No 3 Republican, John Thune of South Dakota, said Tuesday. "I understand the President wants his people and we want to be deferential as much as we can, but it would be nice to know some of the issues that come up after the fact, before the fact."
CNN has reported that members of the VA committee are investigating allegations against Jackson from whistleblowers that include questionable behavior including excessive drinking and a "toxic" work environment under his leadership, according to two former White House medical staff members who have spoken with the committee.
    While Jackson has denied the allegations, Hill Republicans were consumed Tuesday with managing yet another optics crisis for the White House.
    "I think he's damaged right now but he's resurrectable," Sen. Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, told reporters about Jackson Tuesday afternoon.
    Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican on the VA committee, met with Jackson on Tuesday and spoke to reporters afterward to say that Jackson was anxious to provide any answers he could in an effort to assuage concerns from Capitol Hill.
    "He does deny that he's done anything wrong in his service to the country. And particularly his time at the White House as a physician in the medical unit," Moran said. "He indicated that he knows of nothing that would prohibit him from being qualified, capable and the right person to (be) the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs."
    Republicans and Democrats on the committee have been managing the allegations for days.
    According to one Republican, over the weekend, Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, the chairman of the Senate's Veterans' Affairs Committee, briefed Republicans on his panel in a telephone call about some of the allegations that had surfaced against Jackson. He also informed them that he was considering delaying Jackson's confirmation hearing in order to vet the allegations more thoroughly. On Tuesday morning, he announced the confirmation hearing -- scheduled for Wednesday -- had been delayed indefinitely.
    Sen. Mike Rounds, a South Dakota Republican who was on the call, said Isakson had "received notice that there were unsubstantiated allegations being made, and he wanted the committee to know about it and in doing due diligence, he wanted the opportunity to let us know that he might be extending the time frame before we actually have the hearing."
    The problem for many members is that the lack of vetting has become a pattern in the Trump administration, a fact that has led to some nominees being confirmed only for controversies to spring up after they are in their posts. While members scrambled to understand the extent of allegations against Jackson, members were also trying Tuesday to wrap their head around allegations about Scott Pruitt, the chief of the Environmental Protection Agency. The New York Times published a story over the weekend chronicling Pruitt's questionable behavior before he was confirmed to be the head of the EPA.
    "I think the President's staff probably knows when the President wants somebody, he's gonna get that person, so what's the point of vetting maybe and that's a pretty bad position to be in," Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat on the Senate's Veterans' Affairs Committee, told CNN Tuesday.
    Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington who also serves on the VA committee, argued that the White House isn't doing its job of vetting.
    "It is really frustrating to me that this administration continues to not vet or sloppily send over a nominee that leaves us having to really vet them and look at serious questions -- which is what this Senate is now doing and that is the right step," she said.
    Some Republicans pushed back against allegations that the White House has not vetted nominees properly.
    Inhofe argued "this has happened in every administration I can think of," and Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said, "I don't have concerns. The appointees in our jurisdiction have been for the most part very, very good nominees."
    But lawmakers said that at this point the best they can do is vet the nominees themselves thoroughly.
    "The one thing we have shared with everyone is we didn't get the paperwork until late last week or early this week and we always wait until we have a chance to actually vet, look through and ask questions," Rounds said. "Preliminarily, I had a very good meeting with the admiral last week. It was a positive meeting. I was impressed with what he shared with me, but at the same time, you do the vetting process."
    He added, "That's our constitutional role regardless of whether it is a Republican nominee or a Democratic nominee."