Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Johnny Isakson gave an upbeat assessment Monday of Robert Wilkie, the acting secretary of Veterans Affairs, whom President Donald Trump unexpectedly announced Friday would be his nominee to fill the job permanently.
“I am very excited I think he is a great choice,” the Georgia Republican told CNN during a brief interview in the Capitol.
Isakson said he will hold confirmation hearings for Wilkie the week after next, when the Senate returns from its Memorial Day recess. He said the top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, had agreed to that plan.
Isakson was cautiously optimistic there will be broad support for Wilkie both in his committee and the full Senate.
“I assume that but I don’t take it for granted so we’ll make sure,” Isakson said.
Wilkie was chosen after Trump’s first choice to lead the troubled agency, Adm. Ronny Jackson, who was then then the President’s physician, dropped out after a series of serious allegations surfaced regarding his professional and personal conduct.
“I’ve learned to say there’s never no ‘other issues,’” Isakson said referring to Jackson’s problems. “That’s why we’re going to do the due diligence that we need to do in the committee, which is what we did on Admiral Jackson and hopefully the results will be better.”
Isakson praised the choice of Wilkie.
“He’s got a lot of strengths in areas we need them right now and he’s a proven entity so I think he will be good,” the senator said.
Isakson’s comments were more positive and went further than a statement Friday when he said he wanted to learn more about Wilkie’s “long-term goals” for the VA.
“Sen. Isakson has had a number of positive meetings with Undersecretary Wilkie in his capacity as acting VA secretary,” said Amanda Maddox, a spokesperson for Isakson explaining his thinking. “The chairman has been impressed with his willingness to work with Congress on shepherding through the VA community care legislation that is currently pending before the Senate.”
That bill, which is designed to allow veterans to seek care from private health care providers if they can’t readily get it at a VA facility, passed the House last week and is expected to pass the Senate this week.
A spokeswoman for Tester said he’s looking forward to meeting with Wilkie.
“Senator Tester has met with Wilkie several times, but not since being nominated as permanent Secretary. He plans on meeting with him right after this next recess,” said Marnee Banks, a spokeswoman for Tester.