A day ahead of his Senate confirmation hearing, controversial details about Veteran Affairs secretary nominee Robert Wilkie’s former career as a congressional aide have emerged in a Washington Post report.
As an aide to North Carolina’s late GOP Sen. Jesse Helms, Wilkie publicly defended his boss’s support of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, an organization whose logo included the Confederate flag, the Post reported Tuesday.
“What we are seeing is an attempt in the name of political correctness to erase entire blocks of our history,” Wilkie was quoted as telling the Post in 1993. “The question is whether we’re going to wipe out the history of millions of Americans who trace their heritage to the losing side.”
According to the Post, Wilkie also rebutted a Democratic proposal for equal pay for women in 1997 when he was working for then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi.
Wilkie had suggested Congress require young women to complete high school as a condition of receiving welfare, the Post reported, citing a staffer of then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota.
Pentagon spokeswoman Maj. Carla Gleason told the Post that Wilkie’s “record on the way he treats his employees, on equal rights, equal opportunity and employment stands for itself on this matter.”
As executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party in 1996-1997, Wilkie publicly defended a campaign flyer against Harvey Gantt, a Democratic challenger to Helms, according to the Post. Democrats slammed the flyer as attempting to sway voters not to send another black lawmaker to Washington, the Post reported.
The Post reported that Wilkie also attacked Gantt for “openly court(ing) money from the homosexual community,” according to a 1996 transcript from “PBS NewsHour.”
Gleason told the Post the flyer was an attack on the issues and did not respond to the Post’s request for comment on the PBS transcript.
Wilkie attended annual memorial ceremonies honoring fallen Confederate fighters, even delivering speeches at the events, and was a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group that supports displaying symbols of the Confederacy, the Post reported.
A Pentagon spokesperson told the Post that Wilkie no longer considers himself a member and Wilkie told the Post in a statement that the commemorations have now become “part of the politics that divide us.”
“Today, there would be much more consideration taken into attending this type of memorial event,” Wilkie said in the statement provided to the Post. “While I honor the soldiers in my family, and I am a student of history, the past is the past and I do not live in the past.”
“Someone who has defended treason against the United States, pines for the days of slavery and advocated for banning our brave transgender troops from serving is not fit to lead the VA,” Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, wrote Tuesday morning on Twitter.
Wilkie was announced as President Donald Trump’s pick in May after his previous nominee, Ronny Jackson, withdrew his name amid allegations of improper behavior during his time as White House physician.
Wilkie was the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness but had been serving as the VA’s acting secretary since Trump fired former Secretary David Shulkin in late March.