Ronny Jackson Accused Of Drinking On Duty, Improper Prescriptions, Senator Says : The Two-Way More than 20 military employees described a "toxic work environment" to senators and staff, the Democrat told NPR. President Trump says the decision to withdraw is up to Ronny Jackson.
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VA Nominee Accused Of Drinking On Duty, Improper Prescriptions, Sen. Tester Says

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VA Nominee Accused Of Drinking On Duty, Improper Prescriptions, Sen. Tester Says

VA Nominee Accused Of Drinking On Duty, Improper Prescriptions, Sen. Tester Says

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right, we turn now to NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. She's been covering the controversy surrounding Ronny Jackson's nomination to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. Hey, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So we just heard from Senator Tester. He laid out some pretty serious allegations. We're hearing allegations about Ronny Jackson possibly drinking while on duty, improperly doling out prescription drugs and fostering a hostile, abusive work environment. What has been the response from senators who've been clued in into some of these details?

DAVIS: Tester's comments were really interesting because senators in both parties up here today were really reluctant to talk about the allegations, only to say that they were incredibly serious and serious enough that - he is right. There was bipartisan support to postpone the confirmation hearing for Ronny Jackson that was scheduled to begin on Wednesday. It's important remember that the Veterans Affairs Committee is one of the more bipartisan committees in Congress, so there hasn't really been any pushback to saying that there needs to be a pause on this. Serious questions have been raised, and they need time to figure out if this nomination can move forward.

CHANG: When it comes to Cabinet-level nominees, the White House has historically at least vetted its candidates before sending nominations to the Senate. But the Trump administration has been criticized several times already for not vetting its nominees enough. Is this another case of that, do you think?

DAVIS: That seems to be the case. I mean, this has been a criticism that's been lobbed at the White House in terms of the nominees they've been sending up and also just not really doing the due diligence that White Houses tend to do on nominees. I talked to one of the Democrats on the VA Committee today, Richard Blumenthal. He's from Connecticut. This is what he had to say.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: What is striking is the failures in the vetting process, which unfortunately is more typical of this administration than exceptional.

DAVIS: Now, President Trump today at the White House suggested that what's happening with Jackson's nomination is politically motivated. He called it a vicious group of people who malign in reference to the Senate. I think it's really important to clarify that what's happening right now is not unusual. The vetting process for Cabinet-level nominees is incredibly rigorous and thorough. And none of the allegations that the senator laid out just now were flagged to senators from the White House ahead of time. It all occurred to them and was brought up to them after his nomination had been announced.

CHANG: Right, after he was named. Do you get the sense that senators are still looking for more confirmation of these allegations that we just heard from Senator Tester?

DAVIS: Yeah. Senators Isaacson and Tester sent a letter to the White House today with a fairly sweeping records request asking for essentially every piece of documentation they have pertaining to Jackson's time in the White House...

CHANG: Wow.

DAVIS: ...Medical unit, which is a pretty - very broad stroke and also an indication that this nomination isn't going to move forward anytime soon.

CHANG: So what do you think, Sue? How much momentum is there left on the Hill to confirm Ronny Jackson to lead the Veterans Affairs Department?

DAVIS: You know, based on what Tester just said, I think the question has shifted some from can he be confirmed to when will he withdraw? There is a lot of precedent for nominees who come under scrutiny like this to just withdraw before the nominations move forward. It kind of ends the debate. President Trump has already had to deal with this in his administration. Late last year, Congressman Tom Marino withdrew as his drug czar when conflicts of a separate nature came to light.

CHANG: That's right.

DAVIS: And I also think it's important to remember that there was a lot of scrutiny on Capitol Hill about Ronny Jackson to begin with. He doesn't have the kind of managerial experience you usually look for to run the kind of bureaucracies like the VA. This is an agency that senators take incredibly seriously because it is one of the most popular and politically sensitive agencies the - in the government. I think it's fair to say as of right now his nomination is very much in peril.

CHANG: All right, that's NPR's Sue Davis. Thank you, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MENAHAN STREET BAND'S "TIRED OF FIGHTING")

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