New Charges Against VA Nominee: 'Candyman' Dispensed Drugs Freely, Wrecked Car
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
President Trump's nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs is facing more detailed allegations tonight over his behavior on the job as the physician to the president. Ronny Jackson is accused of drinking while on duty, creating a hostile work environment and improperly prescribing drugs. Today we learned one of those drugs he allegedly prescribed was the opioid pain medication Percocet.
He's also been accused of getting intoxicated at a Secret Service going-away party and wrecking a government vehicle - an allegation Jackson denies. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis is following all of this from the Capitol. Hey, Sue.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: So where is all of this new information coming from?
DAVIS: It comes from a two-page memo that was released by Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and it puts more of a finer point on the sort of umbrella accusations we've heard against Dr. Jackson. It's under three headers of prescribing practices, hostile work environment, and drunkenness is one of the headers.
DAVIS: A lot of it we've heard. I will tell you that the two things that are really striking out of this, as you mentioned, is allegations that as the White House doctor, he may have illegally prescribed or not accounted for controlled substances, specifically Percocet.
This, in particular, I think, is something that's being flagged, when you consider the complicated politics of opioids not just in this country, but at the VA. And the political optics of that are just hugely problematic for any nominee, let alone a VA nominee, also accused of wrecking a government car under the influence.
As you noted, and we should reiterate that Dr. Jackson has denied all of these allegations. He spoke to reporters at the White House tonight, including NPR. He said, I did not wreck a car. That should be pretty easy to prove. He does seem to want to continue to go forward with this nomination, and the White House seems to be sticking by him.
CHANG: What's been the reaction to these newest allegations on the Hill?
DAVIS: You know, Tester is clearly, with putting out things like this memo, and Democrats, broadly, are saying that they don't have confidence in Ronny Jackson - that there are real questions being raised about his nomination.
Senate Republicans are a little bit more cautious. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he's essentially deferring to the White House and to the Veterans Affairs Chairman on this, Johnny Isakson. He's a Republican from Georgia.
The impression I've gotten from Senate Republicans is that this is really a decision for the White House to make. If they want to keep up this fight and stand by their nominee, then it may move forward. But it doesn't - it's unclear if that is a realistic option.
CHANG: Well, yesterday, President Trump was opening the door for Jackson...
CHANG: ...To withdraw his name, but then Jackson apparently said, no, I want to fight on. And now it seems the White House is still backing him. So where does the Senate confirmation process stand at this point?
DAVIS: Well, it was supposed to start today.
DAVIS: It's been indefinitely postponed. Congress is gone next week. The fastest they could even begin to take up an open hearing would be in about two weeks, and that would be presuming the Senate's had all of its questions answered.
DAVIS: And, you know, there's a familiarity to these scandals. Can the White House sustain a drip, drip, drip if more information along these lines continues to come out and if more or any of it is corroborated?
CHANG: There have been questions about the White House's process for vetting nominees. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders today pointed to the fact that Jackson has worked as the president's physician for years, and he's gotten strong reviews from Presidents Trump and Obama. So given his long track record, how are lawmakers feeling about the way this vetting process has played out?
DAVIS: There is a lot of frustration across the aisle about the vetting process. Clearly, the White House sent up a nominee that they did not do due diligence on - that they didn't - were not aware of any of these allegations, and if they were, they didn't tell the Senate.
DAVIS: So the Senate is doing its job right now, and the conclusion on his nomination may just be that he does not have the votes to ultimately clear the Senate if the White House continues to push this nomination and demand a vote.
CHANG: All right. That's NPR's Susan Davis on Capitol Hill. Thanks, Sue.
DAVIS: You're welcome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.