Trump's pick to head veterans affairs not dropping out, official says

A White House official says Ronny Jackson will not withdraw as a nominee to run the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department, even as a report from 2012 surfaced in which he and another physician were criticized for "unprofessional behaviours."

Senate confirmation stalls amid allegations of misbehaviour

Presidential physician Dr. Ronny Jackson is Trump's pick to run the massive Department of Veterans Affairs, but his nomination hearing has been put on hold amid questions about his workplace practices and experience. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

A White House official said Tuesday Ronny Jackson will not withdraw as a nominee to run the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, even as a report from 2012 surfaced in which he and another physician were criticized for "unprofessional behaviours" during a power struggle over the White House medical unit. 

The report, reviewed Tuesday by The Associated Press, suggested officials consider replacing Jackson or Dr. Jeffrey Kuhlman — or both. Kuhlman was the physician to then-president Barack Obama, and had previously held the role occupied by Jackson: director of the White House medical unit.

The six-page report by the navy's medical inspector general found a lack of trust in the leadership and low morale among staff members, who described the working environment as "being caught between parents going through a bitter divorce."

"There is a severe and pervasive lack of trust in the leadership that has deteriorated to the point that staff walk on eggshells," the report found.

Jackson's nomination ran into trouble earlier in the day when a Senate committee delayed indefinitely his confirmation in light of "new information" it had received.

The New York Times, citing unnamed officials, reported on Tuesday that the committee, which had planned to hold a nomination hearing on Wednesday, was examining allegations that Jackson oversaw a hostile work environment as White House physician, allowed the overprescribing of drugs and possibly drank on the job.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday left open the possibility that Jackson would withdraw, but hours later a White House official, speaking to the Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity, said Jackson will press on and fight allegations about his conduct. 

"We're pushing back," the official said.

Trump chose Jackson, a U.S. Navy rear admiral, last month to replace David Shulkin at the VA after an official report found that Shulkin improperly accepted tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament and his chief of staff made false statements so Shulkin's wife could travel at government expense. 

Jackson, right, walks with President Barack Obama in November 2016 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. The doctor to presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and now Donald Trump is an Iraq War veteran nominated to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

'Strong, decisive leadership'

But questions about Jackson's level of experience to head a large bureaucracy weighed on his nomination before allegations surfaced in the New York Times of improper conduct. 

Jackson has worked as a presidential physician since the George W. Bush administration, and has been the lead doctor monitoring Trump's health since Trump became president.

White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley defended Jackson, saying he had a "record of strong, decisive leadership" and that is what is needed at the veterans agency. 

A White House official said the allegations raised against Jackson are unfair and "don't appear to pass the smell test."

The official said there will be a discussion among senior officials on possible next steps in the nomination strategy, such as putting pressure on senators to back Jackson. 

"At this stage I think we're full steam ahead," the official said, adding that the future of the nomination could depend on whether Jackson has the stomach for a prolonged nomination fight. 

Senator John Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters his first instinct was to support Trump's nominee, but he thinks further scrutiny is required. 

"I certainly support the committee's work to vet his background because we need to know the full picture," Cornyn said. 

With files from The Associated Press

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