Another Nomination Bites the Dust: Say Goodbye to Dr. Ronny Jackson - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Another Nomination Bites the Dust: Say Goodbye to Dr. Ronny Jackson

Another Nomination Bites the Dust: Say Goodbye to Dr. Ronny Jackson

By Molly Fosco


Because this doctor was part of a trend of Trump cabinet nominees in hot water.

By Molly Fosco

At Al-Taqaddum Air Base in Iraq, Dr. Ronny Jackson runs to the operating table, tears open the fatigues of a wounded U.S. soldier and cuts him open from chest to groin. Warm, red blood sprays across Jackson’s scrubs, but he continues the procedure with a steady hand, determined to find the source of the soldier’s internal bleeding. 

This traumatic scene was typical for Jackson in 2005 during his eight months leading the U.S. military’s emergency medicine unit in Iraq. Today you’re more likely to see Rear Adm. Jackson, 50, in his Navy uniform than scrubs, strolling the West Wing as President Donald Trump’s personal physician. Trump would like him to don a suit and move across H Street to lead a team of 375,000 as the secretary of Veterans Affairs — but early Thursday he withdrew his nomination amid damaging allegations of professional misconduct that overshadow his wartime valor and presidential service. 

Jackson’s agreeable demeanor may be the best explanation for his ascent through the White House ranks.

Based on testimony from 23 current and former colleagues of Jackson, Democrats on the Senate Veterans Affairs committee released a report Wednesday alleging that Jackson has often given out prescription drugs improperly to White House staff, that he is “volatile” and “explosive” as a leader, and that he once crashed a government vehicle while intoxicated. Jackson said in a statement Thursday that the allegations were false and he “did not expect to have to dignify baseless and anonymous attacks on my character and integrity” — but he was stepping aside because the claims were a “distraction.” He remains on the White House medical staff.

After Trump fired former VA secretary David Shulkin amid his continued opposition to the president’s call to privatize more veteran services like health care, Trump shocked Washington — no easy feat — by nominating Jackson to take over. The former military surgeon was brought on as a White House physician under George W. Bush in 2006 and selected by Barack Obama to become the personal physician to the president in 2013. Aside from the personal woes, many senators fear Jackson’s lack of experience in leading a large organization makes him woefully underqualified to head the VA, not to mention his lack of policy experience. “We still know very little about him at this point or his philosophy on key issues,”  Carl Blake, executive director of Paralyzed Veterans of America, told The Washington Post.

Jackson’s agreeable demeanor may be the best explanation for his ascent through the White House ranks. During his time on staff, he helped Bush clear land on his Texas ranch and played basketball with Obama, the Post reported, as well as once sprinting toward Marine One to give Dick Cheney a sling for his injured arm. In January, Jackson gave Trump a glowing health review, telling reporters that the president is in excellent physical and mental health. “Some people just have great genes,” Jackson said. When some liberals mocked the assessment as sycophantic, former Obama White House officials had his back.

Born in the small town of Levelland, Texas, Jackson majored in marine biology at Texas A&M. Upon graduating from medical school at the University of Texas Medical Branch in 1995, he joined the Navy. Jackson served as a diving safety officer and an emergency medicine physician in charge of resuscitative medicine. He earned the Legion of Merit award and the Defense Superior Service Medal, among other commendations. Inspired by a fellow Navy surgeon, Jackson joined the White House medical team to care directly for the president, his family and a staff of 7,000.

The White House recently released effusive handwritten notes from both Obama and Trump applauding Jackson for his medical care and recommending him for promotion within the Navy. But Trump saw a different path — one that seemed to come out of nowhere. White House officials told reporters that Shulkin had recommended Jackson for an undersecretary post at the VA before he was ousted, and Trump’s personal rapport with his doctor put him over the top. There was no formal vetting process. While senators such as South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham praised Jackson’s military background, others fretted over his lack of management experience to handle the notoriously unwieldy health care and benefits bureaucracy.

Then came the bombshell misconduct allegations. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said he’s received reports from Jackson’s colleagues that the doctor’s liberal use of his prescription pad earned him the nickname “Candyman” around the White House. Wednesday’s report also claimed that Jackson is prone to “screaming tantrums,” has exhibited “abusive” behavior at work, and some colleagues described him as the “worst leader” they’ve ever worked for. While on an overseas trip with Obama, Jackson reportedly banged on the hotel door of a female staffer in the middle of the night while intoxicated.

After initially suggesting Jackson back out of the process, Trump reaffirmed his support for the doctor on Tuesday. But overall Republican support for Jackson had been shaky at best.

Trump has lately found himself in a multifront battle for his cabinet. It appears Mike Pompeo will squeak through Senate confirmation as secretary of state, but Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt faces mounting ethics scandals, and CIA director nominee Gina Haspel is awaiting a senatorial grilling about her history with torture. Press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters at the White House on Wednesday that Jackson cleared multiple FBI background checks and these problems only popped up in recent days. “We’re continuing to look at the situation,” she said as the drip, drip, drip of Washington scandal carried on around her. 

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