Ronny Jackson, the president’s physician, seemed like a questionable choice to head the Veterans Administration. The VA is a vast and apparently poorly run bureaucracy. And unlike other vast, poorly run bureaucracies, it’s entrusted with the vital task of delivering medical care directly to our nation’s veterans.
Thus, the job of VA head cries out for an experienced administrator with a history of running, and taming, large bureaucracies. Jackson is undoubtedly a fine physician, as Presidents Obama and Trump both believe. However, he lacks the history of administrative success on a large scale that the president should be looking for.
But Jackson’s nomination did not fail for this reason. Instead, it failed because Democrats, most notably the deplorable Sen. Jon Tester, smeared him.
Tester unleashed a string of damning allegations against Jackson even though he acknowledged that he did not know them to be true. The picture Tester painted of Jackson is almost impossible to reconcile with the fact that two presidents entrusted their medical care to him.
If Jackson had a drinking problem and irresponsibly dispensed drugs, wouldn’t President Obama’s aides have brought this to the attention of their boss? And wouldn’t Obama have removed Jackson as his physician or, at a minimum, sternly counseled him?
Of course. Instead, Obama and his team praised and commended Jackson, even rallying to his defense when the doctor was attacked for having the audacity to say President Trump is in excellent health. Former Obama aides, including Susan Rice, David Axelrod, and Dan Pfeiffer, called Jackson “a saint” “a really great guy,” and “a phenomenal doctor.” And Trump clearly thinks the world of him.
When we examine the key allegations against Jackson, we find they are either meaningless or unsupported and unlikely to be true. The former category includes the claim that Jackson drank alcohol on overseas trips with the president. According to several White House officials, doctors are permitted to drink alcohol if they are not on duty and if there is more than one doctor traveling, as there always is on foreign trips.
Jackson says he never drank while on duty or on a domestic trip while he was the only doctor. There appears to be no evidence (or even allegation) to the contrary.
Jackson is also said to have handed out sleeping and alertness pills to White House staffers on overseas flights. But it is common, and reasonable, to take such medication to avoid jet lag, especially for people who have to work when they arrive after an overnight trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific flight.
For example, Brian McKeon, who served as National Security Council chief of staff and as a senior Defense Department official under Obama, says he used Ambien while traveling both at the White House and at the Pentagon. “On a long trip or multiday trip, if people needed an Ambien to try to get to sleep, you could get some Ambien. I thought that was appropriate because when people are working 16-hour days and going across time zones, that was pretty hard,” McKeon said. Sen. Marco Rubio and even Sen. Dick Durbin are of a similar view.
Other allegations against Jackson would be troubling, if true. But they appear not to be.
Democrats accused Jackson of wrecking a car after drinking at a Secret Service going-away party. Yet, there is no record of this. The White House says it conducted a thorough review of Jackson’s vehicle records and found only three minor incidents, none of which was his fault.
Democrats claimed that agents intervened on an overseas trip to prevent Jackson from bothering Obama. The White House says it thoroughly reviewed internal documents related to all presidential foreign travel that occurred during the year in question, and interviewed personnel present during foreign travel that occurred during the same time frame. It uncovered no information to support this allegation.
Is it possible that some of the misconduct Jackson is alleged to have committed actually occurred? Yes,
But Tester concocted a picture of Jackson that is unsupported by the record and almost impossible to reconcile with the picture painted by two presidents and key Obama staff members as recently as this year. He and fellow Democrats have reached what might well be a new low in congressional smearing of presidential nominees.
If Republicans apply the “Tester standard” to future nominees of Democratic presidents, Dems will have only themselves to blame.