President Donald Trump announced, on March 28, via his twitter account, that he is making a change in another cabinet office: that Dr. David Shulkin is out as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, to be replaced by Robert Wilkie as acting Secretary and, in time, by Trump’s new nominee for the position, Admiral Ronnie L. Jackson.
Shulkin was Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Health in the final months of the administration of Barack Obama. Trump promoted him to the cabinet level position and, on February 13, 2017, the Senate confirmed that nomination by the impressive vote of 100 yeas, zero nays.
Shulkin’s downfall may have been precipitated by a report of the Inspector General of the VA, which said that Shulkin had improperly accepted tickets to the Wimbledon tennis tournament during a foreign trip and that his chief of staff had made false statement so that his wife, Merle Bari, could accompany him on the trip.
The new Secretary designate, Admiral Jackson, is best known to the general public as the physician who gave a much viewed press conference in January 2018 in which he praised the President’s “good genes” as the source of his “excellent” health.
Left Wing View
Leftward commentators objected immediately to the shake-up at top of the VA on several grounds: objecting to the continuing role that the President’s twitter account plays in such matters, to the idea of privatization of veterans’ services, and to the designation of Jackson as the next secretary.
Writing on ShareBlue, Caroline Orr says that POTUS fire-by-tweet method is no longer surprising, but it is not normal. It is a way of “intentionally creating crisis” which makes for reality television but not for good governance.
A group that is defined by its nostalgia for Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President in 2016, “People for Bernie,” tweets simply, “We cannot allow Trump to privatize the VA,” and uses Shulkin’s name for the hashtag to go with that sentiment.
Phillip Carter, writing in Slate, said that the travel expenses scandal is a “relatively minor” matter, that Shulkin has done a good job at the VA, and that his status as an Obama administration holdover has helped him, and the Trump administration, in navigating tricky waters.
Eugene Gu, a doctor and healthcare columnist, compares the replacing of Shulkin for Jackson with replacing the Transportation Secretary for an Uber driver, or replacing the Agriculture Secretary for “steak and ketchup.”
An organization of military families, VoteVets, says that it is “concerned that Jackson has never managed an agency like the VA” and says that this is not a time for someone who needs “training wheels.”
Right Wing View
The conservative view is, roughly, that Trump is still putting his personal stamp on the cabinet that he is entitled to do so, and that the departure of an Obama era holdover is a welcome part of this process.
Tosca Austen actually compares Shulkin to Saul Alinsky, a very a la mode form of insult on the right.
The conservative blog RedState says, for example, that of all the recent firings in the administration “this one seems quite warranted.” The writer, Susan Wright, says that veterans shouldn’t “be allowed to do without, while the one charged with tending to their needs at the top is too busy living it up.”
Michelle Malkin, at National Review, has been urging that Shulkin be fired. She wrote in early March that he “remains unrepentant” about his exorbitant expensing and that he has “baselessly blamed a computer ‘hack’” for the misstatements of his top aide that helped put his wife on the gravy train.
Rob Wasinger, on twitter, directs a “well done” at the President over the firing of Shulkin, and adds the familiar hashtag #MAGA.
Only a few commenters actually defend privatization in the course of knocking Shulkin. One of them tweets thus.
Finally, for our brief survey of reactions, the Wall Street Journal makes the observation that Shulkin is the 27th senior official to leave this administration since it took office.