White House chief of staff John Kelly reassured Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on Wednesday he wouldn’t be fired by tweet that afternoon before telling him just hours later ‘plans have changed’ as Trump did just that.
The President tweeted at 5.31pm to announce his personal doctor Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson would take over the scandal-hit department in a shock decision that surprised many government officials.
Kelly had phoned Shulkin to say there were no plans for his imminent dismissal, but was forced to backtrack with a second phone call when he got wind of the change of plan.
White House chief of staff John Kelly (right) reassured the then Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin that Trump would not fire him by tweet that afternoon, hours before he did just that
White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson, now the new Veterans Affairs Secretary, speaks at the daily briefing in the Brady press room at the White House on January 16
Twitter move: Trump used his favorite medium to dispense with David Shulkin, making him the second cabinet secretary got rid of in a tweet
The chaotic maneuvering, reported by Politico.com, will be seen as another sign of the Trump administration’s disregard for the usual rules of government.
The President announced Admiral Jackson’s appointment with warm words for the man who, as White House physician, gave Trump a clean bill of health in January, declaring he had ‘incredible genes’.
‘I am pleased to announce that I intend to nominate highly respected Admiral Ronny L. Jackson, MD, as the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs,’ Trump tweeted Wednesday evening.
‘In the interim, Hon. Robert Wilkie of DOD will serve as Acting Secretary. I am thankful for Dr. David Shulkin’s service to our country and to our GREAT VETERANS!’
For days Shulkin looked to be on the chopping block as the president viewed the controversies surrounding the VA secretary, a holdover from the Obama administration, as a distraction.
Jackson wasn’t even being mentioned as a possible replacement, though played a memorable role in the administration when he came into the briefing room January and gushed about the president’s health on the heels of completing Trump’s first-in-office physical.
‘He has a lot of energy and a lot of stamina,’ Jackson said at one point. ‘He’s very sharp. He’s very articulate when he speaks to me,’ the Navy doctor said at another.
His only gripe was that the president was slightly overweight.
Meanwhile, Shulkin has been a headache for the president as of late.
In February the VA’s internal watchdog issued a report that found that Shulkin had improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets.
Additionally, the probe found that Shulkin’s staff had doctored emails to justify the secretary’s wife traveling with him to Europe on the taxpayer dime.
The VA’s inspector general was also looking into a complaint that Shulkin asked his security detail to come along with him to Home Depot, and cart around furniture items.
The president decided to put Robert Wilkie (pictured), the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, in place as acting VA secretary, instead of briefly promoting deputy VA secretary Tom Bowman
Administration officials who talked to the Associated Press last weekend, while Trump was spending time at Mar-a-Lago, said an announcement on Shulkin could come this week, with one giving it a ’50-50′ chance he would be ousted in the next day or two.
Instead he lasted almost through the end of the business day on Wednesday.
In a longer statement Trump said of Shulkin, ‘I appreciate the work I appreciate the work of Dr. David Shulkin and the many great things we did together at Veterans Affairs, including the VA Accountability Act that he was helpful in getting passed.’
‘He has been a great supporter of veterans across the country and I am grateful for his service,’ Trump added.
Over the weekend, a source told the AP that the White House was looking at a half-dozen candidates to fill Shulkin’s job.
Fox & Friends Weekend co-host Pete Hegseth looked on deck to get the job, as the president has been keen to hire television personalities of late.
He brought Larry Kudlow on to be his chief economic adviser, while announcing last Thursday, again via Twitter, that Fox News contributor John Bolton would be taking over for National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster.
Jackson’s move to the helm of Veterans Affairs isn’t entirely unexpected, however, as the president has tended to promote from within.
For instance, when Trump decided to boot Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier this month, he announced he wanted to put current CIA Director Mike Pompeo in Tillerson’s place.
Wednesday’s announcement also included the president’s decision to make Robert Wilkie, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, the acting VA secretary, instead of briefly promoting deputy VA secretary Tom Bowman.
Bowman had also come under criticism at the White House for being too moderate to push Trump’s agenda of fixing veterans’ care.
During the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly pledged to fix the VA by expanding access to private doctors and firing bad employees, criticizing the department as ‘the most corrupt.’
Last year, Trump promised to triple the number of veterans ‘seeing the doctor of their choice.’
WHO IS DR. RONNY JACKSON?
Dr. Ronny Jackson is currently a physician to the president for President Donald Trump. On Wednesday, Trump nominated him to run Veterans Affairs.
A Texas native, Jackson attended Texas A&M for undergraduate, and received his medical degree from the University of Texas’ Medical Branch, graduating in 1995.
That same year, Jackson began his active duty Naval service in Portsmouth, Virginia. He completed a number of medical internships and became the honor graduate of the Navy’s Undersea Medical Officer Program, before completing his residency at the top of his class in 2004.
The next year, he became part of Operation Iraqi Freedom as an emergency medicine physician in charge of resuscitative medicine.
Jackson was promoted to a White House physician while still deployed in Iraq in 2006. He’s served in three administrations – those of Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump – and held a variety of positions, including the physician supervisor for Camp David, before being promoted to physician to the president under Obama in 2013.
Jackson has three children and lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C.
But a Trump administration plan to expand the Veterans Choice program remains in limbo after lawmakers declined last week to include it in a massive spending bill.
In response to the ethics issues, Shulkin has denied wrongdoing and complained about internal drama at the agency that has made it difficult for him to push through VA improvements, citing a half dozen or so political appointees there who were rebelling against him.
But Kelly, the White House chief of staff, recently made it clear to Shulkin that he had become weary of the VA secretary’s tendency to run to the media to voice complaints and claim a White House mandate that he did not fully have, according to a person familiar with the conversations who wasn’t authorized to discuss them publicly and insisted on anonymity.
The department provides medical care and other benefits to 9 million military veterans in more than 1,700 health facilities around the U.S.