Trump on VA nominee: I will stand behind him

President Donald Trump is standing behind his Veterans Affair nominee Ronny Jackson, saying he hasn't heard particular allegations against him and that he's "one of the finest people" he has ever met.

Posted: Apr 25, 2018 11:25 AM
Updated: Apr 25, 2018 11:27 AM

For just one second during a press conference with the French President, President Donald Trump sounded like someone who wants to walk away from it all. And that's with his political allies running Congress.

Asked Tuesday about the political headwinds blowing furiously in the face of Dr. Ronny Jackson, his personal doctor at the White House who he tapped to lead the VA, he waxed on about the "ugly and disgusting" confirmation process and whether Jackson should even want the job Trump nominated him for.

Psychoanalyze this passage:

"He is a man who has just been an extraordinary person," Trump said of Jackson. "His family, extraordinary success. Great doctor. Great everything. And he has to listen to the abuse that he has to -- I wouldn't if I were him. Actually, in many ways, I'd love to be him. But the fact is, I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't do it. What does he need it for? To be abused by a bunch of politicians that aren't thinking nicely about our country? I really don't think, personally, he should do it. But it's totally his -- I would stand behind him -- totally his decision."

I'd love to be him, said Trump! So ... he'd have the option of walking away?

If you read that passage, there's a lot of the way Trump views himself if you substitute businessman for doctor. Extraordinary success! Great doctor (businessman?). Great everything. And the abuse! Totally his decision.

Interestingly, what Trump said about Jackson bears a lot of similarities to what his first wife Ivana said about him this week in an interview where she suggested he should not run for re-election.

"He has a good life and he has everything. Donald is going to be 74, 73 for the next (election) and maybe he should just go and play golf and enjoy his fortune," Ivana Trump told Page Six.

Jackson can pull out now. And without Republican support, he'll eventually have to. Trump, on the other hand, has publicly pledged to run for another term.

Trump likes to be in control. He seemed to greatly enjoy pointing out that he alone will decide the fate of the Iran nuclear deal and built suspense toward a May 12 deadline before which he will announce a decision on whether to recertify it.

In the case of Jackson, he most certainly is not in control. Trump sounded wistful and like he genuinely feels bad for the doctor whose gremlins he thrust from general obscurity into the glare of a Senate confirmation hearing. He clearly does not want to yank Jackson's nomination. And for now it appears that Jackson doesn't want to back down even though senators from both parties are very skeptical of it.

Trump blamed obstructionist Democrats on Capitol Hill for the holdup, but it's actually Republicans like Sen. Johnny Isakson who control confirmation hearings.

Jackson's nomination hearing has been indefinitely put on hold after allegations he was drunk on White House trips, knocked on the door of a female colleague late at night on a trip, and that he created a toxic work environment.

At the same time Trump opened a double door, almost inviting Jackson to withdraw his own nomination, the President seemed confident he could ultimately get the doctor through because just this week he got another embattled Cabinet nominee through the first leg of the process.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who Trump tapped to be his secretary of state, got the grudging nod of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Monday and will now likely be confirmed on the Senate floor.

Trump rightly took credit for changing the mind of fellow Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who had expressed reservations about Pompeo's foreign policy views.

"I heard 10 minutes before the vote yesterday on committee that, 'He will not be approved at committee' — which would be the first time in many, many decades that something like that would have happened with regard to a secretary of state -- except I spoke to Rand Paul, and Rand Paul has really never let me down. Rand Paul is a good man. And I knew things that nobody else knew. And Rand Paul said, I'm going to change my vote,' and he voted, and everybody was surprised."

This is a good time to remind yourself that Rand Paul is a Republican. Trump needed to work the phones with fellow Republicans to get his nominee through committee.

A person like Trump who sees himself as a great gut decision-maker and strong executive was never going to work seamlessly in a town built on an institutional separation of powers. That's abuse of a new kind for a guy like Trump.

He might have to work the phones again for Jackson to even get a hearing, much less a vote. This is what it's like for this Republican President with a Republican Senate.

"It would be advisable for them, I think, to do all that stuff ahead of time so they don't have to go through what they're going now with the VA nominee," said Sen. John Thune, a member of the GOP leadership team in the Senate, acknowledging that Jackson was not sufficiently vetted as a candidate to run the VA.

Republicans are also grousing about Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who cannot seem to go a day without a headline that questions his ethics.

If Trump and his White House are spending their time and political capital quieting the fears of fellow Republicans about Cabinet officials and nominees, they're not spending much time working together.

That's a problem for Republicans on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, particularly headed into a midterm election where the President's approval rating, hovering around 40%, is an albatross for his party and his allies are in grave danger of losing control of at least one chamber of Congress. Who wouldn't want, for just a second, to think about walking away from that.

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