On Thursday’s edition of New Day, the co-hosts and political panel expressed doubts about Dr. Ronny Jackson, President Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
The President fired VA Secretary David Shulkin Wednesday, largely because an investigation conducted by the VA’s internal watchdog found that Shulkin used taxpayer money to go on a European vacation. According to Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), “Dr. Shulkin came from within the VA and did nothing to clean up the culture of bureaucratic incompetence that has defined the leadership at the VA.”
Trump announced Dr. Ronny Jackson, a Rear Admiral who has served as a White House Physician under three Presidents. Earlier this year, Jackson made the left’s blood boil when he held a press conference regarding the results of President Trump’s medical exam, which showed that the President was not a ticking time bomb as the press had hoped. During that press conference, the media humiliated themselves, asking if President Trump suffered from Alzheimer’s and whether or not he will be sedated at his next colonoscopy.
Panelist John Avlon did not seem to think Dr. Jackson has the necessary qualifications to serve as the head of the VA: “I’m sure Dr. Jackson is a charming guy, but it’s not a criteria for running this kind of bureaucracy. Some kind of management experience is a bonus.” Avlon criticized the Trump approach for picking cabinet members, which he argued relies on picking people he knows and likes: “So this is somebody who sort of, who do I know, who’s nearest? How about you? That’s not the way you attract the best or brightest.”
Anchor Chris Cuomo also seemed to imply that President Trump does not use good judgment when picking cabinet members: “Since when does that equate with run 377,000 people, hundreds of billions of dollars is going to float through that thing.” Cuomo opined that the only criteria President Trump uses when picking his cabinet members are “I know the guy. I like him, he told people I weigh only 233 pounds.”
Cuomo asked Avlon if he thought that Jackson’s experience as an Admiral will translate into “capability of this type of management experience.” Avlon said that his experience is “probably not sufficient for running an almost $200 billion budget.” Avlon brought up that Trump considered making his personal pilot head of the FAA and suggested that the President might as well consider making his personal chauffeur the Secretary of Transportation.
During one of his rants, Cuomo admitted that the VA “has been failing at its mission for generations.” Cuomo may not have realized it but he effectively admitted that appointing media-approved “experts” to head the VA clearly hasn’t worked.
A transcript is below. Click "expand" to read more.
ALISYN CAMEROTA: Let’s bring in CNN Political Analysts John Avlon and Karoun Demirjian to talk about all of this. So John, right? Dr. Ronny Jackson, this is an interesting pick. Reportedly, the President had floated this with some of his advisers and they thought that he was joking or they didn’t think that this would actually happen. But in fact, he trusts his personal White House doctor because this doctor travels with him regularly, this doctor knows him fairly intimately, and he’s decided to give him this huge responsibility of the second-biggest agency in the government.
JOHN AVLON: This is an agency with an $186 billion budget, over 300,000 employees. I am sure Dr. Jackson is a charming guy, he certainly did well defending the President on air at length after the physical. Some of the particulars may come up in confirmation hearings, as Chris was saying a little earlier. But it’s not a criteria for running this kind of bureaucracy. Some kind of management experience is a bonus. And remember this is a President who also wanted to nominate his personal pilot to run the FAA. So this is somebody who sort of, who do I know, who’s nearest? How about you? That’s not the way you attract the best or brightest.
CUOMO: Even the way we were describing it there, Karoun, well, look, he knows him. He likes him. He travels with him. Since when does that equate with run 377,000 people, hundreds of billions of dollars is going to float through that thing. And we know that it has been failing at its mission for generations. It is so sensitive, it is so fundamental. Are those the qualifications? I know the guy, I like him, he told people I weigh only 233 pounds. This is a good man and he wears a uniform. Let’s go! Is that enough?
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN: I mean, for the President, it’s a really important criteria that he feels like he can get along with the guy, that he feels like the guy is, you know, is praising him but not just, you know, with puff, I mean, this is, this is a doctor who served three Presidents. He is a nonpartisan and so there is a little bit of legitimacy behind his words of adulation of the President because he really does have a pretty solid reputation on the medical front.
CUOMO: As a doctor, as a doctor.
DEMIRJIAN: As a doctor, right.
CUOMO: Serving as a doctor.
DEMIRJIAN: Exactly. Now you could make the argument that some of the biggest problems that have plagued the Department of Veterans’ Affairs have to do with health care, right? And so maybe he’d be sympathetic. Sure. But, you’re right; he doesn’t have any management experience to speak of. Maybe he’ll turn out to have experience but there’s no proof of that. He’s going to get grilled for it in his confirmation hearings but I would not assume that this is going to tank him. Because again, unless we find something of his positions or his experience that really, you know, lets us know that he’s going to actually potentially provably be a detriment to this department, the Republicans in Congress, or in the Senate are usually inclined to give him a pass.
CUOMO: I’m sure he’ll get the votes. I’m sure he’ll get the votes but that’s like a false standard now. I mean, basically, they’ll go along with anything but I’m just saying you have to scrutinize the choice independent of that because if we just go on what they’ll vote for, then really anything goes.
DEMIRJIAN: Yeah, one of the big issues right now is at the Department is what are they going to do in terms of the, the number of veterans that are able to see private doctors. This is a big question. We don’t really know where he stands on that. The fact that he is a doctor but he’s been in uniform for a long time. I mean, it could give him an interesting perspective but it’s going to be really important to see where he stands on those sorts of major issues that really will dictate how efficiently the Department runs, where the funding will be coming from, and what we’ll be doing going forward with this agency that has had serious problems managing its affairs the last few years.
CAMEROTA: Here’s how the current VA Secretary, well, who was just fired, Shulkin, describes some of those problems in a New York Times op-ed that came out last night. “Unfortunately, the Department has become entangled in a brutal power struggle, with some political appointees choosing to promote their agendas instead of what’s best for veterans. These individuals, who seek to privatize veteran health care as an alternative to government-run V.A. care, unfortunately fail to engage in realistic plans regarding who will care for the more than 9 million veterans who rely on the department for life-sustaining care.” He’s sounding the alarm on his way out.
AVLON: Yep. And he’s trying to say this is largely about a policy debate and to some extent, it may be. It also may be somebody who wasn’t about White House infighting, as much as this President rewards.
CUOMO: He also got busted with something that was perceived as misfeasance, you know, using taxpayer money the wrong way for a vacation.
AVLON: For a European vacation and that itself is not obviously acceptable. But now the attention will be, here’s, I think the larger issue is governing by gut has a bad track record when it comes to major decisions. And this is another example of that from this President. It’s who’s nearby, who do I like, how about you?
CAMEROTA: It’s also who has complimented me. And so, I mean, I mean, who likes me a lot? And so, this is, let’s just remind people of what Dr. Jackson said when he was telling the press about President Trump’s glowing health record.
AVLON: Oh, genetics.
CAMEROTA: There you go.
DEMIRJIAN: I mean, it seems like. Yeah, I mean look, as, perhaps he too is a little bit astounded by the lifestyle the President keeps and the fact that he’s in decent health.
CUOMO: 233 pounds?
DEMIRJIAN: I think it was 239, Chris, but I might be misremembering. Whatever it was, it was one...
AVLON: Rounded up for the cheeseburgers in bed.
DEMIRJIAN: But that was exactly it, I thought. I thought it was one pound shy of what it would have been to be obesity.
CUOMO: I weigh 225 with the same height just for a sense of scale.
CAMEROTA: What we’re supposed to do with that?
CUOMO: That is a surprisingly low, let me help you. That is a surprisingly low number that he weights maybe 15 pounds more than I do.
DEMIRJIAN: Muscle mass weighs more, as we know.
CUOMO: Are you guys doctors or did you sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night? It’s not that big a difference and there’s plenty of goo on me too. It’s more dad bod than anything else. But the point is this, he likes this guy. The pushback is, he’s not a guy. He’s an Admiral. And with an Admiral rank, that is a designation, being a Rear Admiral, of a level of experience and expertise that they’re saying transfers into capability of this type of management experience. Do you buy that?
AVLON: It’s probably not sufficient for running an almost $200 billion budget. He has no doubt, he’s a charming guy with an impressive personal record. But this is a different skill set. Maybe he can make the leap, maybe he won’t but it speaks to the President’s judgment. Again, he wanted to nominate his personal pilot to run the FAA. Next thing you’re going to know, he’s going to nominate his chauffeur to run the Transportation Department. That’s, there’s virtue. Mr. President, are you listening?
CUOMO: It was supposed to be, it was supposed to be the best of the best. Right? Shulkin was not a doctor. That’s another wave of pushback, well at least this guy is a doctor. I don’t know how that has anything to do with the management of an organization. Many of the people who manage hospitals aren’t doctors.
CUOMO: And that’s what Shulkin did. He managed hospitals.
CAMEROTA: So it depends on if you want a manager or if you want somebody who is, as you’ve said, sympathetic to some of the problems.
CUOMO: You can be both.
DEMIRJIAN: Right now there’s a real, a question of where emotionally do you stand on all of this. I mean, I think if you bring in another businessman who has no ties to the military and no ties to the medical field, maybe you get somebody who is like privatization is a great idea. And that is what many people in the Trump Administration want but clearly what Shulkin is saying is a bad idea and would be a financial boondoggle for the Department. So, if you have somebody who’s coming in, you know, with the medical training and the, the, the reputation and the uniform, maybe someone who has a little bit more confidence in the actual system to be able to provide this sort of healthcare, that you know, as Shulkin is saying, is the better financial approach to management, you might just default have a better option. But we don’t know. That’s the point at this point because we just don’t have any sort of resume on, on his part, on Jackson’s part as to how he runs massive organizations because he hasn’t done it before.
AVLON: Usually relevant. Anyway, I think the larger point also is, just look at the sheer tonnage of turnover. We’re probably close to 50 percent of senior staff. In March alone, Secretary of State, National Security Adviser, National Economic Adviser, Transportation Secretary, Communications Director, go on and on. This is not a well-oiled machine, folks.