WASHINGTON – Energy Secretary Rick Perry said that he has no interest in becoming the next head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, flatly reject speculation that he would soon take over the position in the midst of rapidly eroding White House support for the embattled VA Secretary David Shulkin.
Two officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Shulkin’s position becoming more precarious and that he would be out of a job in the week, but they cautioned that nothing was finalised. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive personnel matter.
Shulkin, a former Obama administration official, will be faced with various investigations about his travels and the leadership of the department. Until recently, he had received praise from President Donald Trump, for his work to turn around the agency, but a raft of blistering VA watchdog detailed reports about the mismanagement and the spending of waste has weakened his position.
The White House on Wednesday made clear that Shulkin the job was not safe.
In the past few weeks, Shulkin has to contend with a rebellion within his department and is now faced with fresh allegations that he was a member of his security detail to run personal errands. On Tuesday, two people familiar with the White House discussions told the AP that Trump viewed Shulkin as a distraction and floated the idea of moving Perry to the VA to the right of the ship. Trump dismissed state Secretary Rex Tillerson on Tuesday.
Speaking after a Senate hearing Wednesday, Perry said he would not move to VA and dismissed the reports as ” false news.”
“I’m the energy secretary, now and in the near future. Fortunately,” he said.
Trump brought up with the idea with Perry on Monday, but not to give him the job, said White House official. Trump is angry at Shulkin, the official said, but it is known to be float personnel changes without always following through.
The uncertainty about Shulkin has the status of the government’s second largest department virtually paralyzed, with members of Congress confused about who the boss is and what is being done to improve the care for 9 million military veterans in more than 1,700 government-health facilities. For the most part, Republican and Democratic lawmakers still stands behind Shulkin, view him as the best guard of VA that would fend off Trump administration efforts to privatize VA care.
“The President must decide whether he is going to empower the Secretary Shulkin to do its work,” said Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the top Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. “We need to know who is calling the shots.”
“Dysfunction in the administration has hampered our ability to move forward,” he added.
Shulkin did not respond to requests for comment via phone and sms. He has his business on to his job by a thread, since a bruising internal report found ethics violations in connection with his trip to Europe with his wife last summer. A spokeswoman for Perry also had no reaction to it.
The VA inspector general also is looking into a complaint from a member of Shulkin the 24-7 security detail that he was asked to accompany the secretary to a Home Depot and carry furniture into his house, according to two people familiar with the assertion that for anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
Within the agency, a political advisor installed by Trump has openly come up to other VA staff about the ousting of the former Obama administration official. And a top communication aide has taken extended leave after a secret, unsuccessful attempt to the lawmakers against him.
“The journey ends with a crash, that hurts the veterans most of all,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, who has a close observer of the VA for more than a decade. “VA has always been bad news, but Shulkin ethical and leadership errors are still significant — despite all the internal attacks.”
Senior officials describe a growing frustration that Shulkin repeatedly ignore their advice, only to beg for their help, when he runs into ethical problems. The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive internal discussions, say, Shulkin received a final warning at the end of the whirlwind of distractions. The administration is currently seeking to push Asset on the agenda of aggressive expansion of the Veterans Choice program, in which large groups of veterans can take care of an unwanted step in the direction of the privatization of VA healthcare.
The issue came to the fore at a White House meeting last week, when chief of staff John Kelly told Shulkin to stop talking with the media without the approval of the first with the White House and to remain focused on the determination of veterans health care.
Shulkin was accompanied on that meeting at the Oval Office, where Trump asked him about his efforts to be the Choice of expansion, which lawmakers are now looking to include in a massive spending bill that must be approved by next week to avert a government shutdown.
Shulkin is accusing the internal drama on a half dozen or so of the political appointments that he had considered shooting, only to be blocked by Kelly.
“I regret everything that led us from what we should focus on, that is where veterans,” Shulkin told the AP shortly before the release of an inspector general report that faulted the VA for “failed leadership and an unwillingness or inability of leaders to take responsibility for the accounting problems at a large VA hospital that patients with an increased risk.
It was not always so.
Early in the administration, Shulkin was often to be seen on Trump’s side. The president called him the “100-to-nothing-man” — a reference to his unanimous Senate confirmation votes, and in the public bullied that he would probably never be fired, because he had successfully led legislation to improve the accountability of the VA and the speed of the disabilities of the appeal.
December, the relations at the VA between Shulkin and a number of political appointments began to unravel about philosophical differences.
In the last month, the inspector general released a blistering report finding ethical violations in Shulkin trip in July last year to Denmark and great Britain, who mixed business with pleasure. The IG found that Shulkin, the chief of staff of the Vivieca Wright Simpson had forged e-mails to justify his wife with him on taxpayer costs. Wright Simpson retired after the report was issued.
Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey, Jonathan Lemire, Laurie Kellman, Matthew Daly and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
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