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Republican Sen. Jerry Moran Weighs In On Firing Of VA Secretary Shulkin

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Weeks of speculation ended yesterday when President Trump fired Secretary of Veteran (ph) Affairs David Shulkin. Shulkin had been severely criticized by the VA inspector general for spending government money on his wife's travel. Shulkin paid that money back. But there's also been philosophical differences between Shulkin and political appointees at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Shulkin talked about that on NPR's Morning Edition today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

DAVID SHULKIN: There are many political appointees in the VA that believe that we are moving in the wrong direction or weren't moving fast enough towards privatizing the VA. As I've always said, I think that it's essential for national security and for the country that we honor our commitment by having a strong VA. I was not against reforming VA. But I was against privatization.

CHANG: President Trump nominated Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, the White House doctor, to be Veterans Affairs secretary. Jackson will have to be confirmed by the Senate. Kansas Republican Jerry Moran sits on the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. And he told us that the person who replaces Shulkin has to be prepared to take on a very tough job.

JERRY MORAN: Well, I've certainly reached no conclusion as to whether or not Ronny Jackson should become the secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. I've never met him, don't know him. And what I do know does suggest that he needs to demonstrate that he has the qualifications, the capabilities despite the lack of experience in managing a big operation, the organizational skills that are necessary.

CHANG: What questions do you have for him when he appears before your committee?

MORAN: Well, I mean, I think he needs to demonstrate that despite the reservations that may be there because of that lack of experience, because of the kind of person he is, the experiences that he's had elsewhere, his capability of bringing others into the department that would compensate for his lack of experience in those areas. I mean, I think it's a - it's like a job interview. And I wouldn't make a decision on a job interview, on hiring somebody based upon, you know, a half a day of press reportings.

But I also would say that, I mean, we've had secretaries of Veterans Affairs who've had significant business experience. Secretary McDonald was the former CEO of Procter & Gamble. My view of - when I watched the VA during his tenure, he experienced many of the same challenges that every other secretary of Veterans Affairs has had in trying to manage and to provide leadership, change a culture and move the VA, in which they put the veterans' needs first and not the institution.

CHANG: Are there any concerns that you can articulate now that you have specifically about Jackson?

MORAN: No. You know, I don't know. I mean, the first time I ever heard the name Ronny Jackson was when President Trump had his physical. I hadn't thought about Ronny Jackson since that time until this morning when this announcement became public.

CHANG: And you were surprised by the announcement?

MORAN: And I - it was - I mean, that - there's been lots of names that have been circulated in the rumor mill on Capitol Hill. Ronny Jackson is not a name that I'd ever heard as somebody under consideration. So I think there's a lot that we all ought to take pause. I don't think that any Cabinet secretary ought to be just automatically confirmed or that any Republican senator, for example, should automatically vote for a Republican president's nominee. And I would say the same thing about Democrats and Democrat presidents.

But particularly when it comes to the Department of Veterans Affairs, we need to make certain that the person that is in this position who will occupy this position into the future is there in a way that we change the nature of what the department is doing and that we put our veterans first.

And that just requires a lot of conversation. And it's not just what you see on a piece of paper that a nominee brings to the confirmation process. But who is this as a human being? What is his or her interest in veterans? What is it that he believes or any nominee believes that they can accomplish? And then do you believe that they have the capabilities once you hear what their goals are?

CHANG: That's Senator Jerry Moran, Republican of Kansas and a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Thank you very much for joining us.

MORAN: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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