Sen. Sherrod Brown Weighs In On New Allegations Against Ronny Jackson, VA Nominee
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
To talk about how these latest details are being received on Capitol Hill, we're joined now by Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. He's a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee. Thanks so much for joining us.
SHERROD BROWN: Sure. I'm glad to be with you. Thank you so much.
CHANG: What particular allegations against Ronny Jackson right now are you most concerned with?
BROWN: I don't know that one more than the other. My concern is that there are - at least 20 people have come forward. These are credible people from - that served. They're active duty. They're - they were active duty at the time. Now they're veterans. All of them are in that category. And they are saying credible things, and their corroborating each other stories.
But fundamentally what my concern is there are 9 million veterans who depend on the VA for their health care. You have community-based clinics in Mansfield and Springfield and Lima, Ohio, or big hospitals like Chillicothe and Dayton in Cleveland and Cincinnati. And there is no - the VA is leaderless. We had a - this is all sort of self-inflicted by the White House, where we had a secretary of the VA who was pretty surely fired because he was fighting privatization. He was fighting...
CHANG: That was the perception of David Shulkin...
CHANG: ...That he was fired for his views on privatization.
BROWN: Exactly right. And the veterans organizations all sided with Shulkin, sided with those of us who oppose privatization because they know when you privatized the VA, which is what people at the White House seemed to want - but veterans by and large don't because the care is compromised, and so people get really rich by it. But it doesn't serve veterans well.
CHANG: We're going to talk a little more about the vetting process here, but I'm curious. This newest allegation that one of the drugs Jackson allegedly prescribed improperly was the opioid painkiller Percocet. You're from a state that has seen up close the ravages of the opioid epidemic. Do you think this latest accusation about Percocet in particular shifts the optics dramatically or the politics for this nomination?
BROWN: Well, the - I don't know about politics. The optics are already bad. I don't want to comment on any one of the charges because I don't know for sure what's true. I do take as a - take it in total. When you're hearing these serious charges and you see them corroborated one after another by credible people - these 20-plus people who served their country in uniform and worked directly with or observed up close Dr. Jackson - it's troubling.
But I go back to the vetting process at the White House. Apparently none of these 23 people or maybe only a couple of them were ever talked to by the White House, so you opt-in a generally pretty well-run VA. There are problems of course when you serve 9 million people. You eliminate the direct secretary, and then you have no sort of back-up plan. The president picked somebody whom he likes and who's loyal to him, but if it's like I think things are the White House - and I'm not there every day by a long shot.
BROWN: But I see things up close. The president will like somebody, and he just says, let's pick that person because he's loyal to me. And the president's staff doesn't intervene...
BROWN: ...'Cause they've been slapped down when they have - say, wait; we've got to ask questions; we've got to vet them.
CHANG: Let me ask a little bit about the vetting process. I know that Senator Tester has said that these 20 or so members of the military, both active and former members of the military, have come forward on their own. Have any of them told you or Senator Tester, to your knowledge, that they were approached by the White House before and they just didn't disclose what they knew to the White House and then later decided to approach members of the Committee on Veterans Affairs?
BROWN: They didn't say that to us to my knowledge. They may have to Senator Tester. But I do know this - that after talking to Senator Tester, who - his staff has talked to all 23 of them, if that's the number now. It may be growing in the last few hours. But there is no sign that I can see that the White House talked to any significant - it's possible they talked to one or two of them, but the White House did not reach out to very many of these 23 at all.
And that's just unbelievable to me that that many people are willing to come forward, and almost - zero of them or almost none of them were approached by the White House before they sent the name up. You don't hire the person at your front desk without checking some references, and the president hired for the VA a doctor who may be a good doctor one-on-one, but he doesn't seem to have the qualifications for this job and the temperament and the background and the job performance.
CHANG: That's Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Thank you very much for joining us.
BROWN: Thank you so much - appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.