Trump could be con­sid­er­ing re­plac­ing Shulkin with Perry

The Columbus Dispatch - - Nation&world - By Hope Yen and Zeke Miller

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is con­sid­er­ing oust­ing em­bat­tled Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Sec­re­tary David Shulkin, who has faced an in­sur­gency within his depart­ment and fresh al­le­ga­tions that he used a mem­ber of his se­cu­rity de­tail to run per­sonal er­rands.

Trump has floated the no­tion of mov­ing En­ergy Sec­re­tary Rick Perry to the VA to right the ship, be­liev­ing Shulkin has be­come a dis­trac­tion, ac­cord­ing to two sources fa­mil­iar with White House dis­cus­sions. The sources were not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss in­ter­nal de­lib­er­a­tions.

Shulkin has faced sev­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions over his travel and lead­er­ship of the depart­ment, but un­til now has re­ceived praise from the pres­i­dent for his work to turn it around. The news comes af­ter Trump fired Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son Tues­day.

Trump raised the idea with Perry on Mon­day but did not of­fer the job to him, ac­cord­ing to one White House of­fi­cial.

Shulkin did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment. He has been hold­ing 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 com­ment.

The VA in­spec­tor gen­eral also is look­ing into a com­plaint by a mem­ber of Shulkin’s 24-7 se­cu­rity de­tail that he was asked to ac­com­pany the sec­re­tary to a Home De­pot and carry fur­ni­ture into his home, ac­cord­ing to two peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the al­le­ga­tion who re­quested anonymity to dis­cuss an on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Within the agency, a po­lit­i­cal ad­viser in­stalled by Trump has openly mused to other VA staff about oust­ing the former Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial. And a top com­mu­ni­ca­tions aide has taken ex­tended leave fol­low­ing a se­cret, failed at­tempt to turn law­mak­ers against him.

“The hon­ey­moon is end­ing with a crash that hurts vet­er­ans most of all,” said Paul Rieck­hoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Vet­er­ans of Amer­ica. “VA al­ways has bad news, but Shulkin’s eth­i­cal and lead­er­ship fail­ures are still sig­nif­i­cant — de­spite any in­ter­nal at­tacks.”

Se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials de­scribe a grow­ing frus­tra­tion that Shulkin re­peat­edly ig­nores their ad­vice, only to beg for their help when he runs into eth­i­cal trou­ble.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion is push­ing Trump’s agenda of ag­gres­sively ex­pand­ing the Vet­er­ans Choice pro­gram, which ma­jor vet­er­ans groups worry could be an un­wanted step to­ward pri­va­tiz­ing VA health care.

The is­sue came to the fore at a White House meet­ing last week, when chief of staff John Kelly told Shulkin to stop talk­ing to the news me­dia with­out clear­ing it first with the White House and to stay fo­cused on fix­ing vet­er­ans care.

Shulkin was es­corted from that meet­ing to the Oval Of­fice, where Trump ques­tioned him about his ef­forts to push the Choice ex­pan­sion, which law­mak­ers are now seek­ing to in­clude in a mas­sive spend­ing bill that must be ap­proved by next week to avert a govern­ment shut­down.

Shulkin is blam­ing the in­ter­nal drama on a half-dozen or so po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees whom he had con­sid­ered fir­ing, only to be blocked by Kelly.

“I re­gret any­thing that has dis­tracted us from what we should be fo­cus­ing on, which is serv­ing vet­er­ans,” Shulkin said shortly be­fore re­lease of an in­spec­tor gen­eral re­port that faulted the VA for “failed lead­er­ship” and an in­abil­ity to take re­spon­si­bil­ity.


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