Ordinarily, if a sitting president of the United States were to make a public call for a senator’s resignation, it’d be a stunning political development. But with Donald Trump casually throwing around bizarre rhetoric based on passing whims, the extraordinary has become ordinary.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) has become the target of President Donald Trump’s wrath after leading the charge in taking down the president’s pick to lead the department of Veterans Affairs, White House physician Ronny Jackson. Trump attacked the Montana Democrat on Twitter on Saturday morning, calling for his resignation, and later in the day called him “very dishonest and sick.”
What exactly did Tester, the ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, do to enrage the president? The senator – who happens to be up for re-election this year in a state Trump won by 20 points – compiled complaints about the White House’s nominee to lead the VA and shared his preliminary findings as part of the confirmation process.
Tester went on to sign a joint statement with Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) expressing concerns about Jackson’s possible role in the president’s cabinet.
With bipartisan support, Jackson’s confirmation hearings were delayed, and facing a barrage of difficult questions, the Navy admiral ultimately withdrew from consideration.
And Trump, evidently, wants to blame Tester for the fiasco. Just as importantly, the White House is doing what it should’ve done before Jackson was nominated: officials are still going through the allegations, effectively vetting him after the fact, and pushing back in Jackson’s defense. The president specifically claimed on Saturday that allegations raised by Tester “are proving false.”
Later in the day, Trump told an audience at a campaign rally that he has secret information on Tester that would ensure “he’d never be elected again.”
The intensity of the nonsense is jarring. For one thing, Tester didn’t raise the allegations; Jackson’s former colleagues did. For another, claiming to know about damaging secret scandals may be a great example of contemporary McCarthyism, but in this case, it’s very hard to take seriously.
While we’re at it, let’s also pause to note how amusing it is to hear the former leader of the Birther Brigade whine incessantly about others raising false, politically motivated allegations.
But even if we put all of that aside, the president faces a straightforward challenge: if Trump genuinely believes Ronny Jackson faced a series of false allegations, that the physician’s record really is spotless, and that the admiral was the best person for the VA job, will the president re-nominate him?
I doubt it. In fact, by all appearances, more than a few GOP lawmakers were delighted to see this debacle come to an end last week. Trump’s attacks on Tester are therefore hollow, election-year posturing, which makes the president look far worse than his intended target.
Postscript: For his part, it now appears Jackson will not return to his position as the president’s physician.