The Department of Veterans Affairs is a bureaucratic behemoth. The cabinet, which has an annual budget of $186 billion, employs 360,000 people, and oversees a vast network of offices and medical facilities across the country.Running an operation of this size and scale is daunting, and many have tried and failed. It therefore came as something of a surprise when Donald Trump announced yesterday that he’s tapped Navy Admiral Ronny Jackson – the White House physician – for the post, replacing Secretary David Shulkin, who’s been under fire from the left for ethics troubles, and from the right for resisting efforts to privatize the V.A.
As Rachel noted on the show last night, by all accounts, Jackson is well liked and a highly competent physician. He does not, however, have any managerial experience. So how exactly did the president decide his personal physician was the right person for the job? I think this Washington Post piece highlights the key detail:
Trump prizes relationships and loyalty over traditional qualifications, and he quickly developed personal chemistry with Jackson. The boss admires the man he calls “The Doc,” according to aides, and cheered Jackson’s on-camera performance in the press briefing room in January, where he delivered the results of Trump’s annual physical as “very, very good” and “excellent.”
And really, what else is there to know? Trump likes Jackson; Jackson has a cool nickname; and Jackson said nice things about the president on television.
The question isn’t why Trump tapped him for his cabinet; the question is why this didn’t happen sooner.
While much has been said about the president’s habit of choosing cable-news personalities for key posts in his administration, yesterday afternoon’s announcement served as a related reminder: Trump also loves hiring people he knows and likes personally.
The trend began before the president was even inaugurated. During Trump’s transition period, he tapped two New York-based developers he’s known for decades to oversee the White House’s infrastructure initiative. Around the same time, Trump tapped his bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman, to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Israel, and Jason Greenblatt, a top official in the Trump administration, to oversee all international negotiations.
Of course, he also tapped his young son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to tackle a comically long list of White House priorities.
Once in office, the list grew considerably. Ivanka Trump, one of the president’s adult daughters, joined the White House team. Her friend Reed Cordish was hired as an assistant to the president. Rudy Giuliani’s son Andrew, another Trump family friend, joined the White House’s public liaison office – where he served alongside Omarosa Manigault, whom Trump knew from his reality television show.
Trump’s former golf caddy became the White House social media director. Trump’s former body guard oversaw “Oval Office operations.” A Trump family wedding planner was given a key post at HUD. Steve Kopec, who’s married to a former Trump household staffer, is now at the EPA.
Last month, the president even considered his pilot to lead the FAA.
When George W. Bush tapped his lawyer, Harriet Miers, for the Supreme Court, he looked ridiculous – and the nomination unraveled soon after – but even he didn’t have a list like this.