A sign marks the entrance to the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital on May 30, 2014 in Hines, Ill.
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Trump’s VA nominee at odds with Trump over privatization

When it comes to choosing cabinet nominees, Donald Trump’s lineup has sent a plethora of nominees to the Senate. Some are odd, some are conventional, some are ridiculous, and a few are even qualified.

But of all the president’s selections, the one that’s hardest to explain was one of his final choices. Three weeks ago, Trump, with the rest of his cabinet nearly complete, tapped David Shulkin to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. There’s no doubt that Shulkin is qualified and committed to the VA’s core missions, and he’s practically a shoo-in for confirmation.

What’s notable about this, however, is that Trump spent a year and a half railing against the Obama administration’s treatment of veterans, but when it came time to pick a VA secretary, Trump picked the Obama administration’s undersecretary for health at the VA – making Shulkin the only top political appointee who’ll serve in both administrations.

Complicating matters further, Shulkin seems to have no use for one of Trump’s key ideas on veterans’ care. The Washington Post reported yesterday:
David Shulkin, President Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, said at his confirmation hearing Wednesday that he would seek “major reform and a transformation of VA” – but would not privatize the federal health care system for veterans.

“There will be far greater accountability, dramatically improved access, responsiveness and expanded care options,” Shulkin told the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “But the Department of Veterans Affairs will not be privatized under my watch.”
As recently as late December, Trump reiterated his support for at least partial privatization of the system.

To be sure, Shulkin isn’t the first Trump cabinet nominee to break with the president on a key area of public policy, and when it comes to this administration, it’s difficult to know which public declarations to take seriously and which to dismiss as hollow political rhetoric.

But if yesterday’s testimony was accurate, and I suspect it is, either Shulkin will be pressed to pursue a policy he opposes, or Trump is going to have to give up one of his most controversial domestic ideas.

Postscript: It’s worth remembering from time to time that, during the campaign, Trump raised the prospect of a “private White House hotline” veterans could call for assistance. “I will instruct my staff that if a valid complaint is not addressed that the issue be brought directly to me, and I will pick up the phone and fix it myself if I have to,” Trump said.

No word on whether the president still intends to create such a hotline and make himself personally available to veterans who need a hand.