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White House dysfunction creates another cabinet mess for Trump

As Donald Trump's choice to lead the VA struggles, a problem comes into focus: the White House's chronic incompetence isn't getting any better.
Image: U.S. President Trump's nominee to be U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Navy Rear Adm. Jackson meets with Senator Tester (D-MT) in Washington
U.S. President Donald Trump's nominee to be U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, meets with Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) at his...

Navy Admiral Ronny Jackson, Donald Trump's choice to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, was already a highly problematic choice. The VA is a bureaucratic behemoth -- it has an annual budget of $186 billion, employs 360,000 people, and oversees a vast network of offices and medical facilities across the country -- that the White House physician appears wholly unprepared to lead.

The president, however, likes Jackson personally, and that was enough. For the Senate, it's not. Axios reported over the weekend that there are "widespread" and bipartisan concerns about Jackson's nomination. The piece added that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly "thought it was unwise for Trump to nominate Jackson so quickly without going through all the due diligence that a normal cabinet nomination process would involve."

If so, it was probably unwise for Trump to ignore Kelly's purported instincts.

Ronny Jackson's confirmation hearing to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, has been postponed because of unspecified concerns about Jackson's background, two sources told NBC News. [...]The sources said senators on the Veterans Affairs Committee became aware of these concerns only recently -- within the past several days -- and raised them with the White House.

The details of the concerns are still coming into focus, though as Rachel noted on the show last night, there are unconfirmed allegations that Jackson oversaw a "hostile work environment," drank excessively while on the job, and "improperly" dispensed medication.

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) confirmed to reporters this morning that Jackson's confirmation hearing, which was scheduled to begin tomorrow, has been scrapped -- and the timing for the next hearing is still up in the air.

At face value, this is a story about an unqualified cabinet nominee struggling in the face of scrutiny, but taking a step back, there's a larger issue to consider.

A Washington Post reporter noted this morning, "There was no vetting on Ronny Jackson. No formal interview. No process." Instead, what we saw was a president pick someone he likes, in part because Jackson said nice things about him on television, without any meaningful scrutiny or forethought.

Team Trump has failed to do proper vetting for many of the president's nominees since taking office, and Trump and his staff never seem to learn lessons from their failures. Their incompetence isn't just embarrassing; it's also a chronic condition.

James Hohmann did a nice job summarizing the broader problem:

[Vetting] has been a constant struggle since Trump took office. Recall Andy Puzder’s failed nomination to be secretary of labor. Several Trump nominees who couldn’t get through the Republican-controlled Senate still work in government because they were shifted into jobs that don’t require confirmation. [...]The disregard for serious vetting can be traced back to the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election.When Trump fired Chris Christie as the head of his transition team on Nov. 11, after the then-New Jersey governor expressed opposition to hiring Michael Flynn as national security adviser, Flynn and Steve Bannon, who would be White House chief strategist, celebrated by tossing binders full of potential personnel picks into the trash, according to a Politico report last year.

“This was a brutally unprofessional transition,” Christie recently conceded. “This was a transition that didn’t vet people for this type of judgment issues."

The problem that existed a year and a half ago is even more acute now.