The Veterans Affairs Department has a new secretary, with senators voting 97-0 Tuesday to confirm Robert McDonald.
The strong bipartisan support for the former Procter & Gamble CEO is hardly a surprise. Senators from both sides of the aisle lavished praise on the nominee throughout his confirmation process.
“I am confident that Bob McDonald will be an outstanding secretary,” said Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, a frequent critic of the department, on Tuesday.
But while McDonald enjoyed a smooth confirmation process, he is taking over a department rocked by scandal in recent months. Lawmakers have high hopes that he’ll be able to use his private-sector managerial experience to turn the VA around, and they have a long list of places for him to start.
Senators expect McDonald to overhaul the department by fixing a “corrosive culture,” ensuring veterans get timely access to care, and making progress on a myriad of other issues—including cutting pay and pension claims and reducing veterans’ homelessness.
The vote comes as Congress is expected to pass legislation this week that would improve veterans’ access to private health care, allow the VA to lease more facilities, and make it easier to fire staffers.
Lawmakers hope the bill—which a conference committee signed off on Monday night—will, as Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders said, give McDonald “the tools to create a well-run and accountable VA.”
McDonald outlined his priorities for senators last week, including traveling the country to meet with VA employees and veterans. He also plans to restructure metrics for employees’ evaluations. Veterans-service organizations and lawmakers have long questioned whether linking performance metrics to bonuses could encourage data manipulation.
But it’s unlikely the scandal that forced Gen. Eric Shinseki’s resignation in late May will go away just because the VA has a new top official. A slate of investigations from the VA Office of Inspector General aren’t expected to wrap up until mid-August.
Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas said Tuesday that while he has been impressed by McDonald, he knows “that a change in the leadership at the Department of Veterans Affairs in and of itself isn’t enough to solve the problems veterans are facing.”
What We're Following See More »
In addition to ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Robert Mueller's team is also "examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe. FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said. The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort."
"The House voted Thursday to reauthorize the Department of Homeland Security. The bipartisan measure passed easily by a vote of 386-41, with nine Republicans and 32 Democrats voting in opposition. If the bill makes it through the Senate, it would be the first-ever reauthorization of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) since it was created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks." Among the provisions it contains is a mandate that the Senate confirm the Secret Service director. It also boosts funding for the Urban Area Security Initiative by $195 million per year.
In remarks scheduled to be delivered today at the American Federation of Teachers' summer conference, President Randi Weingarten "likens U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to a climate-change denier" and "says the Trump administration's school choice plans are secretly intended to starve funding from public schools. She calls taxpayer-funded private school vouchers, tuition tax credits and the like 'only slightly more polite cousins of segregation.'" The pro-voucher Center for Education Reform said teachers should "consider inviting Weingarten’s resignation."
"President Trump has confidence in Attorney General Jeff Sessions, despite his criticism of the Justice Department head's decision to recuse himself from the Russia probe, the White House said Thursday. 'Clearly he has confidence in him or he would not be the attorney general,' spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters at an off-camera briefing."
"The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the Trump administration for records on an executive order President Trump reportedly planned to release targeting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on Thursday, ACLU claimed the departments of Health and Human Services, Justice, Labor, and Treasury violated the Freedom of Information Act by failing to release the records it requested on the reported draft order."