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 »
"The U.S. Air Force is preparing to put nuclear-armed bombers back on 24-hour ready alert, a status not seen since the Cold War ended in 1991...Putting the B-52s back on alert is just one of many decisions facing the Air Force as the U.S. military responds to a changing geopolitical environment that includes North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear arsenal, President Trump’s confrontational approach to Pyongyang, and Russia’s increasingly potent and active armed forces."
"Senate Democrats on Thursday failed in their first attempt to save the state and local tax deduction, which helps many residents of California and other high-cost states reduce their federal income tax bills. The Republican-controlled Senate voted 52-47 to reject an amendment that would have prevented the Senate from considering any bill that repeals or limits the deduction as part of a planned tax overhaul."
"President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski appeared on Capitol Hill for a closed-door interview with the Senate intelligence committee Wednesday, according to a source familiar with the matter. Lewandowski is the latest senior official in Trump's orbit who has met with the committee as part of its investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign."
"A growing number of key Republicans are sending this message to the leaders of the congressional committees investigating potential Trump campaign collusion with the Russians: Wrap it up soon. In the House and Senate, several Republicans who sit on key committees are starting to grumble that the investigations have spanned the better part of the past nine months, contending that the Democratic push to extend the investigation well into next year could amount to a fishing expedition."