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 »
Evan McMullin came out on top in a Emerson College poll of Utah with 31% of the vote. Donald Trump came in second with 27%, while Hillary Clinton took third with 24%. Gary Johnson received 5% of the vote in the survey.
A new Quinnipiac University poll finds Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by seven percentage points, 47%-40%. Trump’s “lead among men and white voters all but” vanished from the university’s early October poll. A new PPRI/Brookings survey shows a much bigger lead, with Clinton up 51%-36%. And an IBD/TIPP poll leans the other way, showing a virtual dead heat, with Trump taking 41% of the vote to Clinton’s 40% in a four-way matchup.
During a state visit to China, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte "declared an end to his country’s strategic alignment with the United States and pledged cooperation with Beijing." Duterte told Chinese President Xi Jinping that he's "realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world—China, Philippines, and Russia. It’s the only way.”
Reports say that Orrin Hatch, who in 2012 declared that he would retire at the end of his term, is considering going back on that pledge to run for an eighth term. Hatch, who is the longest serving Republican in the Senate, is unlikely to make any official declaration until after this election cycle is completed.