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 »
Following their meeting, President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, briefly addressed the media, with Peña Nieto subtly rebuking Trump's rhetoric. While he spoke respectfully about Trump, Peña Nieto did not back down, saying that free trade has proved effective and that illegal immigration into America from the south has decreased over the last ten years while the flow of people and drugs into Mexico has increased. Additionally, he stressed that Mexicans in America are "honest" and "deserve respect." Trump responded, calling some Mexicans "tremendous people" while saying others are "beyond reproach." Trump laid out five important issues, including the end of illegal immigration and the ability for either country to build a wall or border. However, Trump said he did not discuss who would pay for the wall.
A divided Supreme Court "refused Wednesday to reinstate North Carolina’s voter identification requirement and keep just 10 days of early in-person voting. The court rejected a request by Gov. Pat McCrory and other state officials to delay a lower court ruling that found the state law was tainted by racial discrimination."
"Police say a woman walked into U.S. Rep. Danny Davis' office on Chicago's West Side, drank out of a bottle of hand sanitizer, poured the sanitizer over herself and set herself on fire with a lighter." The Democrat wasn't in the office at the time.
"The Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday awarded 44 states, four tribes and the District of Columbia a combined $53 million in grants to expand access to treatment for opioid use disorders and ultimately aimed at reducing the number of opioid-related deaths." But HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell and drug czar Michael Botticelli both called on Congress to approve the $1.1 billion Obama has requested to fight the opioid crisis.