Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Shulkin got things done, McMorris Rodgers says. Replacement must oppose privatization, says Murray.

In this Wednesday, March 7, 2018 file photo, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin speaks at a news conference in Washington. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers praised Shulkin’s time of service Thursday, while Sen. Patty Murray said his replacement must oppose privatization. (Andrew Harnik / AP)

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin was a responsive head of the nation’s massive agency that provides medical care to former service members and was instrumental in getting extended hours for urgent care at the Spokane facility, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers said Thursday.

“I had a very good working relationship with him. I always found him to be really responsive,” the Spokane Republican said. “He was someone who really kept the veterans in the forefront.”

McMorris Rodgers was among those pushing the VA to reopen its emergency room at the Mann-Grandstaff Medical Center in Spokane. Although it wasn’t able to do that, the VA did announce last November it was offering 24/7 urgent care at the facility, which she said was with Shulkin’s help.

“He got it done,” she said.

Although she was aware of “rumblings” that Shulkin could get fired, McMorris Rodgers said she remained a supporter of his and didn’t know any of the details behind the president’s decision.

In a guest column to the New York Times, Shulkin attributed his ouster to his opposition to privatization of the VA, although the White House said there are efforts to modernize the agency but no discussions about privatizing it.

Sen. Patty Murray, the senior member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and its former chairwoman when Democrats held the majority, said she would only support a replacement for someone who was “unequivocally opposed to privatizing the VA” or any other proposals that would slowly dismantle its system.

Murray doesn’t know Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, who is Trump’s choice to succeed Shulkin, her staff said. But in an email, she said the next VA secretary should have real management and leadership experience necessary to understand and solve the complex challenges facing the large agency.

Jackson has been the physician to the president since 2013, but has limited administrative experience. The VA is the federal government’s second largest agency with a budget of about $200 billion.

The new secretary should also be willing to work with Congress and “stand up for what is right and in the best interests of veterans even in the face of political pressure from the White House,” Murray said in the email. The nominee should also have no ethical failings or conflicts of interest, she said.

A VA internal investigation concluded last month that Shulkin had improperly accepted Wimbledon tennis tickets and some emails had been changed to justify his wife’s trip to Europe with him at taxpayers’ expense.” In the New York Times submission, he contended he’d been falsely accused and called the attacks politically motivated.

Although the confirmation process is in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, McMorris Rodgers said she’ll be watching Jackson’s hearings closely to learn more about his views. She supports giving veterans more choices on health care, but not privatizing the VA.

“He’s new to me,” she said. “I understand the president has had long conversations with him.”