Trump opens door for Ronny Jackson to leave as veterans agency nominee

WASHINGTON, April 24 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday left open the possibility that his doctor, Ronny Jackson, would withdraw as his pick to lead the Veterans Affairs department after allegations stalled his Senate confirmation hearing.

The Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs postponed the hearing, which had been set for Wednesday, as it looked into allegations that Jackson had overseen a hostile work environment as White House physician and allowed the overprescribing of drugs. The allegations were first reported by the New York Times.

Trump said he had not heard details about the allegations but said it was up to Jackson, a Navy rear admiral who has worked as a presidential physician since the George W. Bush administration, about whether to continue as the nominee.

"I don't want to put a man ... who's not a political person ... through a process like this. It's too ugly and too disgusting. So, we'll see what happens," Trump said at a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron.

SEE ALSO: Ronny Jackson's confirmation hearing postponed amid allegations of a hostile work environment, excessive drinking

 

"It's totally his decision, but he'll be making a decision," said Trump. He said he stood behindJackson though he acknowledged he had an "experience problem."

Jackson's qualifications to lead the sprawling Veterans Affairs department were questioned from the time Trump nominated him in late March.

The agency, which has 350,000 employees and runs 1,700 facilities that serve more than 9 million veterans a year, has long faced criticism for the quality of its care and the bureaucracy that veterans encounter. In total, it oversees healthcare and benefits for about 20 million military veterans.

It has been led by an acting secretary since late March. Trump fired former VA Secretary David Shulkin after concerns about unauthorized travel expenses.

More on Ronny Jackson:

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Presidential physician Ronny Jackson
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Presidential physician Ronny Jackson
US President Donald Trump shakes hands with White House Physician Rear Admiral Dr. Ronny Jackson, following his annual physical at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, January 12, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
White House, Presidential physician Ronny Jackson answers question about U.S. President Donald Trump's health after the president's annual physical during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, U.S., January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Dr. Ronny Jackson after his annual physical exam at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, U.S., January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
US President Donald Trump (C) and his White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson (L) listen as US Secretary of Veterans Affairs David J. Shulkin speaks about new technology used by the Department of Veterans Affairs during an event in the Roosevelt Room of the White House August 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
White House, Presidential physician Ronny Jackson prepares to answers question about U.S. President Donald Trump's health after the president's annual physical during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, U.S., January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Dr. Ronny Jackson after his annual physical exam at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, U.S., January 12, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 16: White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson speaks to reporters during the daily briefing in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, DC on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (C) walks with his physician Dr. Ronny Jackson (2nd R) to Marine One after visiting with troops at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center November 29, 2016 in Bethesda, Maryland. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 3: (AFP OUT) U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr.David Shulkin(right) explains equipment to White House Physician Dr. Ronny L. Jackson(left) U.S. President Donald Trump (2nd left) to be used in a new program using video and software technology to provide medical care to veterans at The White House August 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 24: Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, nominee for Veterans Affairs secretary, leaves Dirksen Building after a meeting on Capitol Hill with Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., on April 24, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
U.S. President Donald Trump's nominee to be U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, meets with Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) at his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
UNITED STATES - APRIL 24: Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, nominee for Veterans Affairs secretary, leaves Dirksen Building after a meeting on Capitol Hill with Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., on April 24, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 17: Physician to the President U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson meets with Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) in his office in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill April 17, 2018 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump nominated Jackson, his personal doctor at the White House, to be the new Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs after Trump fired David Shulkin on March 28. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 25: Veterans Affairs Secretary Nominee Dr. Ronny Jackson departs the U.S. Capitol April 25, 2018 in Washington, DC. Jackson faces a tough confirmation fight after being plagued by allegations of inappropriate behavior. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 16: Physician to the President U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson waves to journalists as he heads into a meeting with Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA) in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill April 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump nominated Jackson, his personal doctor at the White House, to be the new Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs after Trump fired David Shulkin on March 28. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary, speaks to members of the media while Ronny Jackson, physician for U.S. President Donald Trump, left, smiles during a White House press briefing in Washington D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. Trump�is 'very healthy' and should remain so through his presidency, according to Jackson, who examined the president last week amid criticism that the 71-year-old commander-in-chief may be unfit for office. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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MAKING THE ROUNDS

Jackson, 50, is an Iraq war veteran trained in emergency medicine who has been well liked by both Democratic and Republican staff in the White House.

His role took on a higher profile after he gave a long and glowing news conference about Trump's health in January after his first presidential medical exam.

The Senate panel's chairman, Republican Senator Johnny Isakson, would not comment on the allegations against Jackson, other than to say: "I’ve got a job as chairman to make sure he’s vetted, and I’m going to do that."

Jackson continued to hold meetings with senators on Capitol Hill on Tuesday even as his nomination appeared in jeopardy.

"I can answer the questions. I'm looking forward to rescheduling the hearing and answering everyone's questions," Jackson told reporters after he met with Senator Jerry Moran, a senior Republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

The Senate’s calendar might not work in Jackson’s favor. There appeared to be little chance that the committee would hold a confirmation hearing this week. On Saturday, Congress begins a nine-day recess, which is a long time for any embattled presidential nominee to be in limbo.

Moran told reporters he had a "solid conversation" with Jackson and said he did not have details about any of the allegations.

"He does deny that he has done anything wrong in his service to the country and particularly in his time at the White House as a physician in the medical unit," Moran said.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Susan Cornwell; additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Steve Holland and Amanda Becker; editing by Chris Reese and Cynthia Osterman)

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