Ronny Jackson's VA nomination is dead. He just doesn't know it yet.
Posted April 25, 2018 7:31 a.m. EDT
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Late Tuesday, the White House made clear that Dr. Ronny Jackson, President Donald Trump's pick to head the Veterans Affairs department, was not going to withdraw his nomination amid a panoply of questions about drinking on White House trips and doling out prescription pills to staffers overseas.
Jackson, we were told, wants to stay and fight. He's not going anywhere.
Which is his right. But, his nomination is almost certainly already dead -- whether or not Jackson chooses to acknowledge it.
1. Even before these allegations about Jackson's past behavior came to light, there was deep, wide and bipartisan skepticism about Jackson's qualifications to do the job. Going from White House physician to running the massive -- and massively dysfunctional -- bureaucracy at the VA was seen as bridge way too far by many senators, who were caught by surprise by Jackson's selection and who worried privately that Trump had picked him solely because the two men had a personal rapport. "There's a lack of experience," Trump acknowledged regarding Jackson on Tuesday.
2. The allegations against Jackson aren't the sort you recover from. Like it or not, the idea that Jackson, according to Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, had the nickname "The Candy Man" for his willingness to dole out prescription sleeping drugs on overseas flights will stick. And the image -- as reported by CNN -- of an intoxicated Jackson banging on the hotel room door of female employee is one that will linger (and rightly so) in the public's consciousness.
3. These allegations are not flimsily sourced and do not appear to be the score-settling grievances of a single former employee. Tester, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, told CNN's Anderson Cooper Tuesday night that the committee had spoken with 20 current and former members of the military who had worked with Jackson. "If you are drunk and something happens with the president, it's very difficult to go in and treat the president," Tester told Cooper. "That's what multiple people told us this was the case on several different trips." Yeesh.
4. Trump appears to have paved the way for Jackson to leave. In a joint news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday, Trump praised Jackson as a "fine man." But he then went on and on about how he had talked to Jackson and told him that it would be okay if the White House doctor decided that all of the negative attention and stress wasn't worth it -- and withdrew his nomination. "I told Admiral Jackson just a little while ago, what do you need this for? This is a vicious group of people," said Trump. "What do you need it for?" He added: "If I were him, I wouldn't do it." If that's not an invitation to walk away, I don't know what is.
5. Jackson's confirmation hearing has been suspended indefinitely. There's nothing worse in Washington -- or in life -- than twisting in the wind. An indefinite suspension of the confirmation hearing means that there is now oodles of time for Jackson to be picked apart. The revelations about his drinking and his doling out of prescription drugs broke on Tuesday night. There could be a lot more Tuesday nights if Jackson continues to try to stick this out. And no one can withstand many more days like the one Jackson had on Tuesday.
The truth is that Jackson was in for a real confirmation fight before a word of his past behavior office leaked. "I'm not sure anyone can run the VA," Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told reporters Monday. "It's so big, it's one of the biggest bureaucracies in the federal government."
That's not exactly a ringing endorsement of Jackson -- or Trump.
Couple that initial skepticism with the allegations that shot around the Internet on Tuesday night -- and the very real possibility that we may learn more about Jackson's past behavior in the coming days -- and you have an absolutely toxic brew for the nominee.
And, yes, the White House is ostensibly behind Jackson. But, Trump's comments about the nominee have to give Jackson pause. And, if they don't, they should. Trump might not be willing to call on Jackson to withdraw -- that would be to admit he made in error in picking Jackson in the first place -- but it's hard to see how he would be terribly upset if Jackson decided he had had enough.
This feels like one of those situations in which Jackson will fight like hell right up until the point at which he realizes this isn't a fight he is likely to win. At which point, he will acknowledge what everyone already knows and walk away.
It feels damn near inevitable at this point.