Editorial Board has long argued that presidents should be able to choose individuals for top positions without reflexive opposition from those on the other side of the political aisle. “Elections have consequences,” as President Barack Obama famously told congressional Republicans who opposed his agenda in 2009.
That is why our board has supported virtually all of the Supreme Court nominees made in recent memory by Republican and Democratic presidents alike and has generally supported Cabinet nominees even if we’ve expressed some reservations. It is in this spirit that we believe the U.S. Senate should confirm CIA Director Mike Pompeo as secretary of state. He may not have the foreign-policy pedigree of some of the men and women who have held the post, but he is far from a naif. The Harvard Law School graduate — a former House intelligence committee member and Army officer who was first in his class at West Point — got 66 Senate votes for confirmation as CIA chief. He also has a good rapport with President Donald Trump, which is especially important when Trump is so quick to freeze out those with whom he doesn’t get along. While he has a history of occasional incendiary remarks, Pompeo seems well within the conventional spectrum on national security issues.
But our inclination to support a president’s nominees is not unconditional. Given the high importance to our nation of our 20 million-plus military veterans, it is crucial to have a shrewd, experienced manager serve as secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. With its $186 billion annual budget and profound responsibilities, the agency is one of the most important in the federal government. This is why Americans should welcome the indications from Trump himself on Tuesday that Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, the president’s personal physician, could withdraw his name for consideration as VA secretary. Whether or not late-breaking allegations about Jackson’s professional demeanor are true, this job is far too challenging for someone with little relevant experience. These concerns are only amplified by the evidence that Trump nominated Jackson for the job mainly because he thought the admiral cut an impressive figure at a January news conference in which Jackson described the president as being in “excellent” health.
On Tuesday, The Washington Post columnist Marc A. Thiessen made the case for Jackson, writing that the former Iraq combat medic would be what the VA needs most — a bold leader. Yet while charismatic outsiders can thrive in the private sector, there’s a reason such stories are less common in the upper levels of government. Running a giant organization full of bureaucrats with civil-service job protections — men and women with a long, disturbing history of limiting the care available to troubled, sick veterans — isn’t the same challenge as running a start-up with a plan to disrupt an industry. If Jackson survives and goes on to be a fantastic VA secretary, this editorial board will lead the cheers. But such a result would be far more likely with someone who is both a strong leader and a superbly competent CEO. Here’s hoping Jackson remains at the White House and leaves the immense task of running the Department of Veterans Affairs to someone with a more plausible chance of success.
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