President Trump said Tuesday that his embattled nominee for Veterans Affairs secretary will be “making a decision” soon about whether to continue to seek the position, saying he stands by Dr. Ronny Jackson no matter what but, “If I were him … I wouldn’t do it.”
The president addressed the controversy over his VA pick in response to a question from Fox News’ John Roberts at Tuesday’s press conference with visiting French President Emmanuel Macron.
“It’s totally his decision, but he’ll be making a decision,” Trump said of Jackson.
While saying he’ll “always stand behind him” and it will “be his choice,” Trump made clear whether he thinks Jackson should drop out.
“I really don’t think personally he should [seek the position],” Trump said. He suggested he did not want Jackson, who has served as a White House physician since 2006, to go through such an “ugly” and “disgusting” process and said he told him: “What do you need it for?”
The comments come after The New York Times and others reported that Jackson has been accused of overseeing a hostile work environment as White House physician, drinking on the job and allowing the overprescription of drugs.
Amid the allegations, Jackson's confirmation hearing originally set for Wednesday was postponed.
A White House official told Fox News that Jackson met with Trump Tuesday afternoon. The official said the two had a "good meeting," but did not elaborate.
The postponement was confirmed to Fox News late Monday night by South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds, a Republican member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Rounds said committee Chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., recently told him and other committee members that he wants to resolve some “unsubstantiated allegations” about Jackson, the official White House doctor and a Navy rear admiral.
“He wants to do it right. We told him that if he wanted to delay the meeting, that was fine with us. We most certainly want to get ... the facts outs,” Rounds told “Fox News @ Night with Shannon Bream.”
Jackson said Tuesday that he looked forward to “rescheduling the hearing and answering everyone’s questions” – giving no hint that he was considering withdrawing.
Trump cast the turbulence as a symptom of Democratic obstruction, noting Democrats unsuccessfully tried to hold up the secretary of state nomination of Mike Pompeo in committee a day earlier.
But the concerns with Jackson appear bipartisan.
On Tuesday morning, Isakson and Montana Sen. Jon Tester, the top Democrat on the committee, issued a joint statement saying the hearing was postponed "in light of new information" presented to the committee.
"We take very seriously our constitutional duty to thoroughly and carefully vet each nominee sent to the Senate for confirmation," they said.
The senators have also sent a letter to Trump requesting all information regarding any improper conduct pertaining to Jackson’s service in the White House Medical Unit and as physician to the president.
The White House issued a statement earlier Tuesday standing by the pick.
“Admiral Jackson has been on the front lines of deadly combat and saved the lives of many others in service to this country," Hogan Gidley, deputy White House press secretary, said Tuesday. "He’s served as the physician to three presidents -- Republican and Democrat -- and been praised by them all. Admiral Jackson’s record of strong, decisive leadership is exactly what’s needed at the VA to ensure our veterans receive the benefits they deserve.”
Trump selected Jackson last month to run the Department of Veterans Affairs after firing former Obama administration official David Shulkin, amid an ethics scandal and mounting rebellion within the agency, the federal government’s second largest.
But Jackson has since faced numerous questions from Republican and Democratic lawmakers as well as veterans groups about whether he has the experience to manage the massive department of 360,000 employees serving 9 million veterans. The agency in recent years has faced challenges in trying to provide prompt adequate care for veterans.
Rounds, who has met personally in his Capitol Hill office with Jackson, has previously also said the doctor’s small staff at the White House will be an issue as he prepares to lead the VA.
"We've got 360,000 people there," he said. "Are they going to manage the secretary or is the secretary going to manage the VA? That's a good question to ask, and he needs to answer it. He needs to be the leader. A lot of folks want to be led and managed."
Rounds also said the committee still needs more paperwork from the White House on Jackson before the nomination can go forward.
Fox News’ Joseph Weber, John Roberts and Jason Donner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.