Senate panel votes to advance Trump’s pick to lead Veterans Affairs

A Senate committee voted on Tuesday to advance President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, after a largely noncontroversial confirmation hearing last month.

Trump nominated Robert Wilkie, who is a Pentagon undersecretary, to lead the department after ousting former VA Secretary David Shulkin. The President initially tried to replace Shulkin with White House physician Ronny Jackson, but Jackson withdrew his nomination after allegations of workplace misconduct from his colleagues in the White House Medical Unit. Trump then turned to Wilkie, who had been leading the VA in an acting capacity.

Wilkie’s nomination was advanced by the committee on a voice vote. Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who was not in the room, requested to be recorded as a no vote.

Wilkie is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate. He was confirmed as an undersecretary unanimously last November.

During his confirmation hearing in June, Wilkie told lawmakers he planned to “shake up complacency” within the agency and that there are “no more excuses.”

Wilkie was pressed on the future direction of the VA, and whether he would be able to stand up to Trump and the White House if confirmed to lead the government’s second largest bureaucracy.

Wilkie told lawmakers he would oppose privatizing the VA health care system, an issue Shulkin said led to his firing by the President.

Trump made expanding private care for veterans a 2016 campaign pledge, and he said as recently as this year that he was unhappy with the speed at which veterans receive care and wanted them to be able to “run to a private doctor.”

During his confirmation hearing, Wilkie said he was “opposed to the privatization of the Veterans Affairs Department and will continue to make sure that the VHA is fully funded.”