White House physician Ronny Jackson has withdrawn his name from consideration to take over the Department of Veterans Affairs, he announced Thursday.
Jackson, M.D., has been the source of controversy over the past few days as current and former White House staff alleged that he drank excessively and dispensed medication inappropriately. The claims led the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to delay Jackson's confirmation hearing on Monday.
Jackson said the allegations are "completely false and fabricated" in a statement obtained by FierceHealthcare.
"If [the allegations] had any merit, I would not have been selected, promoted and entrusted to serve in such a sensitive and important role as physician to three presidents over the last 12 years," Jackson said.
"Unfortunately, because of how Washington works, these false allegations have become a distraction to the president and the important issue we must be addressing—how we give the best care to our nation's heroes," he added.
Jackson was tapped to head the VA after David Shulkin, M.D., was fired late last month. He was a surprise pick to head the agency as a relative unknown with next-to-no government leadership experience. Veterans groups, such as AMVETS, expressed concern that Jackson was not experienced enough to lead one of the largest bureaucracies in the federal government.
Jackson's announcement comes as Senate Democrats revealed they planned to further probe the allegations about his on-the-job conduct. Staffers for Democrats on the VA committee compiled a summary of "questionable deeds" that circulated on the Hill yesterday, The New York Times reported.
Jackson prescribed a "large supply" of Percocet painkillers to a staff member in the White House Military Office, according to the document, and "wrecked a government vehicle" while intoxicated at a Secret Service going away party, NYT reported.
Montana Sen. Jon Tester, the ranking Democrat on the VA committee, said in an interview with CNN that Jackson was known as "the candy man" in the White House for his drug prescribing habits. He said staffers reported that Jackson would hand out sleep aids such as Ambien on official flights.
Tester said that more than 20 people came forward with allegations about Jackson's conduct. In addition, staffers said that Jackson created a "toxic work environment" for his team, Tester told CNN.
I just joined @andersoncooper to discuss the allegations against @DeptVetAffairs Secretary nominee Ronny Jackson, but the bottom line is this: Our veterans deserve the best & if the allegations we’ve heard are true, Dr. Jackson doesn’t meet that standard. It’s just that simple. pic.twitter.com/3DXVY7NPGp— Senator Jon Tester (@SenatorTester) April 25, 2018
"We were told time and time again the people above him he treated like gold, the people below him, he belittled, screamed at them, really created a toxic environment to the point where people who worked around him felt like they had to walk on eggshells because of his lack of respect for his job," Tester said.
Tester said in a statement Thursday that he hopes the White House will continue to investigate the allegations even though Jackson has withdrawn his nomination.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, also reached out to the White House earlier this week to make clear how concerned lawmakers were about the allegations, sources told CNN.
President Donald Trump came to Jackson's defense in an interview on Fox & Friends this morning. He said Democratic obstructionism was to blame for Jackson's withdrawal, and that their conduct was a "disgrace." He also said that concerns about Jackson's lack of experience were unfounded as "nobody has experience" to run the VA due to its size.
"You could take the head of the biggest hospital corporation of the world, and it's peanuts compared to the VA," Trump said. "So nobody has experience, you know, it's a big monster."
The president also took a shot at Tester, saying that his role in the controversy surrounding Jackson is "going to cause him a lot of problems" with Montana voters, as Trump won the state handily in 2016.