Once Again, White House Backs Shulkin Amid Firing Rumors

In this Aug. 16, 2017, photo, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin speaks during a press briefing in Bridgewater, N.J. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. David Shulkin appeared to get a temporary reprieve Monday from the White House on keeping his job at the head of the government's second largest agency after the Pentagon.

A day after a close friend of President Donald Trump said that Shulkin could be gone "very soon," White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said the president has "confidence" in him -- although that confidence is subject to change at any moment.

"We all serve at the pleasure of the president. If he is not pleased, you'll know it," Gidley said on Fox News.

"At this point in time, though, he does have confidence in Dr. Shulkin. He is a secretary, and he has done some great things at the VA. As you know, the president wants to put the right people in the right place at the right time, and that could change."

At the regular White House press briefing later Monday, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah declined to get into the specifics of how much confidence Trump has in Shulkin or how long it will last.

As for Shulkin's status, Shah said, "I haven't asked the president directly about it," and "I have no personnel announcements to make today."

On ABC-TV's "This Week" program on Sunday, Christopher Ruddy, head of Newsmax Media and a close friend of Trump's, said Shulkin could be out "very soon," but the job of the White House chief of staff, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, appears to be safe.

Shulkin, the only holdover from the Obama administration in the Cabinet, won unanimous confirmation from the Senate and initially was one of Trump's favorites. But in recent months, he has come under attack from administration political appointees -- in the White House and within the VA.

The attacks picked up last month after the VA's inspector general reported that Shulkin fudged his travel expenses by billing the $4,132 airfare for his wife for a trip to London and Denmark last summer to the government.

The major Veterans Service Organizations have backed Shulkin in the ongoing battle over the Veterans Choice Program, which allows veterans living more than 40 miles from a VA facility or who have to wait more than 30 days for an appointment to choose private care.

Shulkin has supported Choice, but within the context of maintaining VA health care as the main provider for nine million veterans served annually.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.


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