Robert Wilkie appeared before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs (VA) for his confirmation hearing to be Secretary of the Department of the VA on Wednesday—three months after President Donald Trump fired then-VA Secretary David Shulkin.
A 55-year-old Washington insider with decades of experience in the political forum, Wilkie has spent much of his career working for conservative senators, including Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina, and Trent Lott, R-Mississippi. Wilkie was also a lieutenant of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
An officer with the Air Force Reserves, Wilkie had been undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness before taking over as acting Secretary after Shulkin’s ouster.
A major question for any candidate for VA Secretary will be the possibility of privatization. Wilkie strongly denied such a course.
“My commitment to you is that I will oppose efforts to privatize the VA,” he said, when asked by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont.
Wilkie had faced questions about past support for Confederate causes. A Washington Post article claimed he was as recently as 2005, a fixture at the annual memorial ceremonies celebrating Jefferson Davis. Wilkie was a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, an organization that fights for public displays of the Confederate symbols.
“The first question they ask anyone they talk to, is this person someone who discriminates against anyone on the basis of race, sexual orientation or creed?” he said. “If I had been what the Washington Post implied, I don't believe I would have been able to work for Condoleezza Rice or Bob Gates or Jim Mattis.”
Wilkie’s hearing comes two months after Trump’s first nominee, Ronny Jackson, MD, withdrew after allegations he drank on the job and overprescribed medication, including opioids. Wilkie should face a full Senate vote and is expected to be confirmed.