- REUTERS/Carlos Barria
- Criticism of President Donald Trump’s Veterans Affairs secretary seems to be coming to a head, while Trump is also considering replacing more members of his inner circle.
- The potential turnover could lead to a host from one of Trump’s favorite TV shows taking a spot in the president’s Cabinet.
President Donald Trump’s latest cull of his inner circle may lead to a Cabinet appointment for a host from what is reportedly his favorite TV news show.
Fox News host Pete Hegseth, a high-profile conservative voice on US veterans policy, is a top candidate to take over Veterans Affairs, according to The Washington Post, which cited people with knowledge of the matter.
Trump reportedly considered Hegseth for the VA role following his election, before settling on current secretary David Shulkin. At the time, Hegseth told Trump he would “of course” accept.
Shulkin has faced growing criticism from a segment of his management team at the VA in recent weeks, with one of his senior aides reportedly called for the secretary’s ouster in mid-February. Shulkin himself has sought to fire several senior managers and looked for backing from advisers and officials close to Trump.
Shulkin is the only remaining member of the Obama administration’s Cabinet. While he has had success under Trump and is liked by the president, rifts within his department have been growing for months, according to The Post.
These divides came to the fore in February, when an inspector-general report criticized Shulkin and his staffers for their conduct around a 10-day business trip to Europe.
Some veterans were so angered by the report that security around Shulkin has had to be increased. Shulkin is reportedly managing the government’s second-largest bureaucracy from a heavily guarded bunker at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.
- REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Hegseth, an Iraq War veteran who cohosts “Fox & Friends Weekend,” espouses a vision of a healthcare system with less government presence and more involvement from the private sector, according to The Post. He has targeted Shulkin and legislators from both parties for their lack of interest in expanding veterans’ access to private doctors.
Hegseth previously worked as executive director at Vets for Freedom and Concerned Veterans for America, which are conservative advocacy groups funded by billionaire activists Charles and David Koch.
While Hegseth’s views are considered extreme even by some Republicans, Trump, reputedly a devoted Fox News viewer, has drawn heavily on his counsel. Trump reportedly calls Hegseth frequently to discuss veterans affairs. The president even called Hegseth during an Oval Office meeting with Shulkin earlier this month, seeking the Fox host’s advice on pending legislation on private-care access.
- Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
If Trump were to oust Shulkin, it would be the next salvo in the latest shakeup of the president’s Cabinet and come just days after Trump summarily fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who reportedly learned of his termination from the president’s tweet announcing it.
Others who Trump may be considering firing include National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, around whom firing rumors have swirled for months, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose recusal from the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election has frustrated Trump, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, whose handling of the domestic-abuse allegations against former White House staffer Rob Porter have drawn widespread criticism.
Trump has called reports about looming firings “very exaggerated and false,” but previous firings during his administration have been abrupt.
Amid the rumors of more firings, the mood within the White House has grown increasingly dour in recent days.
One official described it to Axios as “the most toxic working environment on the planet.”
“Would you want to go to work every day not knowing whether your future career was going to be destroyed without explanation?” the official said.