President Trump lashed out at Senator Jon Tester on Thursday for his central role in ending Ronny L. Jackson's prospects of leading the Department of Veterans Affairs by revealing detrimental allegations about the medical management of the medical unit. the White House.
On Capitol Hill, the Republican counterpart of Tester, the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee of the Senate, Johnny Isakson (Georgia), defended the decision of the Montana Democrat to disclose the information.
"That's your right," said Isakson.
Those divergent responses to Tester's dazzling move underscored how controversial and consistent that decision could be in the coming weeks for the two-term senator, who has worked to polish a bipartisan reputation and has opposed some of the top priorities of Trump.
The decision to detail the specific allegations – which Jackson has denied – was highly unusual, considering that all the accusations had not yet been proven, and only obscured the main reason why Jackson's nomination was struggling to gain traction in the Senate: even the Republicans clearly believed that he was not fit for work.
"Before any of the allegations came up, and some of them came out before Tester published it, I had an uphill battle," said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz). "Only for lack of experience or qualifications for work."
Still, Tester's decision to release the information has given Trump and the White House a way to attack the Democrat, as the president did during a labyrinthine interview on Fox News the previous Thursday. Republicans working to keep the Senate in Republican hands this fall realized immediately, feeling that it could shake some energy in the Montana race, a battlefield that has hitherto been under national radar.
"I looked at what Jon Tester from Montana, a state that I won by more than 20 points, you know, really, they love me and I love them," Trump said during the interview. "And I want to tell you that Jon Tester: I think this will cause you a lot of problems in your state."
Other Republican senators, like Trump, were quick to point out the possible electoral consequences for Tester.
"President Trump brought Montana with a pretty good number, so I think he has set a great goal," Senate Majority Leader John Cornyn (R-Texas), former president of the arm, said on Thursday. campaign of the Republican Senate. He called Tester's decision to release the information, summarized in a two-page summary on Wednesday afternoon, "completely irresponsible."
Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan) added: "That was not his best day in the Senate."
Tester and his office retracted criticism. On Thursday night, an article by Missoula Current circulated quoting numerous veterans who praised the senator for how he handled the Jackson controversy. His staff also issued a statement from former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), A veteran of the Vietnam War who said "there is no one who cares more about veterans and cares about their interests than my former colleague, Jon Tester  "As a veteran who has had the privilege of serving my country in many roles, I have always admired Jon Tester's commitment to helping veterans, without using veterans for political ends," said Hagel. they know who their champions are, and Jon Tester is one of them. "
The problem has been very sensitive for Tester, whose advisors began listening to people worried about Jackson's nomination last week. Tester staff detailed a long history of professional misconduct that included claims that Jackson had a "pattern" of drug distribution with no patient history and that he crashed into a government vehicle while he was intoxicated after a farewell party of the Secret Service. 19659015] Tester alerted Isakson, who called a conference call Sunday afternoon with Republicans on the committee to warn the panel that Tester had received new information about Jackson, according to people familiar with the call. The senator from Georgia informed other Republicans of the general nature of the allegations, a senator on the call said.
Individuals spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.
After several days of damaging news and accusations that rushed him, Jackson officially withdrew his nomination on Thursday and resumed his work as a White House physician.  Tester seemed to have had the tacit signature of Isakson, whose staff was notified before the launch. But some Republicans sitting on the Veterans Affairs Committee, usually a bipartisan venue, said they did not notice that Tester would issue the accusations so publicly.
Both Sens. Thom Tillis (Republican from North Carolina) and Dan Sullivan (Republican from Alaska) said they would not have detailed the accusations in the same way that Tester did. Tillis, who called the launch "premature," said he was "disappointed and surprised that it was actually put there."
"This is a serious problem," Sullivan said. "We're all working together, and why are you trying to politicize it with just a Democratic memo, right? It's just not useful."
In an interview on Thursday, Tester refused to respond to Trump.
"My answer is that they sent me here to do a verification and confirmation job," said Tester. "We will continue to do that work and we will continue to have the best possible person to lead the VA."
Amid criticism that he was reckless in divulging the accusations, Tester said that he "absolutely" defends his decision.
"Look, there was information, there was a pattern in the information," said Tester. Referring to the media, he added: "People like you asked me a lot of questions, I thought it was the right thing to do".
His office said Tester wants the investigation into the White House medical unit to continue although Isakson told reporters that he would prefer to focus on nominations for VA and other issues before his committee .
From the start, both Republicans and Democrats had openly expressed concern over Trump's decision to choose Jackson as VA leader, a problematic bureaucracy that ranks second only to the Pentagon. Jackson has little administrative experience that would indicate he could lead VA, which has more than 360,000 employees and an annual budget of $ 186 billion.
But the numerous accusations, which were presented only to the staff of Tester, made what was already a difficult confirmation battle essentially impossible.
A Republican in frequent contact with Republican White House and Senate leaders said that Tester's handling of Jackson's nomination probably "incentivized" the White House to play a more important role in Montana.
"Taking unfounded accusations and using them to tarnish the character of someone who has fought for their country in battle, treated wounded soldiers in battle and has honorably served several presidents, we believe, is a terrible precedent", Marc Short , the director of legislative affairs of the White House, said on Thursday.
But – underlining the complicated situation in which Tester found himself – other Republican senators sounded more in favor of the Democrat's decision. Nearly 1 in 10 Montana residents is a veteran.
"If things are true, then it's OK to come to light," said Senator Bill Cassidy (R-La). Cassidy, member of the Veterans Affairs committee. Cassidy said he received a notice in the document detailing the allegations before the Democrats released it on Wednesday.
Jackson spoke privately with Senator Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), An old friend, on Thursday. During that conversation, Jackson went on to say that the painted portrait of him in recent days was fake.
"I told him to keep his chin up," Graham said. "He's a good man and that's just politics as it is."