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Pardon discussions open up new questions about Russia probe

The doctor is in (as secretary of the VA)

After an extended period of limbo, Trump finally pulled the plug on VA chief David Shulkin, announcing (via tweet) that he has instead named White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson to lead the department. Jackson, a rear admiral in the Navy who announced the results of Trump’s first physical in office back in January, is said to have impressed the president with that performance. But he also has no real experience in managing a huge organization like the VA, and no one really knows what policy views he holds.

We wrote last week that Trump’s recent personnel moves showed his preference for people with TV experience who give him the advice he wants, not what he needs. Jackson, who said in a memorable televised briefing that the president “could have lived to 200 years old” with a slightly better diet (due to his “incredible genes”) fits that pattern once again.

Shulkin: ‘It should not be this hard to serve your country’

Jackson would be walking into a difficult situation even if he did have a wealth of management experience. The VA is the government’s second-largest department and has long been plagued by inefficiencies and controversy. What’s more, an agency that has been largely apolitical (remember, Shulkin was unanimously confirmed) is now embroiled in controversy over Shulkin’s ouster, which he says was engineered by advocates of privatizing veterans’ care.

Pardon discussions open up new questions about Russia probe
Pardon discussions open up new questions about Russia probe

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Shulkin wrote that privatization “is a political issue aimed at rewarding select people and companies with profits, even if it undermines care for veterans.” And he closed with this sentiment: “As I prepare to leave government, I am struck by a recurring thought: It should not be this hard to serve your country.”

Trump campaign touts Census move in a very different way than the official line

As outcry continues over the Trump administration’s move to add a question about citizenship status to the Census — with at least twelve states joining a lawsuit to block the change — here’s something we noticed.

The Commerce Department has tried to paint this as an administrative decision necessary “to provide complete and accurate census block level data” and to “determine violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.” But that fairly dry language isn’t what the Trump campaign is saying in two fundraising list-building emails to supporters — one on March 19, before the decision was announced, and one yesterday. “Our poll showed that Americans OVERWHELMINGLY want this question on the census,” read yesterday’s appeal. “We cannot let a few Hollywood special interests speak for the rest of our country. It’s time to fight back. It’s time to once again reclaim our voice in America.”

Trump isn’t shy about touting policy proposals that fit into base politics (most notably “the Wall”), but this is a case where the campaign is explicitly firing the Census up as a culture war issue even as officials try to argue from the podium that it’s about empirical accuracy and fairness.

Don’t miss this tidbit on MS-SEN

The Washington Post reports that Mississippi Senate appointee Cindy Hyde-Smith sat down yesterday with White House officials, who weren’t too keen on her when Gov. Phil Bryant named her for the seat last week. At issue, among other things, is Hyde-Smith’s past as a former Democrat, which some Republicans worry could hamper her run against conservative firebrand Chris McDaniel, who’s also seeking the seat. Keep in mind that, if no candidate between Hyde-Smith, McDaniel and Democratic candidate Mike Espy gets to 50 percent of the vote on Election Day, we’ll be in for a runoff.

McDaniel, for his part, seems to be enjoying the storyline, tweeting “It sounds like the WH is on the right track in refusing to endorse @cindyhydesmith but this should help them make a final decision.”

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