A former veterans affairs secretary described Washington, D.C., under the Trump administration as “so toxic, chaotic, and subversive” that it was “impossible” for him to do his job, according to a new book.
He also compared his interview for the job with President Donald Trump to a skit from the comedy show Saturday Night Live, which regularly parodies the administration.
Dr. David Shulkin was VA secretary from February 2017, becoming the only cabinet nominee of the current administration to receive unanimous backing in the Senate, until March 2018 when he learned of his firing from the administration via a tweet by Trump.
Now, Shulkin, an M.D. who ran several major American hospitals in his career, has written his account of working inside the Trump administration in a book titled It Shouldn’t Be This Hard to Serve Your Country, published on Tuesday.
“One year after I became the secretary of veterans affairs, the environment in Washington had grown so toxic, chaotic, and subversive that it became impossible for me to accomplish the important work that our veterans need and deserve,” Shulkin wrote in the book.
“When I left, I promised to continue to speak out against those seeking to harm the VA by putting their personal agendas ahead of the care of our veterans. This book is one way I hope to honor that commitment.”
Shulkin describes his “struggle with the internal political appointees and their outside allies” as “the biggest challenge of my tenure in government,” in particular efforts to dismantle and privatize the veterans affairs department.
“The VA was once thought to be the only part of the federal government that was above politics,” Shulkin wrote.
“But under President Trump, the VA’s mission and resolve were undermined by people we used to refer to—jokingly for a while, until it was no longer funny—as ‘the politicals.’
“Some of them are associated with the Koch brothers’ empire, which many people believe has the shortsighted goal of dismantling the VA, based on the mistaken belief that private industry can necessarily care for veterans more effectively.
“As someone who has spent his life in the private industry of medicine, not of political manipulation, I can assure you that ‘the politicals’ are wrong.
“But they infiltrated the VA and at least one of the veterans’ groups, and they managed to accumulate influence and greatly impact the politics of veterans’ care.
“If we don’t figure out a way to stop them, they are fully capable of destroying the VA. They are also capable of undermining the VA’s long history of public service in our country.”
Shulkin describes in the book a bizarre Trump Tower meeting with the then president-elect as he mulled his choices for veterans affairs secretary.
Trump’s desk was littered with copies of Time magazine with his picture on the front cover as Person of the Year.
The two men shook hands and Trump declared to staff in the room: “He’s a good-looking guy. He’s a good-looking guy, isn’t he?”
As the likes of Jared Kushner, Kellyanne Conway, Steve Bannon, Michael Cohen, and Reince Priebus hovered around the room, Trump asked Shulkin what New York City’s best hospital is.
Before Shulkin could answer, Trump said: “You know, I used to think well of this one place, but I know a guy who went in there feeling OK, and they just chopped his thing right off! They chopped it off! I wouldn’t go there for anything now.”
Kushner and Conway were debating the release of a statement announcing that Trump’s son-in-law would have a role in the administration, and asked for the president-elect’s view.
Trump did not want to read the statement and asked to be told what it said.
“Having seen all of these people parodied relentlessly over the past several weeks on Saturday Night Live, I couldn’t help thinking that I’d stepped into a skit with Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon,” Shulkin wrote.
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