Tester joins Republicans in approving VA secretary nominee’s endorsement

VA Secretary nominee Robert Wilkie, left, and Sen. Jon Tester.

President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Department of Veterans Affairs won the endorsement of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Tuesday, all but locking Robert Wilkie’s confirmation by the full Senate later this summer.

The panel’s top Democrat, Sen. Jon Tester, joined his counterparts in approving Wilkie’s nomination.

“America’s veterans need and deserve a strong leader who will tackle the VA’s biggest challenges head-on,” Tester said in a statement. “Mr. Wilkie has experience and a commitment to veterans and their families that should serve our men and women in Montana and across our nation.”

Wilkie won the committee’s endorsement with only Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., voting no. A Sanders spokesperson told the Washington Post that his vote came from concerns that the Trump administration plans to privatize veteran’s health care.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said in a statement that Wilkie was a good pick for the agency.

“Mr. Wilkie has the expertise and the positive attitude to take on challenges that lie ahead, and he will prove indispensable in helping transform the VA,” Isakson said. “Today’s committee vote signals the broad, bipartisan support that I hope we can look forward to in his confirmation by the full Senate.”

Tester and Isakson together postponed former nominee Ronny Jackson’s confirmation hearing after colleagues raised concerns over alleged misconduct in the workplace.

Jackson withdrew his nomination in April, prompting Trump to target Tester in a series of tweets. Tester said it was the Senate’s job to vet cabinet nominees.

Tester has voted for every one of Trump’s nominees who have come before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee for a vote, his office said Tuesday. He and Isakson both announced their support for Wilkie last month.

“Mr. Wilkie committed to putting veterans first and I’m pleased to support him,” Tester said at the time. “The VA is navigating rough waters, and I will hold Mr. Wilkie accountable for serving our veterans. As long as he maintains good communication with Chairman Isakson and me, we’ll make sure that VA has the tools to right the ship for Montana’s and America’s veterans.”

VIDEO: Tester tells VA secretary nominee to “bring courage, honesty” to the post