If many of the incoming Biden administration members look familiar, they should. Many appointees of Joe Biden were former members of the Obama administration. Among them is Biden’s recent, somewhat curious, pick to head up the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Denis McDonough.
McDonough is certainly experienced. He was Obama’s chief of staff during his second term and was the deputy national security adviser. He and the president-elect are reportedly very close. If he’s confirmed, McDonough will be only the second person without military experience to lead the department of veterans affairs.
McDonough was saying all the right things at a recent press conference that announced several Biden administration appointees.
“Taking care of our veterans is not a job for the VA alone,” McDonough said. “Every federal department and agency has a role to play. And I will fight like hell to make that happen.”
“Even though only one percent of Americans wear the uniform, under President Biden, every American will be called upon to embrace our responsibility to support our veterans and our military families.”
Biden remarked a few days ago, that McDonough had the government experience for the job.
“He knows the cost of war on veterans and their families, from the toll on their physical and mental health to access to good-paying jobs,” Biden said. “He’s a fierce advocate and a relentless workhorse.”
“And I believe, and I think everyone who’s ever worked with Denis knows, he’s a world-class manager with an innate understanding of how government can and must work for our veterans.”
Nevertheless, many veterans groups wanted a veteran for the position, and preferably one who has served in either Iraq or Afghanistan during the Global War on Terror. Many believed that Biden would tap former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, or former Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick Murphy for the post. The surprise choice of General Lloyd Austin for Secretary of Defense came last week.
Joe Chenelly, executive director of AMVETS, said the group was expecting someone from the community to get nominated, and that they want to hear justification.
“We have a lot of veterans who still have trouble trusting the VA,” said Chenelly. “I’m not sure that having someone at the helm who’s not a veteran is going to be helpful in the near term.”
“We were expecting a veteran, maybe a post-9/11 veteran. Maybe a woman veteran. Or maybe a veteran who knows the VA exceptionally well,” Chenelly said in a released statement. “We are looking forward to hearing from President-Elect Biden on his thinking behind this nomination.”
Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, was much blunter in his assessment of the McDonough selection:
“It’s a shockingly out of touch pick… they could have selected someone who’s been a patient there or has any direct experience with that community,” Riechhoff said.
“The idea that Biden couldn’t find a qualified candidate among the more than three million veterans feels exceptionally patronizing.”
Many veterans’ groups were looking for a representative head of the VA; someone who has firsthand experience and who could encourage vets to be part of VA’s new future. With 99 percent of Americans not having served since 9/11, veterans wanted one of their own heading up the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Instead, many feel like this nomination is just another political operator who has never run an organization as vast and in such need of an overhaul as the VA.
McDonough will join eight other Cabinet nominees from the previous Democrat administration.
This list includes former Secretary of State John Kerry, as special envoy on climate. Kerry’s Obama-era deputy Antony Blinken as secretary of state. Jeff Zients, who had worked as acting Office of Management and Budget director, as Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator. Tom Vilsack, the former agriculture secretary under President Obama, as agriculture secretary. Rep. Marcia Fudge, (D-OH), as secretary of housing and urban development. And Susan Rice, Obama’s former national security adviser, as the head of White House’s Domestic Policy Council.