Bob McDonald, the White House’s candidate to take charge of the troubled U.S. Veterans Affairs Department, has a list of allies in both political parties that would make most nominees envious.
They include President Barack Obama, who tapped the former Procter & Gamble Co. chief executive for the job, and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, who praised the president’s selection. Add the Clintons -- former President Bill Clinton and former secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- who raised money from the company when McDonald ran it.
It amounts to what should be a pretty smooth confirmation process in the Senate, even if lawmakers see the need to grill McDonald in the aftermath of a scandal involving allegations of falsification of waiting times at veterans’ hospitals.
For Obama, choosing a business executive who donated to Boehner and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign makes it more difficult for Republicans to block the nomination or hammer Democrats over the VA scandal.
“This is the one agency where there shouldn’t be any politics at the door,” said John Engler, a former Republican governor of Michigan who leads the Business Roundtable, a Washington-based association representing CEOs of major U.S. companies. “I hope that the Senate will expedite the confirmation and that Bob can get started.”
McDonald’s political background calls attention to his good standing with Republicans.
In 2012, he gave $10,000 each to Republican campaign committees aiding Boehner, Obama’s leading adversary in Congress, and Romney, Obama’s opponent in that year’s presidential election, Federal Election Commission reports show.
He’s also given to the Clintons’ causes.
When Hillary Clinton’s State Department sought funding for an American pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo, McDonald personally signed off on a $3 million corporate contribution, according to the company’s website. Later, McDonald pledged P&G to provide 2 billion liters of purified drinking water to people in developing countries through the Clinton Global Initiative.
In a 2012 State Department ceremony, McDonald accepted an award for corporate excellence from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The following year, Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea traveled to Rwanda, where they tried their hands at purifying water held in a P&G-labeled bucket. A spokesman for Hillary Clinton declined to comment on whether she had any involvement in Obama’s selection for the VA post.
Boehner quickly issued a statement of support for McDonald, saying he is “the kind of person who is capable of implementing the kind of dramatic systemic change that is badly needed and long overdue at the VA.”
McDonald, 61, also has donated to Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who’s among 45 Republican senators in the Democratic-led chamber who will vote on McDonald’s nomination to succeed retired General Eric Shinseki, who resigned last month. Procter & Gamble has its headquarters in Cincinnati, where Boehner and Portman were born, close to their homes now.
There is precedent for a president’s Cabinet nominee belonging to the opposing political party.
Obama kept Robert Gates on as defense secretary after he held the same position in President George W. Bush’s administration. That job is now held by Chuck Hagel, a former Republican U.S. senator from Nebraska. Obama also employed former Representative Ray LaHood, a Republican from Illinois, as transportation secretary.
Bush’s first transportation secretary was Norman Mineta, a former Democratic congressman from California.
Shinseki, who resigned May 30, became a political liability for Obama as lawmakers from both parties demanded his departure from the agency that spends $160 billion annually, fifth-most among federal agencies, and provides medical care to 8.76 million veterans.
The agency’s troubles emerged after an investigation from the VA’s inspector general, an internal agency review and the White House’s own evaluation found systemic mismanagement at veterans’ hospitals and clinics, such as keeping secret lists of patients seeking care in order to hide months-long waits.
Improving veterans’ health care has become a top legislative priority for Americans, according to a June 13 Gallup poll that asked respondents about nine issues, including raising the minimum wage and passing new immigration laws. Nearly nine out of 10 Americans said it was extremely important or very important to improve health care for military veterans.
The VA has acknowledged that schedulers were instructed to falsify appointment records at 64 percent of VA facilities. As many as 1,700 veterans on a secret list at a hospital in Phoenix, which sparked the inquiries, were “at risk of being lost or forgotten,” according to a May 28 report from Richard Griffin, the acting VA inspector general. At least 35 veterans have died awaiting care in the Phoenix area.
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