Donald Trump cannot escape President Barack Obama's shadow — even within his own cabinet.
Donald Trump’s fixation on President Barack Obama is no secret.
Whether desperately retweeting unscientific Twitter polls that say Trump is a better president; alienating European allies, who are all too aware that Trump’s reckless actions on foreign policy are “driven by an obsession with unravelling” Obama’s work; or wasting taxpayer money to try to prove that his own inauguration crowd was larger than Obama’s (spoiler alert: it wasn’t), Trump’s jealousy of his predecessor is clear.
But one esteemed element of that legacy is still firmly in place, within the White House itself, no less.
As Politico notes, “Trump’s most popular cabinet secretary” was actually chosen by Obama.
David Shulkin, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, was originally nominated to a different position within that department by Obama in 2015. In January 2017, on the advice of U.S. Ambassador to Israel David M. Friedman, Trump nominated Shulkin to the top position at the VA.
Shulkin is “something unique” in this White House, Politico notes, as someone who is “beloved by almost everyone and getting stuff done.”
Running the VA was a difficult task for anyone to take on, with years of scandals and mismanagement looming for any new secretary to confront.
But Shulkin has made notable strides in recent months:
By tweaking regulations, he has managed to fire hundreds of allegedly incompetent employees, publicized waiting times at Veterans Affairs clinics, gotten money to expand vets’ treatment by private doctors, and expanded care for isolated vets through telemedicine and mobile phones, while promising to close 430 vacant VA buildings and speed up benefit awards. Shulkin also made a bold — and risky — decision to bypass contracting rules to buy a $16 billion digital health record system.
Politico notes that Shulkin sees one of his primary goals as “reestablishing trust among veterans,” many of whom had been left with a decidedly negative view of the department due to those issues Shulkin has worked to correct.
Further, Shulkin has warded off unpopular attempts by libertarian groups to privatize the VA, noting that privatization “won’t happen while I’m in office.”
Shulkin’s dedication to his work has earned him the respect not just of Trump, but of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. (Shulkin himself is an indepedent.)
Tennessee Republican Rep. Phil Roe, chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, told Politico that he and Shulkin share a common cause.
“What motivates me and what motivates Dr. Shulkin is the same, to provide the best care to veterans,” he stated.
California Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley, who sits on the House Veterans Committee, also praised Shulkin as someone who “has shown leadership and ability to focus on veterans, to keep ideology out of the equation and work in a bipartisan way.”
Trump has had “nothing but praise” for Shulkin, though whether Trump would admit that he owes any thanks to Obama for Shulkin’s presence in the cabinet is unlikely, at best, considering his obvious desire to eclipse his predecessor in whatever ways he can.
But he certainly ought to be grateful, considering that, despite his pompous repeated claim during the campaign that he would hire the “best” and “truly capable” people, the list of people who have resigned or been fired in the 7+ months of Trump’s time in office is embarrassingly long.
But the only way in which Trump will ever surpass Obama is in disapproval ratings.
Trump’s basement-level poll numbers show that he will never match Obama in popularity. And he has a daily reminder of that fact in his own cabinet.