WASHINGTON — The Senate confirmed six senior Veterans Affairs nominees on Thursday, filling a host of vacancies for a department where the White House has promised massive reforms and structural changes.
The confirmations came in the upper chamber’s wrap-up work just before a planned August recess. Before Thursday, the only VA nominee approved by the Senate so far this year was Secretary David Shulkin, who was approved by a 100-0 vote back in February.
Now, that total has jumped to seven.
Thomas Bowman, a Marine Corps veteran who previously served as majority staff director for the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, was confirmed as the new VA Deputy Secretary. Brooks Tucker will take over as the assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs for legislative affairs, and James Byrne will serve as be general counsel for the department. The Senate also confirmed three veterans claims appeals court judges.
The moves come two days after the Senate approved eight Defense Department nominees, doubling the total of senior Pentagon officials confirmed so far this year.
The Senate nominations process was slowed by Senate Democrats using parliamentary tactics against nearly all of President Donald Trump’s nominees in protest of Senate Republicans’ handling of the recent health care debate. After that effort failed last week, the minority party lifted their blockade.
White House officials have repeatedly lamented the slowness of the confirmation process, but have also taken criticism for their sluggish pace of naming new executive branch officials.
Veterans Affairs officials were expected to forward nominees for the department’s undersecretary of health and undersecretary of benefits posts in late spring, but still have not announced those names yet.
Despite that turmoil, none of the VA nominees approved Thursday faced opposition. Bowman was popular among senators due to his time working there, and the other five nominees faced easy questioning in their confirmation hearing in July.
They’re all expected to formally take over the new jobs in the next few days. The Senate is scheduled to return from its summer recess on Sept. 5.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.