Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson charged in Orlando Thursday that the latest shakeup at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has to do with President Donald Trump‘s desire to privatize health services for veterans and he vowed to block it.
Nelson was joined Thursday by fellow Democratic U.S. Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island in honoring dozens of Central Florida veterans, many of them disabled and in wheelchairs or gurneys at the Orlando VA Medical Center at Lake Nona.
The appearance came less than a day after Trump fired VA Secretary David Shulkin and announced he would nominate Dr. Ronny Jackson, a Navy rear admiral who serves as White House physician for Trump and did so for previous presidents.
In addition to pledging to support the VA, Nelson also responded to media inquiries about Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio‘s claim that the two senators have a great relationship, and thus Rubio would not be strongly campaigning for Nelson’s Republican opponent this fall, likely Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
Nelson re-affirmed his side of the bromance between himself and Rubio.
Nelson and Reed both said they assume Jackson is a decent man and that they intend to reserve judgment on his nomination until after Senate hearings. But Nelson said he is confident the shakeup is a result of Trump’s desire to privatize veteran medical care, something Shulkin had publicly pushed back on.
He and Reed said they would not let privatization happen.
“I want all of you to know that against all of the rumors swirling that VA. medical care is going to be privatized, don’t worry. It will not be. And I guarantee you that Sen. Reed and I will be two of the people that will not let it happen,” Nelson told the gathering of disabled veterans.
Neither Reed nor Nelson said they had any information to suggest that Jackson would favor privatization.
“The veterans certainly don’t want it,” Nelson said afterwards. “All the veterans medical care is considered excellent. The problems have been in the administrative operation in a very large, gargantuan, administrative agency. But the veterans should have confidence to know that they will continue to have a veterans medical care system. We owe that to them. They fought for this country. They were promised that would have a medical system that would take care of them. And we’re going to make good on that promise.”
As for the Rubio relationship, Nelson said, “Marco and I are personal friends. We get along well, That’s important for Florida. Because we do a lot of stuff for our state that you would never see, such as the appointment of federal judges. It would be absolutely miserable if you didn’t get along with your fellow senator.
“Fortunately, I think his comments reflect exactly what I would say about him,” Nelson added.