Robert Wilkie used to celebrate Jefferson Davis' birthday every year, and he has a history of working for right-wing racists like Jesse Helms.
Following this spring's fiasco at the Department of Veterans Affairs, when Trump tapped a complete novice to run the sprawling bureaucracy, his latest nominee for Veterans Affairs secretary was supposed to be free of baggage.
Top Pentagon official Robert Wilkie was expected to sail through his Senate confirmation hearings, which begin tomorrow. After all, he had been approved by the Senate twice for other positions.
But as the Washington Post reported Tuesday, Wilkie is a longtime fan of the Confederate flag who has a history of working for extreme right-wing politicians, like Jesse Helms and Trent Lott, who held racist views and supported racist causes.
Wilkie himself has fought against civil rights causes on numerous occasions, according to the Post:
Earlier this year he led efforts to justify Trump’s near wholesale ban on transgender troops. In 1997, he rebutted a Democratic proposal to ensure equal pay for working women. And in 1993, he publicly defended a failed push by [Sen. Jesse] Helms to support an organization whose logo included the Confederate flag.
And back when he was working as an aide to Sen. Jesse Helms in 1996, Wilkie attacked Helms' black, Democratic opponent, Harvey Gantt, claiming he had “openly courted money from the homosexual community."
The Post reports that Wilkie was a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group that defends public displays of Confederate symbols. He also used to be a "fixture" at annual memorial ceremonies for Jefferson Davis as recently as 2005.
A Pentagon spokesperson told the Post that Wilkie is no longer a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and no longer attends the Jefferson Davis ceremonies.
At some point, Wilkie told the Post in a statement, he decided that Confederate symbols have become "part of the politics that divide us" — but that doesn't tell us much about his current attitudes toward the Confederacy.
Veterans groups are demanding clearer answers from Wilkie.
"As a son of the South, I am very willing to say, categorically, that the Confederacy fought to preserve a slavocracy and were on the wrong side of the U.S. Civil War. Is Robert Wilke willing to say they same?" Will Fischer, an Iraq war veteran and director of government relations for VoteVets, told Shareblue Media in a statement.
Trump's last attempt to fill the V.A. resulted in spectacular failure when Trump nominated his White House physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson, to run one of the largest federal bureaucracies in the country. Jackson’s nomination was quickly scuttled after shocking allegations emerged that he drank on the job, improperly dispensed medications, and created a hostile work environment.
Trump also severely undercut the sprawling agency back in March when he fired — without cause and via Twitter — the V.A.'s long-serving chief, David Shulkin.
It's now been three months since the agency had a leader in place — and it has been deteriorating in the meantime.
Earlier this year, The New York Times documented the “chaos” that has engulfed the V.A. under Trump, and particularly its medical system. As he has “plunged the department into turmoil,” doctors are burning out and veterans are being left behind.
“I’ve been doing this 30 years, and it’s the worst it’s ever been,” said Dr. Murray Altose, former chief of staff at the V.A. hospital in Cleveland.
Younger staffers in particular "don't know if they have a future here" thanks to the upheaval, Altose added.
Trump talks a big game about helping veterans, but has done almost nothing to fulfill those promises.
Earlier this month, Trump made a public display of signing a veteran's bill into law during an elaborately staged ceremony at the White House. But hours later, Trump threatened not to fund key provisions in the law he had just signed.
Veterans simply cannot depend on Trump — and they may not be able to depend on Wilkie, either.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.