Energy’s Perry: No interest in heading Veterans Affairs

WASHINGTON (AP) — Energy Secretary Rick Perry said he had no interest in becoming the next head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, flatly rejecting speculation that he would soon take over the position amid rapidly eroding White House support for embattled VA Secretary David Shulkin.

With Shulkin’s position ever-perilous, speculation shifted to conservative Fox and Friends contributor Pete Hegseth to replace him. President Donald Trump once seriously considered him for the job.

Two administration officials told The Associated Press that Shulkin’s position is growing more shaky and that he could be out of a job within the week, but they cautioned that nothing was finalized. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive personnel matter. On Wednesday, rumors spread that Hegseth, a former military officer and former CEO of the conservative Concerned Veterans for America, was in line for the job.

A person familiar with Hegseth’s thinking told the AP late Wednesday that if offered the position, Hegseth would take a “hard look.” The person said that when Trump considered Hegseth for the post in late 2016 before settling on Shulkin, Hegseth told Trump he would “of course” accept and that Hegseth’s stance hasn’t changed. The source demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the private conversation.

Shulkin, a former Obama administration official, has faced several investigations over his travel and leadership of the department. Until recently, he had received praise from Trump for his work to the agency around, but a raft of blistering VA watchdog reports detailing mismanagement and spending waste has weakened his standing.

The White House made clear Wednesday that Shulkin’s job was not safe.

In recent weeks, Shulkin has faced an insurgency within his department and now fresh allegations that he used a member of his security detail to run personal errands. On Tuesday, two people familiar with White House discussions told AP that Trump viewed Shulkin as a distraction and floated the notion of moving Perry to the VA. Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Tuesday.

Speaking after a Senate hearing Wednesday, Perry said he isn’t moving to VA and dismissed the reports as “fake news.”

“I am energy secretary from now until the foreseeable future. Happily,” he said.

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