Brown meets with Trump; calls VA secretary 'toughest job in the cabinet'
CONCORD – Scott Brown says he had “a great meeting” with President-elect Donald Trump regarding his interest in becoming the next secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Speaking with reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York City Monday morning after meeting with the president-elect, Brown said the position of VA secretary is “the toughest job in the cabinet” and touted that he thinks he’s “the best person” for the job, but added that there’s “some tremendous people out there.”
When asked about the meeting with Trump, the former U.S. senator from Massachusetts and 2014 GOP Senate nominee in New Hampshire shared that “we obviously spoke about my passion and his passion, which are veterans and veterans' issues.”
“He was listening to my thoughts and suggestions and where we should put our priorities,” Brown added.
As for any hint of a timetable, Brown said that the President-elect is “obviously going to take my application or interest under consideration. I’m glad that he called. He’s obviously going to meet other folks. And we should know, I think, probably after Thanksgiving.”
Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, is also thought to be in serious contention for the position of VA secretary. And the name of former longtime Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a 2012 and 2016 GOP presidential candidate, also comes up.
But Brown says this isn’t a race.
“I’m not competing with anybody. I think I’m the best person but there are some tremendous people out there. I don’t look at it as a competition. Anybody who takes that job, which I believe is the toughest job in the cabinet because it has really so many problems and it is so visible and people’s lives are dependent on whether you do it right or wrong.”
Brown, who spent nearly four decades in the Army national guard, added that “I was in the military since I was 19 years old. I served 35 years. I’ve been on the veterans committee since I was a state representative in Massachusetts. It’s something I feel very, very passionate about.”
Whomever takes over as the next VA secretary will have their work cut out for them. Trump spent the past year on the campaign trail promising to bring major reforms to the 86-year old agency.
On President Barack Obama’s watch the VA suffered a major scandal, when whistleblowers exposed the existence of secret patient waiting lists in more than 100 facilities across the country. The lists concealed that thousands of veterans had waiting long stretches of time before they could see a VA doctor, with a few of them dying as they waited. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned over the scandal.
What Brown would do as VA secretary
More than 300,000 employees work at the VA, making it the second largest federal agency by personnel, after the Defense Department. It’s also the fifth-largest federal agency by budget.
“I think it’s the toughest job in the cabinet is to lead the VA because while it has so many angels working there, it has so many great problems as well,” Brown shared. “There’s still high suicides, there’s still long lines. There’s still kind of a culture of putting the soldiers as a second class person instead of making it the top priority. There have been some improvements, but with all due respect, there needs to be a tremendous amount of work there.”
Asked by reporters what his first actions as secretary would be, Brown said “initially obviously I would try to work on the suicide issues. I would try to get folks with mental health issues covered immediately. The VA can’t do it all. We’ll have to outsource some of those cases to private vendors obviously. Trying to work with the DOD so when that veteran, that soon-to-be-veteran leaves the DOD, we know what his or her needs are. There’s a breakdown there. So working with the new secretary of Defense would be so critical in transitioning that soon-to-be-veteran to the VA system.”
“And then obviously looking at the budgetary issues, prioritizing what the needs are. Seeing where the waste is, because there’s a tremendous amount of waste,” Brown continued.
NH1 News confirmed on Friday night that Brown held a phone conversation with Trump earlier in the day regarding the VA position.
The former Republican senator from Massachusetts moved his residency to the Granite State three years ago before launching a U.S. Senate run in New Hampshire in 2014. Brown narrowly lost to incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
On Feb. 3 of this year, days before New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary, Brown endorsed Trump’s bid for the GOP presidential nomination. He introduced Trump later that evening at a large rally in Milford. Trump easily topped a large Republican field in the Feb. 9 primary, launching him towards the nomination and eventually the White House.
Brown is married to NH1 News contributing correspondent Gail Huff.
Former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown endorses Donald Trump for president, in Milford, New Hampshire on Feb. 3, 2016