U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Sunday that President Donald Trump's ouster of Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin is rooted in a Koch brothers-led effort to hand federal agencies over to private corporations.
"This is part of a broader approach of the Trump administration," the senator, a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, told CNN's "State of the Union."
Sanders' interview with host Jake Tapper comes days after Shulkin wrote in a New York Times op-ed that "advocates within the administration for privatizing V.A. health services [...] saw me as an obstacle to privatization who had to be removed."
As Common Dreams noted last week, "the VA has long been a major target of Charles and David Koch, who have used their 'front group' Concerned Veterans for America to advocate pushing veterans into the private healthcare market and sharply reducing the department's budget."
Echoing comments he made to the Washington Post last week, Sanders said, "Let us be clear...you have the Koch brothers—the third wealthiest family in this country who are going to spend some $400,000,000 on with their billionaire friends on the coming elections—having enormous power over the Trump administration."
"And what the Koch brothers believe," he said, "is not just that we have to privatize the Veterans Administration. They want to privatize Medicare ... they want to privatize Medicaid... they're beginning to go after Social Security."
"We have a Secretary of Education who does not believe in public education, a Secretary of the ...EPA who does not believe in environmental protection. So what you're looking at under the leadership of the Koch brothers is a massive effort to privatize agencies of the United States government and give them over to private corporations. That is what the removal of Shulkin is all about," Sanders said.
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"I would hope whether it's guns, whether it's Social Security, whether it is prescription drugs, that the Trump administration start listening to the American people, not just the billionaire class and the Koch brothers," he added.
Sanders' perspective on the president's booting of Shulkin is shared by Iraq war veteran and director of government relations for VoteVets Will Fischer, who told MSNBC Thursday that Trump and the Concerned Veterans for America's desire "to destroy and privatize the VA" was the motivating factor.
Shulkin, for his part, also spoke to Tapper on Sunday, saying that he "did not resign," adding, "I believe that way you have to improve care is to work closely with Congress, listen to the veterans' groups, and make sure that you're doing what the veterans want."
(Denise H. Rohan, the head of the nation's largest veterans organization, the American Legion, it should be noted, said in a statement last week, "Our 2 million members are opposed to any legislation or effort to close or privatize the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare system.")
As he said in his Times op-ed, Shulkin told Tapper than some political appointees "saw me as an obstacle," and "when they didn't see that their way was being adopted, used subversive techniques to be able to change leadership at the VA."
Shulkin also spoke with NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday and said, "I had been at the VA under the Obama administration and I knew ways that we needed to move forward and transform the VA and it wasn't to simply privatize. It was to begin to start modernizing the VA, give veterans greater choice, which we've done, and this was a path forward."
"I do believe," he added, "that the issue at hand is the future of VA and whether it's going to be privatized or not."