On Wednesday, in an abrupt tweet, President Donald Trump made it clear that current Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin is going to be replaced, with White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson taking over. Given the hyper-polarized state of American politics, and the partisan affiliations of virtually everyone in the Trump administration, this might lead you to wonder whether Jackson is a Democrat or a Republican, or to assume that he must be a member of the GOP in order to support and work in the current White House.
The reality, however, is quite different. While most White House staffers and officials make no secret of their partisan affiliations ― a president will usually want a network around them that's at least in the same ball park ideologically, after all ― the job of White House physician is ideally a non-partisan and apolitical one.
After all, presidents need someone looking after their health regardless of their doctor's political beliefs, all the more so considering the stress and workload of the job, and the massive important of them staying in decent health.
Jackson's time in public life is actually a great example of this. Although he's been announced as Trump new nominee to run the Department of Veterans Affairs, the 50-year-old Navy rear admiral has spent the last several years of his life providing health care in not one, not two, but three different presidential administrations: those of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump.
Jackson served as an emergency medical physician in Iraq in Bush's second term, and was later selected to serve as a White House physician, although he was not yet the lead doctor in the administration. That distinction came in 2013, when Obama tabbed him for the role, putting Jackson in charge of his presidential physicals and checkups.
In Jan. 2017, when Obama departed from office and Trump's first term began, Jackson was one of the rare holdovers from one administration to the next. The fact that he wasn't replaced speaks to the effectively nonpartisan nature of the job; in an ideal world, the political beliefs of your doctor shouldn't play a role in the level or quality of care you receive.
That said, despite having served professionally and in a decidedly low-profile capacity throughout Obama's presidency, Jackson's press briefing following Trump's first presidential physical left some observers in the medical field questioning his statements. The 71-year-old Trump ― who is reportedly very averse to exercise, and subsisted on a fast-food centered diet throughout his presidential campaign ― got effusive praise from Jackson for his physical and mental health.
Specifically, Jackson called Trump's health "excellent," including "incredible cardiac fitness," and remarked that he'd told Trump he could live to 200 if he ate a healthier diet.
"It is called genetics," Jackson told the press. "Some people have just great genes. I told the president that if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old."
Jackson's statements were called into question by a number of cardiologists not affiliated with the White House, as detailed in a report by The New York Times. The experts cited, among other things, Trump's still-high levels of LDL cholesterol despite reportedly taking a cholesterol-lowering drug.
In short, while there have been some concerns raised surrounding Jackson's briefing to the press about Trump's health, one would hope he's able to slightly more candid and less hyperbolic with the president behind closed doors. That's part of the reason it's meant to be a job without regard to partisanship, after all ― so that the president is sure they're getting the medical advice and care that they need.