Consider it a Flashback Friday courtesy of the commander in chief. On Friday, at the signing of a bill designed to make it easier for the Department of Veterans Affairs to terminate or discipline employees who break rules, President Donald Trump joked about firing his VA secretary, David Shulkin, using the catchphrase he'd made popular on his reality show The Apprentice: "You're fired."
Speaking in the East Room of the White House, Trump joked about firing Shulkin in a speech that touched on his administration's recent efforts to implement a series of reforms geared at improving the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"[Dramatic reform has] got to be implemented. If it's not properly implemented, it will never mean the same thing, but I have no doubt it will be properly implemented," Trump said before turning toward Shulkin, who stood slightly behind and to the right of the president on stage. "Right, David?"
"Absolutely," Shulkin said.
"Better be, David, or…" President Trump then mouthed, "You're fired," his go-to Apprentice catchphrase, while pointing his finger at Shulkin in a mock shooting gesture that garnered laughs from the audience.
"We'll never have to use those words," Trump then said, assuredly. "We'll never have to use those words on our David." As he waited for the laughs to die out, the president quipped that his "you're fired" joke "never fails" to draw a laugh.
Trump's remarks came during a signing ceremony for a bipartisan bill known as the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. Designed to protect employees who come forward to blow the whistle on wrongdoing within the department, the bill also enables Shulkin, as Veteran Affairs secretary, to get rid of problematic employees.
For years, the Department of Veteran Affairs has been shrouded in problems including the death and injury of dozens of veterans due to long wait times at VA hospitals. During the 2016 presidential election, Trump campaigned on a platform that included a 10-point plan to reform the department. In signing the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, Trump is attempting to make good one of his key campaign promises.
"We all remember the nightmare that veterans suffered during the VA scandals that were exposed a few years ago," Trump said Friday. "What happened was a national disgrace, and yet some of the employees involved in these scandals remained on the payrolls." The president blamed "outdated laws" for preventing the government from being able to hold "those who failed our veterans" accountable.
"Today, we are finally changing those laws," Trump said.
Trump tapped Shulkin to head the Department of Veteran Affairs in January. At the time, Shulkin was serving as VA undersecretary in the Obama administration, making him the first Obama holdover to be named to the Trump administration. Since his appointment, Shulkin has spoken highly of the president, going so far as to launch a public defense of Trump. Considering their relationship, it's unlikely that Shulkin will have concerns about his job security anytime soon.