White House: VA's Shulkin not a candidate for HHS secretary

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, who is under investigation for taking a 10-day trip to Europe that mixed business with sightseeing, is not being considered for the top job at Health and Human Services, the White House said Wednesday.

Shulkin has been cited in media reports as a leading contender to replace former HHS Secretary Tom Price, who resigned last month following an outcry over his use of costly private planes for official travel. The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend that Shulkin was interviewed by the White House and had "made his case" for becoming HHS secretary.

But a White House official said Shulkin did not have an interview and "was never under consideration for the position." The official, who insisted on anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak on the record about a personnel matter, declined to discuss reasons behind who was being considered and why.

A VA spokesman did not comment, referring questions about Cabinet-level positions to the White House.

Shulkin is one of several Cabinet members who have faced questions about travel after Price resigned.

The VA inspector general earlier this month opened an investigation into Shulkin's taxpayer-funded trip with his wife to Denmark and England to discuss veterans' health issues. Travel records released by VA show four days of the July trip were spent on personal activities, including attending a Wimbledon tennis match. The VA said Shulkin traveled on a commercial airline, and that his wife's airfare and meals were paid for by taxpayers.

Major veterans' organizations had expressed concern about uncertainty at VA should Shulkin leave his job, citing major changes underway to improve care for millions of veterans. The VA has numerous job vacancies, including top posts in its health care division.

Shulkin, a physician, served as VA's undersecretary of health during the Obama administration since 2015. President Donald Trump tapped Shulkin in January to head the VA, the government's second-largest agency.