President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilkie, has a long past in Republican politics and a long track record of working on veterans’ issues.
He also was a member and longtime supporter of organizations dedicated to preserving Confederate memorials and honoring the Confederacy.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday on Wilkie’s past, including that, until 2005, he was “a fixture at the annual memorial ceremonies in Washington held by descendants of Confederate veterans around the birthday of Jefferson Davis.” He was also a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Post’s Paul Sonne and Lisa Rein reported.
During a 1993 debate over a patent renewal for the Confederate organization the United Daughters of the Confederacy (whose logo included the flag of the Confederacy), Wilkie said: “What we are seeing is an attempt in the name of political correctness to erase entire blocks of our history. The question is whether we’re going to wipe out the history of millions of Americans who trace their heritage to the losing side.”
And in 2001, he was the most prominent Bush administration official to attend a wreath laying at a Confederate memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, joining other attendees in saluting the Confederate flag.
In a statement made to the Washington Post, the Pentagon said that Wilkie no longer attends the ceremonies or counts himself a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and in a statement given to the paper, Wilkie said the commemorations of the Confederacy he once attended were now “part of the politics that divide us.”
His reconsideration (or alleged reconsideration) of Confederate memorials comes as many localities across the country are taking down monuments to the losers of the American Civil War, causing consternation among those who believe that such memorials are a homage to Southern heritage.
Robert Wilkie has actually been running the VA for months, since his predecessor, David Shulkin, was fired, but Trump officially nominated him to officially lead the VA on May 18. His confirmation hearing will take place on Wednesday.
Before working with the VA, Wilkie served as the Pentagon’s undersecretary for personnel and readiness. During his confirmation hearing for that role, he said that his life was deeply intertwined with the military, through his father’s service in Vietnam and through his own service in the Navy and in the Air Force.
“I have been privileged to see this military life from many angles,” Wilkie said, “as a dependent, as the son of a gravely wounded combat soldier, as an officer with a family in the military health care system, and as a senior leader in the White House and the Pentagon.”