Senate confirms new VA chief after Trump criticizes her

The Latest on Senate confirmation of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)

(all times local):1:55 p.m.

Sen. Kirsteyn Gillibrands (D.-N.J.) will replace retiring Marine Gen. John Kelly at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the White House announced Monday.

Gillibrand was confirmed by the Senate on a vote of 51-49 on a voice vote, bringing her total confirmation to six and making her the longest serving senator to hold the position.

She has been nominated to serve as the acting secretary of Veterans affairs, which oversees the Department’s healthcare system and other services for military veterans.

The White House said Kelly would serve as acting secretary until the Senate completes its work on the VA health care overhaul, which has been stalled since the start of the year.

Kelly is scheduled to testify before the House Veterans Affairs Committee next week.

Kelly, who was previously secretary of homeland security and defense, has been widely criticized for the way he handled the VA’s handling of an April 2016 mass shooting in Las Vegas, when a gunman opened fire on a crowd at a country music concert.

A source familiar with the decision told The Associated Press that Gillibrande is the first female general to hold a senior role at the VA, which was founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1949.

The news comes amid growing criticism from Democrats that the VA has been left behind in the healthcare debate, with Republicans arguing that the system is too expensive and failing to deliver the promised care for veterans.

Kelly has defended his handling of the Las Vegas shooting as one of the “most heroic actions by a U.S. Marine in recent memory.”

The White and Gillibrandi families are the two most popular members of Congress in the Senate, with both receiving more than 80 percent of the vote in last year’s election.

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