early and often

Obama Picked Weird Time to Send Ronny Jackson a Stern Email

President Barack Obama speaks with Dr. Ronny Jackson in the outer Oval Office on February 21, 2014. Photo: Pete Souza/The White House

A couple years ago, former president Barack Obama reached out to Ronny Jackson, who’d served as White House physician during both the Obama and Trump administrations, to express his “disappointment” in the doctor’s conduct. If you’re a news junkie with a shockingly good memory, you’re probably thinking, That checks out. Dozens of people accused him of being drunk on duty, verbally abusing subordinates, dispensing drugs like candy, crashing a government vehicle, and inappropriately disclosing second lady Karen Pence’s medical information.

But no. It seems the final straw for Obama was this tweet, in which Jackson questioned Joe Biden’s mental abilities during the 2020 campaign:

According to Fox News, in Jackson’s forthcoming memoir, Holding the Line: A Lifetime of Defending Democracy and American Values, the White House physician turned Republican congressman writes that he got this email from Obama within 20 minutes of sending the Biden tweet:

Dear Ronny,

We haven’t spoke in awhile. I hope you and your family are well.

I have made a point of not commenting on your service in my successor’s administration, and have always spoken highly of you both in public and in private. You always served me and my family well, and I have considered you not only a fine doctor and service member but also a friend.

That’s why I have to express my disappointment at the cheap shot you took at Joe Biden via Twitter. It was unprofessional and beneath the office that you once held. It was also disrespectful to me and the many friends you had in our administration.

You were the personal physician to the President of the United States as well as an admiral in the U.S. Navy. I expect better, and I hope upon reflection that you will expect more of yourself in the future.

Barack Obama

It is not clear whether this was the only time Obama contacted Jackson, who gushed about Donald Trump’s “excellent” health and was nominated to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2018 — only to withdraw amid a fog of scandal. But Obama’s opener suggests they hadn’t spoken much since he’d left office, and this email didn’t change that dynamic. Fox News reports that Jackson never answered Obama’s message:

Surprised and flustered by the email, Jackson ultimately chose not to respond. Jackson recalls considering whether to call the former president, but a friend of his, radio host and conservative commentator Dan Bongino, reminded him that Obama did nothing while Jackson was in the midst of a Senate confirmation fight to be Trump’s secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

“So, upon reflection, I thought, You know what? Screw that guy! I’m not doing it,” Jackson wrote. “I just walked away from it, which was the last time I had any contact with [Obama].”

Jackson defends his questioning of Biden’s mental health in his book with this wild assertion: “Trump never made crazy statements like the ones Biden was making almost every day.”

Obama’s email certainly didn’t chasten him. Jackson would later attend the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally, vote against certifying President Biden’s Electoral College win, spread a conspiracy theory that Democrats invented the Omicron COVID-19 variant to “cheat” in the midterms, and be accused of improperly using campaign donations.

Perhaps it makes sense that Obama only responded to one Ronny Jackson outrage. He’s a busy man; he can’t devote this much time to writing “friend, you’ve really disappointed me” emails.

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Obama Picked Weird Time to Send Ronny Jackson a Stern Email